The PETCO Commission Report
Editor's Note: Sudden, catastrophic disasters, as we have seen the past few weeks, are greeted these days with shock, sadness and concern, followed almost immediately with finger-pointing, the blame game, and calls for an "independent commission" to get to the bottom of it all. This being Washington, we should treat last night's Nats disaster and the devastation it wrought no differently. The initial shock and concern can be felt here; below you will find the results of the official process of recrimination that normally follows tragic events like this one.
The Commission, named after the site of the tragic events of September 17, thoroughly reviewed the testimony and evidence related to that horrible evening. Based on this exhaustive review, we feel confident that no other conclusions that those expressed below can be made about the culpability of those officials involved in the disaster. We also provide concrete actions that must be taken immediately in order to safeguard the Nationals interest and reduce the chance that such a catastrophe would happen again. To fail to implement these recommendations would be so reckless, so cavalier about the real dangers faced, that it would be legally, morally and ethically wrong.
Based on the testimony of Mr. Bergmann, the first official on the scene, it is clear that he was given neither the resources nor the opportunity to ensure that the first embers of this tragic conflagration were squelched early. Despite having thown only 11 pitches, 7 of them for strikes, his superiors removed him his post, ostensibly due to the walk he issued. At the time he left the game, there was one out and a runner on first, but Mr. Bergmann had just stuck out a batter, and seemed in control of the situation. Further evidence revealed that Mr. Bergmann is a young, up and coming official, and that his superiors have had problems with such younger staff, often discriminating against them. It is the Commission's view that Mr. Bergmann's removal is another instance of such discrimination, as it does not have any independent, objective rationale.
Mr. Bergmann was replaced by Mr. Eischen, a colorful fellow who provided some moments of levity to our otherwise somber proceedings. Mr. Eischen has many more years of experience in these situations than Mr. Bergmann, but he is not clearly better at dealing with them. Yet even the veteran Mr. Eischen was shackled and stunted by his superiors in his efforts to contain the danger. He threw only 3 pitches, 2 for strikes, and retired the first batter he faced, but exacerbated the problem a bit by giving up a single. Yet, like Mr. Bergmann his superiors removed him from the post, for reasons that remain inexplicable.
The Commission called a leading statistician to analyze the danger at the moment Mr. Eischen had retired his first batter. His research and testimony indicated that at that point, there was only a 0.15% chance that the calamity that in fact ensued should have ensued. The vast remoteness of this possibility makes the subsequent actions of those in charge all the more blameworthy.
Mr. Eischen's replacement, a Mr. Hughes, is another younger, less experienced official who has struggled to fit in with organizations more elderly higher-ups. Looking somewhat confused by the atmosphere of instability and chaos created by all the changes to personnel dealing with the problem, Mr. Hughes threw 2 pitches, giving up a single that scored the first Padres run.
Although the situation was by no means grave (our statistician said the likelihood of disaster was only around 1.35% at that point), the senior officials panicked, bringing in Mr. Cordero to replace Mr. Hughes. Mr. Cordero, despite being only 23 years old, is an extremely competent official, often brought in to resolve the most difficult and demanding situations. It appears, however, that Mr. Cordero might have been in the middle of "burning out", given the high levels of stress he has experienced, and it was clear that the night of the tragedy Mr. Cordero was not scheduled to work, and had been looking forward to the rest. His supervisors, though, were oblivious to these facts, and thrust Mr. Cordero into a very difficult situation, exacerbated by the quixotic, hapazard decisionmaking that preceded his appointment. As one observer noted, "the whole affair seemed to create more tension than the situation called for." (Svrugla, Exh. 45A at 2)
Mr. Cordero, it must be said, did not perform up to his expected level of performance, and he was the last official on the scene, he certainly bears a not insubstantial share of the burden for the tragic events that unfolded, particularly the dramatic grand slam that has captured so much of the public's attention as the central devastating event of this disaster. But the Commission's view is that the fireworks of that event overshadows the more important, systemic flaws and failures that lead to the disaster.
Responsibility for those systemic flaws and failures must be lain at the feet of the director of the agency, Mr. Frank Robinson, who, in the Commission's view, not only was negligent in his duty, but was so reckless in his actions that it is not unreasoanable to conclude that he might have had an intention to cause the harm that ultimately resulted. Anyone, even unsophisticaed, troglodyte "jockjaws" who spend most of their time on teh Internet had identified the danger that Mr. Robinson's actions were creating.
It is the Commission's view that Mr. Robinson's actions on that fateful evening were based not on an objective assessment of the situation at hand, but on personal vendettas against younger players, which he has harbored and acted on in the past, plus his authoritative, retributive style of placing discipline, particularly of Messrs. Bergmann, Eischen and Hughes, ahead of a goal of ensuring that the danger was alleviated. There was also some evidence that Mr. Robinson was not entirely in control of his mental faculties during the tragedy -- he spent the entire game huddled in a long-sleeve jacket zipped to his chin, despite a game-time temperature in the 70s. Mr. Robinson can also be faulted for refusing to implement modernization procedures that would have improved his ability to analyze situations in a more calm, objective and productive manner. The Commission was ably assisted in its work by the testimony of Mr. Needham on this point.
Other evidence indicated that Mr. Robinson delegated far too much authority to a Mr. Rodriguez, a subordinate hopelessly out of his depth for the tasks given him. It is the Commission's view that Mr. Rodriguez was responsible for the removal of Messrs. Bergmann, Eischen and Hughes, as Mr. Rodriguez has been known to adhere to the left/right doctrine so inflexibily as to cause more harm than good.
The Commission is also disappointed by the lack of leadership at the very top of the Nationals agency. Had Congress identified and appointed a committed leader in advance of September 17, there is a chance that negligent officials like Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rodriguez could have been removed before they created the dangerous conditions for the PETCO disaster.
In sum, the Commission is strongly convinced of the view that the disaster of September 17 at PETCO Park could have easily been avoided, and that Messrs. Robinson and Rodriguez not only failed to react in a timely and appropriate manner to a perceived danger, but actually took steps to exacerabate the danger and create hazards where there were none before.
In order for the likelihood of tragedies like September 17 from happening again to our Nationals, it is imperative that the following steps be taken:
Messrs. Bergmann, Eischen and Hughes should be absolved of any responsibility for the tragic events. Indeed, they should be given commendations for attempting to perform under the chaotic conditions created by Mr. Robinson.
Mr. Cordero presents a more difficult case. There is no question that had he performed up to expectations, the catastrophe that befell the Nationals would not have occurred. However, the Commission is of the view that Mr. Cordero was not placed in a position where the normal expectations could be maintained. Mr. Cordero should receive a censure, but nothing more.
Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rodriguez should be removed from their posts immediately, and criminal charges should be brought against them. After the conviction which is sure to follow, a serious penalty be imposed, including, without limitation, removal of a limb or limbs, or reassignment to the Baltimore or Bronx field offices.