Like all young players, Machado still growing
Teammates, manager Showalter come to defense of third baseman
BALTIMORE -- Right about now, there are a bunch of people who seem pretty anxious to take shots at Manny Machado. And the Orioles' third baseman has nobody to blame but himself.
There's no excuse for intentionally tossing your bat into the field of play -- as Machado did after an inside pitch from Athletics reliever Fernando Abad on Sunday, causing both benches to clear. Major League Baseball responded with a five-game suspension, which is being appealed.
Now it's time for everybody to sit down and be quiet.
There's no way to prove it, of course, but there's a pretty good chance a lot of the same folks who are demonizing the 21-year-old's immaturity were marveling at how mature he was just last season, when he dazzled with his glove and his bat -- and his poise -- and finished ninth in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting even though he couldn't legally buy a beer yet.
The only thing that's changed since then is that Machado made a mistake. Which makes him different from, well, nobody at that age. Here's some simple proof: Go back and take a look at your high school yearbook. The lapels! The ties! The hairstyles! What were we thinking?
Kids sometimes do dumb things. And that's even without the disorienting effect of the fame and the money and the attention. Machado, still a kid, did a dumb thing during a big league game where everybody could see it. He apologized. Discipline has been administered. Unless this becomes a pattern -- and there's no evidence to suggest it will -- there's no reason to make this into a bigger deal than it is.
"He's a good kid and he means well," manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday. "He just made a bad decision. So what made everybody talk about him being immature? Was it statistics? What was it? That's what I would ask. I think he's shown maturity in the way he's handled this."
Showalter makes a good point. Machado came into play Tuesday night batting .229 with three doubles in 35 games. Last season, he batted .283 and led the league with 51 two-baggers. That, of course, was before he tore a ligament in his left knee in September, an injury that ended his season and required surgery.
So in addition to youth, add frustration to the list of reasons that could help explain why Machado did what he did. Showalter said he hasn't seen any difference in his demeanor this season.
"[But] I saw a difference in his knee -- that was the big thing," Showalter. "This is a guy who's been the best of the best everywhere he's been. And then he had a really serious knee surgery and a lot of things have been different in his life."
Showalter also noted pointedly that Machado has gotten a lot of good advice from his teammates since the incident. A couple of them -- first baseman Chris Davis and outfielder Adam Jones -- weighed in Tuesday.
"I think it's more of the group of guys we have in the clubhouse. We really pride ourselves on playing the game the right way," Davis said. "You don't see guys pimping home runs here, yelling at other guys when they strike him out. A lot of times in this game, that gets lost. People want to shine the spotlight on themselves. They want to pump themselves up and forget about what it's like to be a professional. We're not going to let anybody push us around, but we're going to play the game the right way. I think that's really the biggest thing to remember here, is let's be professionals on a daily basis."
Added Jones: "You do the crime, you do the time. He understands it. We're going to miss him. It's part of it. You screw up, you have to deal with the consequences. He'll deal with it and move on. We've already moved on."
This is probably the first time Machado has faced any real adversity in his baseball life.
"I think adversity is good if you handle it the right way," Davis said. "I've been in this position before. I've been in way worse than his position before. I was young. I was proud of the way I handled it. I think if you really treat it the right way and try to learn from it, it can be a learning experience. Manny's a good kid. He's not a bad person. He got fired up. This is a game of emotion. He's going to bounce back from it."
There's always been a human tendency to build people up and then tear them down. It just happens so much faster now that news can circle the globe almost instantaneously through social media and everybody has an outlet to share his or her take on any subject.
"The different avenues that also make our game more appealing because of the communication about players -- you can't slow that down," Showalter said. "And unfortunately there are some people who like shooting at it and see how quickly they can get [someone] back down the pole. Then the next year they're the Comeback Player of the Year and they go back up the pole. I get it. It's the way the whole world works."
What Machado did was dead wrong. Condemn the action. But cut the kid some slack.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.