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HARRIS: Ryan Mattheus latest to learn hard lesson about anger management

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Trust us on this one. Do not try this at home. Walls are tougher than you are, and metal lockers are as well.

Punch one and you will pay the price.

It's common sense, which as we've learned all too well isn't that common.

Sadly, the Nation's Capital has another entry to add to its sports pantheon otherwise known as the Gus Frerotte Concrete Wall of Shame. It's named after the former Redskins quarterback who injured himself head-butting a wall as part of a touchdown celebration.

At least he hurt himself by being too happy. Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus has taken himself out for a to-be-determined chunk of the season by not being able to control his emotions in a moment of anger.

Mattheus punched his locker after giving up five runs in one inning during a 13-4 loss Sunday to San Diego. He stayed quiet for a day, hoping it wasn't that bad. Monday, he knew the sad truth. Tuesday, while his teammates stayed out west to finish up a souring road trip, Mattheus headed back to town to see a specialist.

Even with the best possible news, it is unlikely he pitches again before the All-Star break in July. If he requires surgery, he could be out for the year. Injuries to tiny bones can be very tricky.

"It's pretty embarrassing. It's a tough one to swallow," Mattheus told Amanda Comak of The Times and Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post on Monday. "I felt like I let the other 24 guys down on this team. Let the whole Washington Nationals organization down by doing something pretty stupid. It's pretty tough right now."

After a bad game last season, a television camera caught an upset Mattheus hurling his glove toward the bench. Gloves are replaceable, and you don't have to miss a chunk of the season.

"That's kind of what's so embarrassing about it," Mattheus said. "It's absolutely something I can control. It's not like I hurt myself out on the field. I've got to do a better job with that."

Uh, yeah. You throw a glove and damage it, you can get a new one pretty easily. You throw a punch at some steel and break your hand, the problems are a little more significant. Obviously, Mattheus knows that. Though he did something extraordinarily stupid, he is not stupid. He is an engaging young man of 29 who may have but hopefully did not cost himself a considerable amount of money with his momentary uncontrolled anger.

This is Mattheus' third season with the Nationals. He was acquired from the Colorado Rockies organization in 2009, not long after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He's proven to be an effective part of the Nats' bullpen, Sunday's mound performance notwithstanding. He's not making the huge money yet — his salary this year is $504,500 — but he's positioned himself to have a good career and make a good bit of money. Assuming he recovers from the self-inflicted injury and regains his form.

Mattheus and Frerotte are not alone when it comes to angrily injuring yourself.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand in a preseason game once by punching a basket support. He missed 16 games in the regular season. A.J. Burnett got very lucky. While pitching for the Yankees, he cut both palms slamming his hands into a clubhouse door. He did not require stitches and did not miss a start. Doyle Alexander, while pitching for the Yanks, broke a finger punching a wall and missed two months. Kevin Brown, also with the Yankees, broke his nonpitching hand on a wall and missed three weeks.

To show it isn't just Yankees, the Mets' Jason Isringhausen once broke a wrist punching a trash can while on a rehab assignment and missed three more months.

Let's not forget Bryce Harper, whose bat hit him in the face after he slammed it against a wall soon after his 2012 call-up. Like Burnett, he got lucky it wasn't much worse.

Mocking the folks who do this is easy and usually deserved. But amid the laughing, it is important to keep in mind that elite athletes are wired differently physically and mentally. The best ones, though, learned to keep the emotions in check. In short, they don't punch walls or anything else. Mattheus, if he is able to return, needs to find a better way to manage the anger because if he thinks Sunday is the last time he gets lit up, he's sadly mistaken.

"There's two things going on," said Robert Price, a sports psychologist and owner of Elite Minds in North Potomac. "This shows how much success means to him. He really wants to be successful, not just personally for the team. He did not have an appropriate tool ... to get out, if you will, the anger and the disappointment."

Price said the best of the best handle failure because they're prepared for its possibility. Michael Jordan missed key shots, Tiger Woods has missed key putts. The best pitchers will give up runs, the best hitters will strike out when the game is on the line.

"We talk about failure because it is going to happen," Price said. "The key is to know it will happen and then to know what to do once it happens. Over time, you work on what to do when you get angry, what are my go-tos? How am I going to release this energy in a way that is effective?"

Using a hand on a locker is not effective. Hopefully, for Mattheus' sake, that's a mistake he won't make again. He will give up more runs. He can't punch any more lockers.

• Brett Williams contributed to this report.

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