Winners, losers from the Nationals White House visit

washington nationalsThe issue with the Washington Nationals White House visit – Kurt Suzuki going full MAGA, Ryan Zimmerman dripping with effusive praise, Sean Doolittle skipping the event – isn’t so much about any of those guys.

It is, of course, about Donald Trump, and actually, to be fair, it’s even bigger than that.

Specific to Trump, the guy is in need of something, given his historically low approval numbers, and how half the country wants him impeached and removed from office, and we all know that number is only going to go up as the investigation into his high crimes and misdemeanors progresses.

He acknowledged as much at the awkward ceremony that he held on the White House lawn on Monday, when he talked about how the country had been talking the past few weeks about two things, the Nats and impeachment, and how he preferred to talk about the Nats.

That’s what the White House visit was for him – a respite, a reprieve, however temporary.

The Nats, World Series trophy in tow, were a fake beard and glasses for a POTUS who desperately needs to be viewed differently, and is fated to that not happening.

The tradition of inviting championship teams to the White House has always been that, dating back to when Jimmy Carter hosted the World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates and Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980.

Think back to 1980 politically. Carter was deeply unpopular, and heading into a tough re-election battle that he would ultimately lose to Ronald Reagan.

Carter got a Terrible Towel for his trouble, but was memorably bounced out of office that November.

Presidents since have kept up the tradition, by and large, the exceptions being around wartime and the Bill Clinton impeachment (ahem!).

Notable there: Clinton didn’t invite the Super Bowl champ Denver Broncos in 1999 as he faced impeachment and a trial in the Senate, similar to the circumstance that we’re in now.

Bill Clinton isn’t exactly known for having too much class, but that was a classy move, not forcing the Broncos organization to either decline or face the odd set of circumstances that the Nationals organization faced with their visit to the Trump White House.

The Nats organization had to know that yesterday’s event was going to become fodder for the campaign gristmill. What’s disappointing to Nats fans is that it wasn’t one-sided from Trump, and that instead it felt scripted from the Nats side.

General manager Mike Rizzo was overheard on a live mic telling Trump about Suzuki’s MAGA hat ahead of Suzuki donning the cap on the stage, suggesting that the stunt had definitely been pre-planned.

Zimmerman’s remarks – “I would like to thank you for keeping everyone safe in our country and for continuing to make America the greatest country to live in in the world” – similarly came across, from Zimmerman’s delivery, particularly, as having been scripted.

As of this writing, Zimmerman hasn’t publicly addressed the controversy over his remarks, while Suzuki is trying to get away with saying he was “just trying to have some fun” and blaming those who took his gesture as being political in nature of reading politics into things.

Those two are now the darlings of the right, with social media awash in posts decrying liberals and progressives expressing disgust with the outward show of support from the players toward a divisive, unpopular president.

A few days prior, it was the right that was up in arms over Doolittle, who went public with his decision to skip the ceremony, citing “a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country.”

The call from the right was for Doolittle to stick to sports; progressives have responded to Suzuki and Zimmerman basically by canceling the two, in modern parlance.

From a baseball perspective, the Nationals had already picked up the $6.5 million option from Doolittle for the 2020 season; Suzuki is under contract with the Nats for another year, at a $6 million salary; while the team had decided to decline the option for another year with Zimmerman for 2020, though the feeling was that Zimmerman, who has been with the organization since being drafted out of UVA in 2005, could be back next season.

But that’s the sports side of things, or rather, the sports business side of things.

More on the sports business side: this is the prime time for the Nationals organization to be selling season tickets for 2020.

Full disclosure: I’m a Nats season ticket holder.

A World Series win is expected to translate into a bump in season-ticket sales, and it very well could, but considering the politics of the DMV – the District of Columbia and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs – you’d have to think there’d be some repercussions from Monday with the fan base.

You might have heard about the president’s visit to Nats Park for Game 5 of the World Series, and how he was greeted with lusty boos, twice, the second set of booing including loud chants of “Lock him up!” from the home crowd.

This is the fan base that will be expected to buy tickets to see the defending champs take the field in 2020 – and the fan base that is up in arms with how things went down on the South Lawn.

For all the pat-on-the-back tweets from people (and bots) on the far right that we’ve seen the past 24 hours, too many of the ones from actual living human beings, for the liking of the folks in the ticket office, have been from people who don’t live anywhere near DC and admittedly don’t watch baseball or care anything about the 2020 schedule.

But, ah, such is life. Can’t undo the dumb things you’ve done.

You can, though, assign winners and losers.

To that end, here we go:

  • Donald Trump: winner. For all that footage that he has for his Trump 2020 campaign TV spots.
  • Ryan Zimmerman: loser. It will suck getting booed by fans at Old-Timers Games.
  • Sean Doolittle: winner. Look at his Twitter. Dude is having the time of his life.
  • Kurt Suzuki: loser. The most popular player on the 2020 Nats will be the backup catcher.
  • The Nationals ticket-sales account guy who is scheduled to call me soon to talk about my 2020 season tickets: dude, I feel for you, because I’m committed, but you might want to pack a lunch.

Column by Chris Graham



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