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.