In 64 A.D., the greatest city in the Western world, Rome, caught fire. It burned for six days, utterly destroying three of the town's 14 districts, and killing untold numbers of people. The emperor of the day, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, more commonly known as Nero, was a gifted musician who often forced his subjects to listen to him play the lyre. Popular legend has it that, as Rome burned to the ground, Nero played his lyre, taking in the devastation around him but doing nothing.
And now we have seen the baseball equivalent of Nero fiddling as his world collapses around him, as Matt Williams does nothing as his red ass, tough guy closer attacking his best player, Bryce Harper, in the dugout.
Then, as if nothing was wrong, Williams sends Jonathan Papelbon back out to pitch the ninth inning and defends him in the press conference afterward. Williams's excuse this morning? He didn't see it and didn't know how serious it was until he viewed the video this morning. He didn't notice.
And really, why would he? When everything is on fire, it's hard to focus in on a single building, even if that building is, like, the biggest and prettiest building in the entire city that is literally 100 percent better than any other building out there.
Look, Harper is not entirely blameless here. He absolutely should have run out a pop up in the eighth inning of a tie game. He's healthy at the moment and if it had somehow dropped in, the Nats would have needed him on second base (though he still would have been safe at first if the ball had droped in). This kind of offense generally requires a brief discussion, however, especially for a player who does everything else right and who generally busts his ass everywhere else on the field. It does not in any way justify Papelbon putting his hands on Harper. And, frankly, nothing does.
I also don't want to lay the blame for this entirely at Papelbon's feet either. He's an idiot. He's always been an idiot. On the list of tolerable baseball players, Papelbon is well below replacement level, especially as he throws only 60-70 innings a year. But the Nationals knew or should have known what they were getting with Jonathan Papelbon. A head-hunting, crotch-grabbing rampaging id in an Ed Hardy t-shirt (those are still a thing, right?) who simply is not programmed to be able to control himself or his emotions. They also know that he and Harper have been testy with each other for more than a week now, and they should have gotten him a babysitter.
No, the blame for this, and for a lot of these fires is Matt Williams. Now, there were rumors back in wake of the Roman fire of 65 A.D. that Nero started the whole blaze himself to clear space for a palace. That's probably not true. Nor is it true that Williams started the Nats' various problems in 2015. Part of a manager's job in this day and age, indeed perhaps the most important part, is to douse those fires. He needs to be aware of what's going on in his dugout. He needs to be Johnny on the Spot.
But he hasn't. According to reports, he has completely lost the Nats' clubhouse. He's allowed a dysfunctional culture to take hold on his team that could have had serious consequences if Harper and Papelbon had actually come to blows. He didn't see what was going on, and even worse, nobody told him as it was happening or in the immediate aftermath. Thank God that Harper was the bigger man and walked away without fighting back, a decision that says more about his character than anything he has done or said over the first four years of his incredible career.
As Rome was collapsing around him on Sunday, Matt Williams did nothing. And even more amazingly, nobody even told him there was a fire. So he just kept fiddling. Fiddling as new fires keep breaking out around the team and the world burns around him. And he'll keep on fiddling until this fire consumes him too, which, by rights, should happen immediately. Maybe his replacement can't help douse all of the flames, but at least he can keep the fire contained until it burns itself out in a week.