Manny Machado got a bushel full of teachable moments this week.
The Baltimore Orioles starting third baseman, still at the tender age of 21 (by Major League Baseball standards), showed irrefutably over the weekend how much growing up he still has to do with a pair of downright embarrassing confrontations with the visiting Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards.
Just to recap -- on Friday night, Machado got into a dust-up with A's third baseman Josh Donaldson over what he perceived to be an overly aggressive tag. Machado fell on his backside on the play, but replays showed Donaldson's hard tag was absolutely a clean baseball play. Machado's helmet-slamming and nose-to-nose response stunned Donaldson, the rest of the A's and likely his own Orioles teammates.
That bizarre reaction should have been the end of it, but instead Orioles reliever Wei-Yin Chen suspiciously seemed to lose his otherwise impeccable command when Donaldson came to the plate, nearly hitting him once and then plunking him with a second pitch - Chen's first hit batsmen this year. If there was intent there, and it sure looked like there might be, that falls on the cooler heads in Baltimore's dugout -- namely, manager Buck Showalter and his coaching staff.
Then on Sunday, Machado managed to irritate the A's even more when he twice hit Oakland catcher Derek Norris in the head with his backswing, with the second knocking Norris out of the game. Few would say Machado meant to do that, even the A's, but his apparent unconcern over injuring a fellow player obviously didn't sit well with Oakland. To hear the A's tell it afterward, a certain professional courtesy was lacking in Machado's failure to apologize or at least check on the injured catcher.
In the bottom of the eighth, the A's employed the time-honored baseball method showing their displeasure when Fernando Abad buzzed an inside pitch toward Machado's knee. Machado didn't care for that, and stared down Abad from outside the batter's box. Abad came inside again on his next pitch, and Machado proceeded to fling his bat down the third-base line toward an unsuspecting Alberto Callaspo. Ostensibly, Machado's aim was as bad as his temper, although he lamely claimed afterward that the bat had merely slipped from his hands.
Nobody was buying that, of course, and Machado nearly touched off a bench-clearing brawl. It didn't take long for baseball fans and pundits to pick sides after watching the video from Sunday's game, and Machado soon felt the heat of public scorn.
By Monday, he was into full scripted apology mode -- not particularly sincere-sounding, but something at least. The Orioles, after initially trying to deflect some of the heat coming Machado's way, seemed to distance by Tuesday with Dan Duquette, Baltimore's executive vice-president of baseball operations, even mentioning a demotion -- for poor play, not necessarily for childish antics -- might be an option.
Major League Baseball had its own opinion, handing down a five-game suspension on Tuesday. Machado plans to appeal that, according to the Orioles, which probably isn't a great idea from a personal standpoint but should be helpful to his club at least.
So there it is -- Machado acted the fool, multiple times, and is in line to get his punishment. Five games seems just about right, too -- this is not Juan Marichal cracking John Roseboro over the head with his bat, or even Roberto Alomar spitting in umpire John Hirschbeck's face. This was a young player throwing a temper tantrum on national television and discovering the unpleasant consequences of his actions.
It's a tough lesson -- this incident will probably be tough for Machado to distance from for at least a few years. But Machado can put it behind him, by being a good teammate and a stand-up baseball citizen. He still has plenty of time to rein in that anger on display this past weekend, and hopefully this lesson is one he's learned for good.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>