- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 17, 2006

Here you had, in town, the team that oozes professionalism — the New York Yankees — a team that even if you hate them, you have to admire the way they go about their business on the field and in the clubhouse. They have the reputation as setting the standard for baseball conduct (save for some grand jury testimony).

Then, over in the other clubhouse, you had the Bad News Bears, led by a group of relief pitchers who treated bullpens in other ballparks like Johnny Depp in a hotel room, and one utility player who decided he would be the Greta Garbo of this team.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Washington Misfits.

They fired their bullpen coach, John Wetteland, in the middle of the season. Do you know how bad things have to be when you fire your bullpen coach? And how much of a fool do you have to be to get fired as bullpen coach?

We are talking about the last guy on the staff. Most fans couldn’t identify their team’s bullpen coach. Robinson said he spoke to Wetteland this year more than he ever had to any other bullpen coach in his 16 years as a major league manager.

Quick, name last year’s bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals? Take your time.

Wetteland — part of general manager Jim Bowden’s coaching overhaul that has yet to pay off — was a strange hire from the start. He was a pretty high-profile major leaguer, a closer who saved 330 games and a member of the 1996 Yankees World Series championship team. This is not the typical bullpen coach hire.

It got stranger when Wetteland turned the corps of relievers into the Bowery Boys, with a series of practical jokes and vandalism that embarrassed the organization to the point where they finally had to fire him, replacing him with Potomac Nationals manager and former Expos catcher Randy Knorr — a decision made by Robinson.

Apparently, the Bowery Boys were upset their leader had been canned. When asked if he had heard of any reaction from the team regarding the move, Robinson said, “I’m not wearing this jacket [a Nationals warmup jacket] today because the weather’s cold out there.

“The players that were most affected by this, out in the bullpen, know exactly how many times I had to talk to them and to John about situations down there,” Robinson said. “It was not something that happened one time, or just a couple of times, and they are fully aware of that situation. … If they want to be professionals or men about it and understand the situation, they’ll go out and be positive about this and go about their job and try to be a little more consistent out there and a little bit more professional out there.”

“The players that were most affected by this, out in the bullpen, know exactly how many times I had to talk to them and to John about situations down there,” Robinson said. “It was not something that happened one time, or just a couple of times, and they are fully aware of that situation … if they want to be professionals or men about it and understand the situation, they’ll go out and be positive about this and go about their job and try to be a little more consistent out there and a little bit more professional out there.”

The relievers didn’t bring any whoopee cushions out to the mound, but they didn’t bring any consistency either last night. With the Nationals up 5-3 after seven innings, the hometown portion of the sellout crowd of 44,749 at RFK was winning the battle of cheers and chants in the stands as well against the Yankee fans. But with each run the bullpen gave away — two in the eighth by Gary Majewski and two in the ninth by Chad Cordero — the Yankee fans began to turn the ballpark into another version of Yankee Stadium south — particularly after Bernie Williams’ solo home run in the ninth gave New York a 6-5 lead, and for Nationals fans, the victory cigar they had lit in the seventh inning turned out to be an exploding one.

Before the game, Cordero said their antics were misunderstood.

“The whole thing behind it was to make sure we were paying attention to the game out there,” he said. “From [Robinson’s] perspective, I could see how it might have seemed like we were messing around, but [Wetteland] did it because he thought it would keep us more focused. We were just having fun. When you’re out there in the bullpen for three hours a game, it can get, not boring, but you need things sometimes to keep your attention and focus, and that was it. But from down here, it seemed like we were messing around.”

Can you imagine this happening with the Yankees and Joe Torre (although Torre wasn’t managing last night, serving his one-game suspension for an incident involving Randy Johnson and Torre being thrown out of Wednesday’s game against Cleveland after Johnson nearly hit a batter following an umpire’s warning. Former Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli, Torre’s bench coach, managed the Yankees last night. They could have been shooting off rocket grenades in the Yankee bullpen and Mazzilli wouldn’t know about it).

Then there is Damian Jackson, who was acting strangely following Thursday afternoon’s loss to Colorado, as it appeared teammates were trying to keep him from leaving the clubhouse after the game.

“I had talked to Damian a few days ago about sticking around after the game,” Robinson said. “I said to him, ‘When you are involved in the game and do some positive things and it has an effect on the outcome of the game, in winning games or making a play, stick around long enough for reporters to be able to come in and talk to you. … I said, Would you do that for me?’ He said, yes he would. I guess he was trying to get away and they were trying to get him to stay. He said had been fined before and would be fined again if he didn’t stay, and if he didn’t stay, he would be fined by me, and that’s not true. I didn’t fine him for not staying. If I fined him for not staying, I’d be a millionaire. I haven’t fined him one time for not staying.”

This appears to have reduced Robinson to the role of kindergarten teacher, rather than manager. These are grown men being paid substantial amounts of money, and for the manager to have to be dealing with issues like this is ridiculous.

“These are things that you should automatically know,” Robinson said. “At this point, you’ve talked about it or been talked to about it, and it’s something you should just know about being around the game. You know if you make some bad plays, it costs your team some runs or a game or whatever. If you have a good outing and you’ve helped your team win a game, you know that the writers are going to want to talk to you. You should know this, so you stick around after the game.

“As far as the bullpen stuff, these guys have been in other bullpens without all of this stuff.”

Does it disturb Robinson to have to deal with this kind of behavior on his ballclub?

“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re a couple of months into the season, and I’m still talking about things that I shouldn’t be talking about now. I’m not impatient. I’ve learned to be a little more patient. But I should be focusing on the game itself and baseball and maybe a problem that may come up that takes time for me to talk to a player individually.”

Every team has an identity. The Yankees persona is one of arrogance and professionalism. The Nationals? They continue to have an identity crisis.

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