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LaTroy Hawkins, Bryce Harper and the importance of the clubhouse

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It's already an old debate among the fans of baseball. The debate between those who think having a tight clubhouse with good personality and veteran leadership is very important, and those who think it is very overrated. The shocking incident between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon that put an exclamation mark at the end of a total disaster of a season for the Washington Nationals has thrown new fuel onto the fire of the clubhouse debate.

LaTroy Hawkins
LaTroy Hawkins
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

By now, almost every follower of the sport of baseball will know about the Harper-Papelbon altercation. If not, go watch it. It's a major event that will probably be part of baseball-related discussions for quite a few years. One aspect of it is the "clubhouse cancer" tag applied to certain baseball players, including Jonathan Papelbon. It's even (re-)ignited talk of the Blue Jays not trading for Papelbon, possibly even because of Roy Halladay's advice? Sticking with pieces written by The Blue Jay Hunter, Anthopoulos talked about improving the clubhouse chemistry earlier in the season. But a big part of the reason why clubhouse-skeptics like me don't like to put too much emphasis on this subject is just how speculative any discussion on clubhouse chemistry quickly becomes.

Don't get me wrong, I think that clubhouse chemistry is important for the players, and can play an important role in how any given season plays out. The problem is that while we get a pretty good idea of what happens during games, we have precious little information on what goes in the locker rooms. And whether it's questioning Colby Rasmus' influence on the clubhouse, or praising the veterance presence of Kevin Millar or Mark DeRosa, I like to reserve judgement. People's personalities are a whole lot more complex than their stat lines, and they should be treated as such. Having said that, team chemistry is an area of interest for many fans, and so the press will keep asking questions. But what is Alex Anthopoulos really going to say, other than praising how well his team fits together? If there's ever a problem in the clubhouse, he's not going to inform the media, nor should he.

Mike Rizzo, Nationals GM, and LaTroy Hawkins, the Toronto Blue Jays' veteran relief pitcher have offered some interesting quotes that focus on the veteran leader role that Papelbon was supposedly trying to play, rather than on the negative effect of such an altercation on the clubhouse. Says Rizzo (h/t to Federal Baseball):

"It is the job of the veteran players to point out what they think when you're not playing the game right. Pap must have felt that he wasn't and he called him on it."

"It takes a guy with some guts to call a player out nowadays, but Harper plays the game the right way. I have no problem with the way he plays."

LaTroy Hawkins had this to say on twitter, referring to an article about veterans backing Papelbon:

I have a lot of respect for LaTroy Hawkins and the role veterans have to play in teaching younger players about the game. But shouldn't veterans do that in the role of mentors, leading primarily by example? Aren't coaches and trainers paid to teach the players about discipline and work rate? Not to mention that attacking a teammate by choking him might not be the best educational method out there, although I'll confess to not having any experience in that area.

The #EntitlementGeneration is funny in multiple ways. One, because apparently older players have the right to jog when hitting a popup, but Harper hasn't earned that right. Which generation is the entitled one, exactly? Secondly, Hawkins is on a Blue Jay team where several young players have shown precious little entitlement and lots of hustle. Think about Kevin Pillar, who was never thought of highly and drafted in the 32nd round, now making highlight catches and big baserunning plays at the highest level. Think Marcus Stroman, who did everything he could to beat the most optimistic timeframes for his return from injury, and is now pitching in the rotation because of his efforts. Watch this play, and tell me the young Blue Jays are part of an entitled generation.

You could say this is an article about nothing. And that's a good thing, because the Blue Jays clubhouse this season has not given us any reason to think that there's going to be any problems with team chemistry. They traded a very popular player in Jose Reyes, but their performance hasn't suffered. Although the team probably misses Jose in the clubhouse, they're still having fun, and that's great. I love watching Marcus Stroman get fired up or Jose Bautista flip his bat, but I also love the calm demeanor of guys like Mark Buehrle and Russell Martin. These guys are visibly human, and that makes it easy for us to think of them as heroes. Let's appreciate them for their on-the-field heroics, above all.