Before last weekend, if I had to summarize Manny Machado in one sentence, it would have been something like this: "It's a shame that 21-year-old Manny Machado gets ignored when everyone talks about Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as the wunderkinds of baseball." I don't think he needs to worry about being ignored anymore.
Machado made his name in the worst possible way in the Orioles' series against the Athletics the last three days. Sure, he was an All-Star and Gold Glover last year, but he still wasn't yet a household name. Now he is, and it's for his behavior rather than his playing ability. Without getting too deep into the proceedings:
- On Friday, he tried really hard to avoid an inevitable tag on a routine play and was inexplicably upset when the ensuing tag caused him to fall over. (Note: Completely Machado's fault for choosing to make an acrobatic attempt on a ridiculously low-percentage chance of success, so low that it might have been a zero-percentage chance)
- On Sunday, he knocked catcher Derek Norris with his backswing twice, and, while they were both clearly accidents, he offered no words of apology and was seen smiling about the incident as Norris was being checked by his trainer.
- Later Sunday, after A's pitcher Fernando Abad buzzed him with an inside pitch (but didn't hit him), Machado threw his bat on a "swing and miss." There is no question that he threw it on purpose. It went up the third-base line, but it was likely intended for Abad.
Oh man. There is a lot to get into here.
Let's start with Machado. I'm not going to do the holier-than-thou sportswriter thing and write about entitled youth and the irresponsibility of the millenial generation and the finer points of getting off my lawn. The videos are embedded right there, and you can see (and judge) Machado's actions for yourself. Yes, I think that he threw his bat on purpose. Yes, I think that this is the rare circumstance in which one side is completely wrong and the other is completely innocent (remember, Abad didn't actually hit him). Yes, I think that Machado has a serious attitude problem, some anger issues, and a poor understanding of how his actions result in consequences (like blaming Donaldson, rather than himself, for the tag play on Friday). And yes, I'm pretty sure that, at this moment, Machado is a horrible person, although that can be addressed and corrected over time. Only a horrible person would smile at an injury he had caused, then throw his bat at another ballplayer and publicly lie about his intention after the fact.
But none of that is interesting to me. Moralizing is easy, especially when the object of your scorn is a picture of a guy who you'll never meet face to face, whose life story you are not privy to, and who everyone else is piling on. I will live vicariously through the AN community to get my yuks in that regard. And please, do continue ripping on him, because he deserves it and it's fun to rally around a common cause (but please watch your gender-based language). Otherwise, I'll let the A's do the talking, because their opinions are more qualified anyway since they're the ones on the field:
Norris on Machado: "what he's doing is a disgrace to baseball."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) June 8, 2014
Norris: "I think it’s sad that a player needs to take things to a certain level ... He’s gotta know that he was in the wrong at some point."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) June 8, 2014
Norris said not only did Machado not check on him after hitting him w/ two backswings today, he saw him smiling after second one.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) June 8, 2014
Jaso: "There's a certain respect you have to have for the game, and when I see someone doesn't treat it as such, it doesn't sit well w/ me."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) June 8, 2014
Vogt: "We’re going to move on. But it’s something that should never happen on a baseball field. I’ve never seen anything like that before."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) June 8, 2014
Strong words from guys who don't usually have big presences in the media. It takes a lot to get these unflappable A's in a tizzy, and Machado managed to cross that threshold. Hopefully the result will be that it increases the fire that this team has shown so far, rather than derailing the incredible momentum that it has built up.
Instead of finding new ways to condemn Machado, let's take a look at some of the other characters in this drama. First up is Buck Showalter. He has a reputation for being part of baseball's old school, and as a manager he's shown a capability to turn a team of scrappy youngsters into a contender but not to take that contender all the way to the promised land. Here is what he had to say, via Susan Slusser's Drumbeat:
"I think if you look at it realistically, you had two competitive people the first day that both were probably a little right and both of them a little wrong. I always try to let the players handle those things instead of getting involved with them.. ... Two days ago they had a disagreement over what Manny perceived as something and I'm always going to support him. And then two days later in a 10-nothing game in the eighth inning, someone decided to do something else. I'll manage my club accordingly and they can live with their decisions."
Bull. Crap. I couldn't be more disappointed in an otherwise respected veteran. I understand that a manager's job is to support his players and be on their side. I get that. But in this situation, being on Machado's side means showing some tough love. Being on his side means looking out for the rest of his career rather than sugar-coating today's realities. Being on his side means calling him out when he's wrong, in the way that only a really good friend will tell you that you have some broccoli in your teeth or that maybe it's time to change that shirt because you're starting to stink a bit. Managers pull their players (even their stars) for lack of hustle all the time, which is basically publicly calling them out. Throwing a bat at an opponent is way worse than failing to run out a grounder.
