I'm coming to you from San Diego right now and probably won't be watching much baseball for a few days, but I did get myself all caught up on tonight's happenings after touching down, and what follows is a quick and incomplete rundown of the thoughts going through my head right now regarding the whole dugout kerfuffle. It's three in the morning and I've barely slept in two days, so be kind.
- From a fan perspective, there are few things worse than having a little bit of knowledge. Fans are always trying to arrive at conclusions, and a proper conclusion cannot be reached without all the details. However, when all the details aren't available, the temptation's still there to run with what you have and make a few assumptions. Don't go down that path, here. We don't know very much about what went on. We don't know why it happened, where it came from, why certain people were involved, or what it means. All we know is that there was a brief, heated disagreement in the dugout involving Chone Figgins, Russell Branyan, Don Wakamatsu, Jose Lopez, and some other people, related to Figgins getting pulled from the game for a mental mistake. Do not make too much of what we don't yet understand.
- There was a lot of confusion when the M's traded for Russell Branyan in the middle of a lost season, especially since it doesn't look real likely that his 2011 option will be picked up. It was assumed he was coming here to make the final few months a little more palatable, and to provide a bit of veteran leadership to a barren clubhouse from a guy who's been here before. I think there might be another angle to it as well, though - Branyan likes Don Wakamatsu. The two got along famously last year, and Branyan is firmly in Wak's camp. And having a leader on Wak's side is something this clubhouse has really needed with the whole Griffey situation turning sour, and with the Mike Sweeney situation going worse as well. For a little while there, it seemed like Wak had lost the clubhouse, and getting Branyan might've been an attempt to stem the tide. Who knows what might've happened tonight without him?
- Baker says Zduriencik will meet with Wak and Figgins behind closed doors tomorrow in an effort to get to the bottom of what's going on. Note that it's Wak and Figgins and only Wak and Figgins. Jose Lopez will not be a part of the meeting, even though Jose Lopez wound up losing his jersey in the disorder. I'm not really sure what Lopez was doing but I'm pretty sure he got lost.
- A lot of people have been wondering why Chone Figgins got benched when other guys haven't gotten benched for their mistakes on the basepaths. Figgins was probably wondering as much. And me, I completely believe Wak when he says the reason he benched Figgins was because at least the other guys had some excuse. Figgins had no excuse, other than carelessness. It's easy to bench a guy for being careless. It isn't so easy to bench a guy for being aggressive. Lopez's mistake at first base the other day, of course, was far more of the former than the latter, but then at the time Wak was dealing with a shorter bench than he was today, complicating things.
- Recently, Wak talked about taking it easier on Felix's arm down the stretch, and soon thereafter he took Felix out of a game far earlier than he has in the past. A few days ago, Wak was talking about holding players accountable for their mistakes, and soon thereafter he benched Figgins for screwing up. These things aren't coming out of nowhere. Wak has issued warnings. They've just been warnings that things are going to change, and nobody likes to be the first example. Felix didn't like getting pulled, and Figgins didn't like getting pulled, but if things like this had been happening all season, they probably would've taken them a little better. Anyway, either they weren't paying attention recently, or Wak didn't sufficiently communicate his intentions.
- Already, this incident is being interpreted by some as evidence that the M's clubhouse is the worst that it's been all season. It's important to understand that the feelings that spilled over tonight were already there. Wak was already frustrated. Figgins was already frustrated. Everybody else was already frustrated. The melee doesn't represent a new level of misery - it just represents a new expression of the same misery, in response to a new action on Wak's part. If a team or some players are upset, it doesn't really matter to me if they show it outwardly or not. What matters is that they're upset. You have to treat the disease, and not the symptoms.
- The key now is for Z to talk with Wak and Figgins and evaluate their current relationship. Let's face it: they kind of have to get along. Figgins is here for a while. Wak, it seems - for all of his flaws - is still the front office's guy, and I doubt they're in any hurry to show him the door. So the team has a vested interest in making sure these two get each other. The big thing is probably going to end up simply being Figgins' performance. If Figgins is performing, he's not frustrated, and Wak's not frustrated, and none of this ever happens. As is, though, Figgins is among the proudest and hardest-working players in baseball, so when he's not playing up to his standards, he doesn't take it so well, and sometimes players in that position need to vent. Said venting is unpleasant for everyone.
- Though it seems ugly, this could actually be good, or at least not that bad. How many times do you feel like you just need to vent? Have you ever gotten really upset about something, acted out, and felt better in the aftermath? We should be glad there's still some fire on this team, and the fact that Chone Figgins got really mad for a little bit doesn't mean anything other than Chone Figgins got really mad for a little bit. It happens to everyone, and in any other context it's not even much of a red flag. Remember that Figgins cooled off in the clubhouse and stuck around until the game was over. He cares. He cares about his performance, and he cares about this team.
There's going to be an opportunity, now, to build from this. To rally together. Figgins and Wak will get a chance to patch things up and see where the other is coming from. The team as a whole, meanwhile, will see if it can get over adversity under its current leadership. If Russell Branyan and whoever else can lead these guys to a better place following an ugly episode, then that'll be good for everyone, and it'll set the right example. Players become leaders by observing other leaders, and this could end up being a positive experience for a number of younger .