Please don't let this become a thing.
The Oakland Athletics once again found themselves in the middle of the dumbest controversy imaginable on Friday. Josh Donaldson fielded a ground ball and, rather than throwing to first for the final out of the inning, he instead tagged the base runner (Manny Machado) who was passing right by him. Machado took exception to ... something, and the benches cleared.
Machado, via the Baltimore Sun: "Didn't agree on the tag. Right play, he made the right play, but just didn't agree on the tag that he made on me, and I just had to get up and confront him." Umm, ok? I think he's trying to say "I was wrong" without actually saying it, but I can't be sure.
Around 99 percent of the baseball world agrees that Donaldson did nothing wrong, and that Machado was being over-sensitive. I'd go a step further -- Machado was completely out of line and needs an attitude adjustment, specifically to learn how to be responsible for his own actions rather than blaming others. This reminds me of the Lowrie Bunt Incident, in which the Astros wanted to continue trying to win (by shifting the defense) but didn't want the other team to keep trying to win (by trying to get on base). If you want the other guy to give up, you have to give up first. In this case, Machado was running into a virtually guaranteed out -- how often does a runner manage to avoid a fielder who is literally standing in the basepath waiting for him? Maybe once in a minor league blooper reel or a slapstick comedy movie? It's such a low-percentage play that it has, effectively, a zero percent chance of success. And yet, rather than just conceding the out, Machado decided to try to jump and juke out of the way. Then he got knocked down by the slightest breeze because he was off-balance from his maneuvering, and he was mad that he fell down because he has a surgically repaired knee and would rather not push the boundaries of health.
Maybe I'm being biased here, but the answer seems clear -- if you want to be tagged gently and carefully to protect the fragile parts of your body, then don't try to avoid the tag. You, and you alone, are reponsible for your health; Donaldson did not endanger Machado by making a routine baseball play, Machado endangered himself by trying to make a maneuver that he apparently feels he can't handle making. And that's before considering that there wasn't a force at third on the play, so he could have just run back to second or not gone to third at all on the grounder to the literal third baseman. And while it is unusual for a third baseman to go for the tag like that, Donaldson himself did it just a week prior. I even made a note about it on Twitter because it's a play you almost never see and I can never figure out why:
I've always wanted to see a 3B just go for the tag for the 3rd out like that. Bless you, Josh Donaldson. @BringerOfRain20— Athletics Nation (@athleticsnation) May 31, 2014
I've heard mention that the play was out of the ordinary, but it's clearly something that Donaldson is starting to do. After all, why make a long throw when you don't have to? Anyway, the point here is not to dissect the play and assign blame. I'm not even sure that there is anyone arguing in favor of Machado's antics, so I'm probably just fighting a strawman.
No, my point today regards the next two games. Please, please, A's, don't respond to this. You see, despite the fact that even Buck Showalter must have been sitting there shaking his head at the dumb behavior of his 21-year-old phenom, the Orioles still responded to the incident. Wei-Yin Chen brushed back Donaldson with a pitch in the sixth, then hit him later in the at-bat. He didn't only hit him, he aimed it up around the hands and head, which is just unacceptable. The unwritten rules unstate that you should hit a guy in the butt or somewhere relatively safe. The head and hands and wrists are not that place, and Chen threw there twice. He wasn't just retaliating, he was head-hunting.
So, time to fight back, right? They threw at our superstar, so now we plunk Machado or Davis or Cruz, right? NO! A MILLION TIMES NO! I tend to side with the School of Dirk Hayhurst on the the matter of baseball's stupid, macho, dangerous, unsportsmanlike unwritten rules. End this bullshit. It reminds me of gang warfare, constantly taking an eye for an eye but then following that by taking a third eye in return for the second eye, and then a fourth in return for the third, etc. The Orioles were pissed about some childish complaint, and so they fought back. That's it. It's over, unless you let it continue.
This is a chance for the A's to once again move the entire sport forward. Be the bigger team and fight back in a different way. You know how the A's responded to this example of unsportsmanlike whining? They came back and won the game in extra innings. That's how you show the other guy up. Stand back up and beat him on the field. That wasn't enough for Machado, who homered in his next at-bat after the incident; he just had to get one more proverbial word in by having his teammates retaliate further. And, as Jeremy pointed out in his recap, the pitches that Chen wasted on Donaldson may have prevented him from going further into the game and may have exposed the bullpen more than necessary, leading to the late-inning collapse. One side chose to focus on keeping it real, and the other side chose to focus on winning the game. I'd rather be that latter side every day of the week.
As we venture further into the 21st century, most of baseball's old bad habits will continue to fall by the wayside. Home plate collisions are already gone, and the "human element" of umpiring is on its way out the door. Popping chemicals into your body like candy is no longer acceptable. Someday, artificial turf will vanish forever, and teams will stop signing Delmon Young. Today, it's time for the retaliatory HBP to go.
Unwritten rules are stupid. Complaining about opposing professional athletes trying to win games is stupid. Assaulting other humans with projectiles because you don't like how they looked at you is stupid, and if you did it in public you would go to jail. All of this whining is the most unsportsmanlike part of the game, and it sets a terrible example for everyone. But most importantly, it doesn't help you win. If there's one thing the A's are supposed to be about, it's cutting out all of the B.S. and the conventional wisdom and doing exactly what it takes to win games, nothing more and nothing less. It's time to add emotions to the list of factors that the A's control. Let the opponent spend all evening being distracted by something you did; perhaps it will mess with his head enough to make a difference in the box score. Meanwhile, focus on the task at hand. When you're the best team on the field, you have nothing to gain by letting the other team throw you off your game.
So please, A's, let this be over. Be the bigger team, let bygones be bygones, and focus on winning the series. Revenge is not worth a free base runner.