Buck had a chance to do some serious parenting on Sunday, and he utterly failed. He condoned Machado acting like a fool, he condoned violence in his sport, and he condoned poor sportsmanship, all by failing to condemn them in any way. I find that response to be really weak, as well as damaging to his own team. If Machado is a disgrace to baseball, then Buck is his professor on the topic. Here's what I wish he'd said:
"Listen, ballplayers can be emotional, and Manny is just a kid. He's 21. Think back to how you acted when you were a junior in college, or when you were three years out of high school. Everyone makes mistakes, and Manny is no exception. He probably overreacted to some stuff this weekend, and we'll address that internally in addition to whatever discipline Joe (Torre) chooses to dole out. And I can't ignore that (Abad) clearly threw at him in the eighth, but that doesn't excuse Manny's behavior. He needs to know that behavior like that can result in his teammates getting hit in retaliation, so it's not all about him. He's a heck of a ballplayer and a heck of a human being, regardless of what you saw out of him this weekend. We're going to work together and he's going to come out of this experience as a better, stronger person. But to make it clear, I don't condone what he did today, throwing the bat like that. That was unacceptable and it has no place on my ballclub or in this sport. It reflected poorly on Manny, on me, and on our team."
It's possible to back up your player and still come down on his behavior at the same time. Buck chose not to, and that's really a shame. If I was an Orioles fan, I think I'd wait a week before wearing my cap in public again out of sheer embarrassment. I also have a better understanding of why Buck is always fired by his teams when they grow tired of his schtick -- he's got a .539 winning percentage as a manager and only has six losing seasons in 16 years (and only four below .488), and yet his five-year run in Baltimore is the longest he's ever spent in one dugout. I was never a Buck fan, and now the chances are even lower that I will ever become one.
Next up is Fernando Abad. He seems to be the "enforcer" of the A's bullpen -- when the Astros escalated the Lowrie Bunt Incident, it was Abad who plunked Jason Castro in response. This time, it was again Abad who threw at Machado. Based on my plea against violence on Saturday, you'd think I would be disappointed in the lefty. I'm not, though, because he didn't hit anyone. Throw inside all you want. Brush a guy back to get his attention. Just don't hit him. And Abad didn't. You could argue that he was trying to and that he simply missed his target, but in this case all I care about is the result. Kudos to the A's for keeping it as classy as an MLB team could be expected to keep it. They survived two bench-clearing "brawls," their superstar getting plunked, their catcher getting knocked out of the game while the culprit smiled about his handiwork in the background, and their opponent throwing a bat at them, and they still didn't actually hit anyone with a pitch. I could not be happier with my team.
Finally, there is Joe Torre, the man who will mete out punishments for the weekend's excitement. I fear that Abad, for throwing one pitch in the vicinity of a batter, will get an equal or greater punishment than Machado, who spent an entire weekend putting on a clinic in being a violent crybaby. I think Abad will get six games (that's what Brandon Workman got on Tuesday for throwing behind Evan Longoria) even though his offense wasn't even bad enough to warrant immediate ejection, and I worry that Machado will only get five or six for throwing his bat. I think that the bat toss deserves a longer suspension, because it's not a normal part of the game -- its rarity makes it conspicuous and makes the perpetrator look much crazier. When Bert Campaneris threw his bat in the 1972 playoffs, he was shut down for 10 total games (three in the ALCS, and seven more the next April). When Delmon Young (coincidentally Machado's teammate, though with much better aim) threw his at an umpire in the minors he got 50 games. If Machado gets anything less than 10, I will be outraged. He demonstrated violence, escalated the situation in two separate contests, and disrespected the game beyond a run-of-the-mill HBP. That needs a serious response, and the multiple transgressions deserve a harsher punishment than Abad's lone crime.
And finally, for the folks who still support retaliatory plunkings, all I can say is that we'll have to agree to disagree. The A's will now be one reliever short for six games, because you don't get to replace a suspended player on the roster. That means 24 men for two full series, and I don't see Bob Melvin sacrificing a position player from his bench. I have one goal for this season: winning the World Series. Not squaring up my grudges, or defending my honor, or getting back at my enemies. Winning the title. That's it. And losing a reliever for a week is counterproductive to that goal. That is a big reason why I don't like playing the back-and-forth HBP game.
This weekend, Machado was the embodiment of many of the things that I don't like in a person. To make it worse, Sunday was Little League Day at Machado's home park, so he put on his show of immaturity and poor sportsmanship in front of the maximum possible number of young local children. While the O's kept it real, the A's kept it classy. Now let's see how Judge Joe Torre rules in the case of The People vs. Manny Machado.
And now, we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming. The A's are, like, really good at baseball. And they're playing tonight, against the Angels.