File photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan and Jim Riggleman butted heads before this season's bench-clearing brawl.
Weren't these kind of controversies in Redskins Land supposed to disappear now that accomplished, sane people were in charge of the organization? Guess not.
Quarterback controversies, of course, are nothing new. Certainly not in this town, where the last QB who had actual job security might have been Sammy Baugh.
Coach vs. player controversies also are nothing new in the sports world. They happen every year in every town in every sport. They've even happened plenty of times in NatsTown over the last six years.
If you've forgotten these classic Nationals manager/player butting of heads, here's a refresher course...
FRANK ROBINSON VS. JOHN HALAMA (2005)
You can be forgiven if you have no memory of this one. Honestly, how many of you even remember that John Halama pitched for the Nationals? But the journeyman left-hander did, and he actually started three games, including one on September 7 against the Marlins at RFK Stadium, with the Nats still very much alive in the NL wild-card race. Frank Robinson didn't exactly have a lot of confidence in Halama to get the job done, though, which became evident when he had his bullpen warming up three batters into the game. Halama wound up throwing only 24 pitches (11 strikes) to five batters before Frank asked for the ball back. Halama, who had allowed only one run to that point, was stunned. Afterward, his astonishment had turned into thinly veiled contempt for his manager.
"I was very surprised," he said. "I don't think anybody wouldn't be surprised getting taken out in the first inning only giving up one run. But he's the manager. He makes the decisions and that's that." Asked what was working and what wasn't working for him on the mound, Halama snapped back: "I threw 24 pitches. You tell me what wasn't working and what was."
In the end, Robinson's explanation for the extremely quick hook was clear: "I didn't like what I saw. I wasn't going to sit there and wait till he threw the game away in the first inning. If you want to pitch for me, you have to throw strikes."
FRANK ROBINSON, JIM BOWDEN AND TONY TAVARES VS. ALFONSO SORIANO (2006)
This was probably the most memorable butting of heads in Nationals history. It certainly drew the most attention outside of Washington, with ESPN broadcasting live from Jupiter, Fla., on the March afternoon when Soriano finally agreed to play left field for the first time in his career after refusing to take the field two nights earlier.
Everyone knew this controversy was going to come to a head at some point after the Nats acquired Soriano (a career second baseman) and announced he would move to the outfield because Jose Vidro was already entrenched at second. The inevitable showdown was delayed by Soriano's participation in the World Baseball Classic, but on March 20, Soriano was back in camp and penciled in to play left field. When the Nats took the field, only eight players emerged from the dugout. Soriano was back in the clubhouse, changing out of his uniform and leaving the ballpark.
Incensed, the Nats threatened to put Soriano on the disqualified list, which would have prevented him from earning his $10 million salary. "He is failing to perform his services," said then-team president Tony Tavares. "Never in the history of baseball has a player been able to pick his position."
The Nationals had the next day off, but on March 22, Soriano finally relented and took his position in left field, where he has remained for the last five seasons with either the Nats or the Cubs.
"I'm going to play the best I can in left field, today and in the future," he said after his first spring training game in the outfield. "I don't have no more choice."
MANNY ACTA VS. ELIJAH DUKES (2008)
Given Dukes' lengthy history of altercations with managers, umpires, teammates and opponents, it seemed unlikely the outfielder would be able to make it through his Nationals tenure without something happening. Sure enough, on June 10 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, something happened.
Dukes helped ignite a game-winning, ninth-inning rally off none other than Matt Capps, ultimately scoring on Lastings Milledge's two-run homer. But when he returned to the dugout, Dukes walked right past manager Manny Acta. Acta followed him to the other end of the dugout where the two exchanged some heated words. It was possibly the most public display of emotion Nats fans ever got out of Acta.
Afterward, neither side would shed detail on what exactly happened. "What happens in Pittsburgh is going to stay in Pittsburgh," Acta said. But the two sides did meet behind closed doors with GM Jim Bowden and aired out some differences.
The Acta/Dukes relationship was never a strong one, though neither man survived in the end. Acta was fired during the 2009 All-Star break. Dukes was released during spring training this year.
JIM RIGGLEMAN VS. NYJER MORGAN (2010)
This one will be a little fresher in everyone's memory. It was actually a series of events over a week-long period in late-August, culminating in Morgan charging the mound in Miami on September 1 and setting off a bench-clearing brawl that led to the outfielder getting slapped with an eight-game suspension.
The real butting of heads between manager and player, though, came two days earlier, when Morgan was critical of Riggleman both for benching him in the wake of his collision with Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson and then criticizing the player in public without talking to him personally first.
"He just basically did a Cardinal sin," Morgan said. "You don't blast your player out in the paper."
Riggleman, who had spoken to Morgan a couple of nights earlier after he had been picked off first base in a crucial situation, said there was no reason to speak to him again prior to the benching.
"I talked to Nyjer the night he got picked off about that situation and why it can't happen and how we can avoid it and so forth," the manager said. "As far as the incident at home plate, I have not talked to him about that. That's self-explanatory. There's not much to talk about that play."
In the end, the Riggleman/Morgan spat took a back seat to WWE-style theatrics during the bench-clearing brawl.