The Washington Nationals felt the tragedy that occurred at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday. It happened in their neighborhood, it happened to their neighbors. They understood the weight of the horrific act by one man who opened fire inside the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters and killed 13, while wounding others.
“We’re still feeling it,” right-hander Dan Haren said Tuesday. “When I woke up, driving to the field, crossing over the bridge, I looked over, (and it) made me think about it. Putting on the blue jersey before the game, with the Navy hats, I think that we were all thinking about it all game, really.”
And in a show of gratitude for their support — for postponing Monday’s game out of respect, and for the help they provided families who were affected — the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James A. Winnefeld, delivered Navy hats to the team on Monday.
He asked that they wear them in batting practice. So the Nationals did.
They wore them during their pre-game work, and during a moment of silence and the national anthem. They wore them again before the nightcap of their doubleheader, and afterward during post-game interviews.
Even though many players did not want to remove them for the game — wishing they could wear them on the field during play — they took them off because that was what Major League Baseball rules stipulated.
Then they faced criticism for doing so.
ESPN’s Keith Olbermann devoted a segment to the hats on his show on Tuesday night, in which he took aim at MLB for their policy against such tributes, and criticized the Nationals for not asking them to waive the rules.
“Just as they had been symbolically telling the victims and the Navy and the nation that they were with them all the way, now the Nationals and Major League Baseball were symbolically declaring that all the way was over,” Olbermann said. “And the grief was over, and the mourning was over, and the regular caps were back on, and available online, and at souvenir stands, and from stadium vendors.”
MLB’s policy in such matters has been well-documented. The league made an exception for the Nationals after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, and they wore Virginia Tech ballcaps during that night’s game. But in times of tragedy since, the league has had a strict policy.
The New York Mets petitioned the league to allow them to wear FDNY and NYPD hats on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and they were informed they’d face a heavy fine.
The Nationals did not ask for permission to wear the Navy caps during the game, mostly because they felt they knew the answer. Officials recognized on Wednesday that they should’ve asked, even if they knew what to expect in response.
“Shame on the Nationals,” Olbermann said. “More shame on MLB.”
While many Nationals players were reluctant to remove the hats, manager Davey Johnson said he did not understand the firestorm around the issue and felt the team was doing what they could to show support to the victims.
“It was nice that they gave us the hats,” Johnson said, accepting his personally from Admiral Winnefeld. “Everybody cherished the hats. I just think it was a show of solidarity that we wear them through the anthem, in respect toward the military, the tragedy and the service. All the above.
“But no, it wasn’t a big issue. I read Olbermann’s critique of it. He’s not high on my list.”