Why punishing Manny Machado does nothing

Drew Fairservice
Joy R. Absalon / USA TODAY Sports

The list of things we know about Manny Machado gets longer every day. We know that he’s a terrific fielder, one of the finest defensive third baseman in baseball. We know he’s not actually a third baseman, that’s he’s a shortstop by trade.

With every passing day, his offense starts to support the claims made by his defense - he’s a shortstop. He hits like a shortstop, which is to say not well. The further we get from his hot start to the 2013 season, the more the scales tip towards “not a very good hitter.” Those great at bats and doubles start to look like the exception, and the below-average production (few walks and no power of which to speak) look like the rule.

After this week, we started to see a more human side of Manny Machado. The side that looks like frustration and the first tastes of failure at the tender age of 21 are getting the best of him, resulting in some aggressive on-field actions.

Immaturity is the very large broom used to sweep any and all bad behavior under the carpet, the professional media versus of “boys will be boys. There is no measure of maturity, or lack thereof, that makes the stuff Manny Machado did this weekend okay. Throwing your bat into the field is petulant and dumb.

It speaks to the impassive boredom that greets beanballs as the calls for Machado’s punishment are coming loudly and steadily. What he did was incredibly dumb and needlessly reckless, but compared to baseball’s more common form of corporal punishment is seems more harmless to me.

Delivering baseballs at pace with surgical precision is what pitchers do. Tossed bats are indeed dangerous but if anything, the two wild swings from Machado that caught A’s catcher Derek Norris on the follow through, forcing him from Sunday’s game, are a more dangerous attack on a prone opponent. 

But they can be explained away as accidental. The optics of tossing a bat are terrible even though the reality is more benign.

Minimizing Machado’s crimes doesn’t change baseball’s twisted justice system. This is the third time this season the Orioles have been involved in some sort of bench-clearing dustup. While manager Buck Showalter, so frequently lauded for his role in the Orioles shock return to the postseason in 2012, makes passive comments about players handling their own business on the field.

Is there any connection between the Orioles feisty nature, as a group, their manager and the outbursts of their youngest player as he struggles and confronts mortality for the first time in his life?

The roundabout logic that his teammates will step in to police Machado to avoid retribution being exacted upon them, rather than their young teammate, is well-worn if flawed. Just as threats to his bank account tend to ring hollow, though Machado earns just above the league minimum.

The baseball culture is in no great hurry to change. Machado’s actions attract extra attention only because they were so far out of the ordinary. They pinged radars attuned to A Story. Machado heaves bat is this week’s Man Bites Dog.  

Punishment will come for Machado and he’ll express deep regret and his teammates and manager will point to learning experiences and everyone will pack up and go home. Because nobody was injured, the incident will fade from memory quickly. 

The lesson here? If you’re going to do something dumb and reckless, do it within the previously established confines of antisocial behavior. The unwritten rules wait for no man.