Doug Fister should fit right in with the Washington Nationals. Not only is he a quality starting pitcher — coming off a 14-9 season with the Detroit Tigers — but he is dripping in clubhouse character.
“One of the best guys I’ve ever been around,” said former Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair, who was Fister’s pitching coach when he broke into the majors with the Seattle Mariners in 2009. “He genuinely cares about his team and the guys around him as much as anyone I’ve seen in the game.
“His goal is to help make the other 24 guys around him better. That’s the way he thinks. He cares about winning and he cares about his teammates.”
I’m not ridiculing Fister’s character credentials; just the opposite — he will bring more to this team than just 200 quality innings a season. The “caring” that Adair speaks of will make rookie manager Matt Williams’ job a little easier.
His presence is just a reminder of the remarkable transformation of the Nationals over the past five seasons, not just on the field, but in the clubhouse — they’ve gone from being a motorcycle gang to a gang of Goodfellows.
The Washington Nationals used to be baseball’s 12-step program, with a motto of “bring us your drugged, your dysfunctional.” It was like Boy’s Town instead of the Boy Scouts.
There was beloved Dmitri Young, who was given a two-year, $10 million contract and wound up in rehab; Lastings Milledge, who showed up for games late and then slept through the games he played; and of course there was Elijah Dukes, such a reprobate that the team actually hired a former police officer to babysit him.
The list goes on — catcher Paul LoDuca, who began his forgettable stint with the Nationals with a press conference apologizing for “mistakes in judgment” after his name appeared in the Mitchell report as a player who bought and used performance-enhancing substances, and his counterpart, Johnny Estrada, who showed up fat, out of shape and started his 2008 Nationals season on the disabled list.
Of course, there was the ringleader of the circus, general manager and franchise gravedigger Jim Bowden, the boss of the outfit.
It was a clubhouse full of louts and losers. And now, thanks to general manager Mike Rizzo, it is the exact opposite.
It’s amazing Ryan Zimmerman was able to survive those dysfunctional days, but he did, and remains one of the baseball’s good guys — good enough to share the stage with Cal Ripken this week in a charity fundraising event.
All around the Nationals clubhouse, there are merit badges on display. Ian Desmond is a stand-up guy who, according to former Nationals manager Davey Johnson, could have the leadership qualities of a Barry Larkin. Stephen Strasburg has gone from handling media pressure like the black death to being a consummate professional, even under the duress of the shutdown spotlight.
The lone wolf may be Jayson Werth, and actually, the worst thing you could say about him is that he is cantankerous. From all accounts, he is a popular and positive presence in the Nationals clubhouse.
So, as Rizzo leaves for the Winter Meetings next week, it would seem that with the Fister trade in his pocket, most of his work is done. He needs to find himself a quality left-handed reliever, and then fine-tune the bullpen and bench, but the heavy lifting of acquiring a quality starter was done when he got Fister from the Detroit Tigers.
There’s one more thing that this Nationals squad could use for the 2014 season — an outlaw. Yes, a small but smart taste of the past. Someone who will jump out of the dugout and charge the mound when the Atlanta Braves are taking target practice on the Nationals’ hitters.
Doug Fister is a great guy and a terrific pitcher, and is a welcome addition to a team full of great guys and terrific talent. But there should be one place on the bench for one bad-ass.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com