Losing His Grip

"The bat slipped out of my hands," said Manny Machado about the incident Sunday that incited a bench-clearing altercation between the Orioles and A's. (USA TODAY Sports)

"The bat slipped out of my hands," said Manny Machado about the incident Sunday that incited a bench-clearing altercation between the Orioles and A's. (USA TODAY Sports)

Before I started writing for Baseball Prospectus and Sports on Earth, I blogged about the Baltimore Orioles; before that, I was an Orioles fan. I note this here only so that the following sentiment has the appropriate weight behind it.

Third baseman Manny Machado’s conduct in Baltimore’s weekend series against the Oakland Athletics has been immature and inexcusable, and it needs immediate correction by both his team and MLB. Machado should be riding the bench until the league office determines what punishment to mete out for his actions in Sunday’s matinee, when Machado — incensed that Athletics reliever Fernando Abad came inside with fastballs at his knees twice during an 8th inning at-bat, in a game that was already far out of reach for Baltimore — threw his bat down the left field line, where it came close to hitting both Oakland third baseman Alberto Callaspo and third base umpire Angel Hernandez.

Donaldson already had been the target of an on-field tantrum from Machado in Friday night’s series opener, when he tagged the 21-year-old hard on the chest as Machado tried to advance from second to third on an infield grounder. What was already a questionable baserunning decision on Machado’s part turned into a full-fledged embarrassment for Baltimore when, after Donaldson applied the tag, Machado threw himself down on the infield grass as if he had just been tackled by a linebacker. Then he sprung to his feet and got into a toe-to-toe shouting match with the smaller Donaldson as the benches cleared.

Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen, who had not hit a single batter coming into his 12th start of the year on Friday (and against whom Donaldson had homered earlier), threw a pair of fastballs up near Donaldson’s chin in his following plate appearance, the second of which hit the Oakland third baseman on the forearm as he brought his hands back to get out of the way. Chen had been wild the entire at-bat, so it’s not inconceivable that hitting Donaldson was an honest mistake — though that’s certainly not what it looked like, given the evening up to that point. No matter what the intent behind that pitch was, that should have been the end of it.

Which brings us to Machado’s behavior in Sunday’s game. A few things need to be made crystal clear to Machado by manager Buck Showalter and his coaching staff. The first is that under absolutely no circumstances is it ever acceptable for a major league hitter to let go of his bat intentionally during a swing. A flying, spinning bat with that kind of force behind it can range from highly dangerous to lethal, and unlike a pitcher throwing a baseball, it is not a motion that any player has spent a substantial amount of time practicing or refining. That bat could have flown anywhere: at Abad, at Donaldson, at Hernandez, at Machado’s own third base coach Bobby Dickerson, into the third base dugout or (in the worst possible scenario) at a fan in the stands. It’s indefensible when a pitcher intentionally throws at a hitter, certainly, but at least a major league pitcher can more or less put a purpose pitch where he wants it; pitching a baseball is something he’s been doing his entire adult life. Letting go of your bat at the end of swing — even just in frustration — is an immensely dangerous act that puts a whole lot of people at risk. “It was an accident” neither explains nor excuses such carelessness, especially when there’s ample reason to believe that it was not, in fact, an accident.

So Machado should sit immediately. The league should suspend him for at least 10 games, though I’d have no complaint if they tacked on a few more. Machado has been a model citizen up until this weekend. He appeared to be one of the best-adjusted and mature young players in baseball up until the bottom of the third on Friday. Hopefully, a lengthy suspension will make it clear to him just how unacceptable it is to endanger other players, coaches, officials and possibly fans, because of some perceived on-field slight.

That goes no matter who the player is, no matter what team he plays for. When the kind of behavior Manny Machado displayed in this weekend’s series shows up in the major leagues, it needs to be nipped in the bud immediately.

8 thoughts on “Losing His Grip

  1. Throw a ball at him, or even a bat, but just be sure baseball throws the book at him and he gets a hefty suspension with a big fine, as thats simply unacceptable behavior for a ballplayer.

  2. I seriously doubt the Orioles reprimand Machado in any way. Buck Showalter clearly either doesn’t have his team under control or is a bush leaguer, himself. Seriously, why did Chen throw at Donaldson on Friday? Because Donaldson put a hard tag on Machado, and Manny threw a hissy fit? Bob Melvin sure as hell wasn’t going to escalate the situation at that point; his primary concern is winning baseball games.

    But not Showalter, apparently. By allowing Donaldson to get plunked for no reason, whatsoever, and then offering full-throated support of Machado’s already embarrassing temper tantrum on Friday, Showalter encouraged further petulance on Machado’s part, and set the stage for the events yesterday. Let’s not act as if it’s likely that Machado accidentally hit Norris with his backswing twice in three at-bats yesterday. Even for a guy with a swing as long as Machado’s, hitting a catcher with the backswing is a rare occurrence. The fact that Machado didn’t even look in the catcher’s direction and could be clearly seen grinning after the second blow, which knocked Norris out of the game, should give us a pretty clear idea that there was intent there.

    One could have reasonably concluded that Machado thinks it’s acceptable to use his bat as a weapon even before he threw it at the A’s infield, but he went ahead and dispelled all possible doubt. I’m glad I’m not an Orioles fan this morning. Much more so than the probability of a suspension, seeing one’s best young player reveal himself to be an irresponsible brat has got to be deeply disturbing. I’m not sure just what Machado’s deal is, but the guy seems to have some personal problems.

  3. Just a minor note, Donaldson was out of the game at that point. Sogard had come in to play second with Alberto Callaspo moving to third at the start of the inning.

  4. I agree that Machado should be suspended.

    Oh, wait, no I don’t. Roger Clemens threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza in the World Series and nothing happened to him. Machado behaved immaturely this weekend, but why is it acceptable for a pitcher to launch 2 straight pitches at his knees (one of which was just surgically repaired) and not expect Machado to lose his cool.

    The O’s do need to get the clubhouse under control however. They’ve been playing with a remarkable lack of discipline this season. Their baserunning and hitting approach have been overly aggressive, and their stellar defense from last year has regressed.

  5. I’m not rooting for either team but I love baseball. That said, it’s sad to see a young player like Machado lose it and act like a punk. Baseball-wise, his conduct would not be tolerated at any level.

    I get why his manager wouldn’t publicly throw him under the bus, but it’s a safe bet that Buck Showalter/ veteran ballplayers in the O’s clubhouse are straightening him out now before he further disrespects the game, gets teammates and himself hurt. What he did last night, “accidentally” throwing his bat, and even before that, “accidentally” hitting the A’s catcher twice in the head with his bat and openly smiling about, is sick.

    Machado’s conduct brought to mind Team Mexico’s “El Idiot” Alfredo Aceves in a WBC game, when Team Canada’s first base coach Larry Walker said he had a hold of Aceves “and saw Satan in his eyes.” Here’s hoping we don’t see that in Machado — the game doesn’t need it.

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