Fig. 1: Jonathan Papelbon, the closer for the Washington Nationals, physically assaulting Bryce Harper, the team’s best player. (gif credit: Yahoo Sports Tumblr)
Baseball, like all physical manifestations of The Patriarchy, is built upon a byzantine system of unwritten rules. This weekend saw those rules broken – a perceived diss, a lack of hustle – and so Jonathan Papelbon choked Bryce Harper in the middle of a baseball game. Former MLB pitcher Dirk Hayhurst nails it in a piece for Vice Sports:
“Oddly, while baseball’s social norms are about as clear as mud, one thing is crystal: baseball is full of fragile narcissists who justify a great deal of their behavior by citing sources that don’t exist. They rationalize their foolish behavior as customary or, worse, crucial to the development of a younger generation. The system that makes Jonathan Papelbon a narcissistic borderline fascist is the same system that encourages Bryce Harper to be a narcissistic egomaniac.”
The entire article is great but don’t be so foolish as to think this is merely A Baseball Problem. The visibility and violence of a clubhouse culture clash makes for a lively news cycle, but the challenges of building an effective team are universal:
- Attracting and retaining the best talent
- Helping new teammates perform at the highest level
- Setting an meeting realistic expectations
- Finding triumph in the face of adversity
Organizations of all stripes have been facing these challenges since we realized it was easier to hunt a mammoth with two people than one. If the Nationals haven’t put this all down on paper, maybe they should (cough, The Cardinal Way, cough), but in at the end of the day, all the policies in the world can’t keep a psycho like Papelbon from going off the deep end. And yes, Papelbon was given a slap on the wrist, but let’s be real: if he was the superstar in the fight, this would have been swept under the rug faster that you can say Github.
Organizations can’t protect us from each other, or ourselves, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Employee handbooks, codes of conduct, progressive recruiting practices: these are the building blocks of a rewarding work experience. Write down the rules, resolve grievances sooner rather than later and for pete’s sake, keep your hands off the other guy’s neck.