Forty-five minutes before Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline, shortstop Trea Turner held a news conference in regards to offensive tweets he made in 2011 and '12 that surfaced over the weekend,. The tweets included a gay slur, anti-gay comments and a joke with racist undertones.
"For starters," Turner said, "I want to apologize to everybody that was affected by things that I said. LGBT community, African-American community, special-needs community, I'm truly sorry for what I said and I want to take full responsibility for that. I want to apologize to my teammates. I just had talked to them, to make sure they know my thoughts and where I'm at. I want to apologize to [general manager] Mike Rizzo and the Nationals for bringing this distraction to this team and the organization."
It's a distraction that the Nationals can ill afford right now. After Tuesday's 25-4 win over the New York Mets, Washington (53-53) sits in third place in the National League East, 5½ games behind the the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.
After Sunday's 5-0 loss to the Miami Marlins, Turner released a statement apologizing for the tweets that had surfaced earlier that day. On Tuesday, he elaborated on that apology.
"Most importantly, apologize to the fans," said the 25-year-old shortstop, who delivered his comments in the Nationals news conference room with his hands clasped and appearing to be visibly choked up. "The fans have been sharing their thoughts over the last few days and I've had the chance to read a few of them, and I think that's where it's the most affected by what I said. I want to apologize to those people.
"It's not when I said the things that I said -- it's that I said them at all. That's a clear learning point from this. Making sure that anybody is aware of what they're saying at all times, and no matter how you use it or what context you use it in, words hurt. It's wrong and inexcusable for what I said. I know I said I'm an athlete and I want to use that platform for good and make a difference in a positive way, and I think I can do that and I want to do that. Moving forward, that's something I need to look into and make sure I'm doing. I just want to reiterate that I'm really sorry for what I said."
Turner hit leadoff on Tuesday and went 4-for-6 with three runs scored. He didn't receive a notable reaction from the crowd in Washington ahead of his first at-bat, then he singled, stole two bases and scored on a Harper double. That was part of a seven-run first, the team's largest opening inning in over three years and the most first-inning runs by any NL team this season. It ended the night with a franchise record 25 runs.
Shortly after Turner finished speaking, teammate Sean Doolittle addressed reporters regarding tweets he posted in the wake of the Turner controversy. On Monday, Doolittle, a social activist and avid Twitter user, posted a lengthy thread that ended with the following message: "It's a privilege to play in the major leagues and we have an obligation to leave the game better than we found it. There's no place for racism, insensitive language or even casual homophobia. I hope we can learn from this and make the MLB a place where all our fans feel welcome."
On Tuesday, Doolittle stood in front of his locker and reiterated his call for change, but made it clear that he had no intention of singling out Turner.
"I don't want people to think in any way that I was piling on Trea, that I was attacking him," said Doolittle, who has been Turner's teammate since last July, when the reliever came to Washington in a trade. "I was trying to provide a little bit of context, and I've had a couple of conversations with Trea over the past couple of days. He did address the team. I think he's stood up and accepted responsibility and really expressed a lot of remorse for what he said.
"I think a lot of times it's a tough thing to grapple with having something you said as a 17- or 18-year-old come back to haunt you a little bit later in life, and I think sometimes when you're that age, you might know those things are wrong to say but maybe you don't know anybody that's been personally affected by them. It's tough for you to really understand the damage, the real damage that they can and do cause.
"I really just hope this can be a learning thing."
Doolittle's comments came just minutes after the team announced that fellow reliever Brandon Kintzler, whose locker is next to Doolittle's, had been dealt to the Chicago Cubs in a surprising 11th-hour move.
"I thought they were joking," said Kintzler, who was 1-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 45 appearances this season. "I'm pretty shocked, but you get to go to a great situation right now. I've already talked to them; they're excited. You want to feel wanted wherever you go. They're in a great situation, a great team; obviously, we played them last year. They're tough, so I get to go there and help them out."
It's the second straight year that Kintzler, who came to Washington in a deadline deal last July 31 and who turns 34 on Wednesday, will be changing uniforms right around his birthday. Unlike last season, he wasn't expecting this move.
"I felt like I was throwing the ball well, and I can go help a contender -- another contender -- right now," he said. "I don't know. It's all shell-shock right now. I'm at a loss for words."
Aside from moving Kintzler, Rizzo and the Nationals didn't make any other trades in the final days leading up to the deadline. That includes Harper, whose name had recently been thrown into the rumor mill as possible trade bait.
"Whenever you hear your name or see your name on stuff, you always wonder," Harper said Tuesday. "But that's the business side of the game. Other teams are trying to get better. It's something that came up. Rizzo reassured me earlier [Monday] that I wasn't going anywhere, so I was very happy about that, and happy that I'm still inside this clubhouse."
Rizzo confirmed that the team did, in fact, engage in conversations about trading Harper.
"We had a whole bunch of discussions with teams about a litany of our players," Rizzo said. "Bryce was one of them. Several teams had more than a passing interest. We did our due diligence on Bryce and five to six other of our players and couldn't come up with a deal that made sense for us for the 2018 season and beyond."
In exchange for Kintzler, Washington received pitcher Jhon Romero from Chicago. A 23-year old righty, Romero was 1-2 with nine saves and a 3.27 ERA in 32 games for Single-A Myrtle Beach.