Manny Machado's five-game suspension for bat throw feels too short
As expected, Manny Machado has been suspended for his actions during a tense series against the A's this past weekend, with Major League Baseball giving the 21-year-old Orioles third baseman a five-game vacation. But that ban feels light given the trio of incidents that culminated in his ejection for intentionally tossing his bat during Sunday's game.
To recap: On Friday night, Machado overreacted to a hard but clean tag while trying to evade A's third baseman Josh Donaldson. While backpedaling, he spiked his batting helmet in the direction of Donaldson before toppling to the ground. When he rose to his feet, the two players went nose to nose as benches and bullpens cleared, though Orioles coach Bobby Dickerson was able to restrain Machado before punches were thrown:
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On Sunday, Machado hit A's catcher Derek Norris twice with his backswing, and while the contact was incidental, he expressed no concern or professional courtesy towards Norris, who was forced from the game. When he came to bat in the ninth inning, A's reliever Fernando Abad tried to plunk his lower half not once but twice. After the second attempt, Machado swung very late, then let the bat fly out of his hands, though instead of spinning towards the pitcher, it landed near third baseman Alberto Callaspo and umpire Angel Hernandez. Benches again cleared, and Machado and Abad were both ejected:
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In postgame interviews, Machado claimed that the bat slipped out of his hands unintentionally, an explanation that nobody this side of his mother — certainly not Orioles play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne in the clip above — believed, given his delayed swing. On Monday, Machado issued a prerecorded apology via the Orioles' Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, though he did not take questions from the media.
Machado's five-game suspension feels short, though that may be because it's difficult to position among the limited number of recent precedents. Quite simply, most major leaguers are able to control their emotions well enough to know that throwing a bat towards another player in anger is a stupid and incredibly dangerous act. In 2002, Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon threw a bat toward Devil Rays pitcher Ryan Rupe. He wasn't ejected from the game but drew just a four-game suspension. Note the announcers' observation that he's covered in pine tar, making "it slipped" an implausible excuse:
In Game 2 of the 1973 American League Championship Series, A's shortstop Bert Campaneris threw his bat over the head of Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow, who had just hit him in the ankle with a pitch:
Campaneris was suspended for the remainder of the series (which ran three more games) but was allowed to return for the World Series. He began the 1974 season by sitting for another seven games, running the total penalty to 10 games.
The other bat-throwing penalty that immediately comes to mind is the 50-game suspension Delmon Young drew as a member of the Devil Rays' Triple-A Durham team in 2006. After being ejected for arguing balls and strikes, he hit the home plate umpire with his thrown bat. That penalty was severe because he did make contact, and as a minor leaguer, he did not have the Major League Baseball Players Association to lobby for a more lenient suspension.
Machado's toss clearly wasn't as egregious as Young's. But while a four-game suspension would have matched that of Nixon, the combination of that and Machado's other two incidents from the series created a pattern of behavior that suggests an anger management problem and little regard for the safety of other players — a pattern that certainly would have made a longer suspension defensible. Ten games, to match Campaneris, seems about right.
Machado is appealing his suspension, so he won't begin serving it until MLB hears his side of the story and potentially reduces the penalty. That said, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette has not ruled out the possibility of demoting Machado to the minor leagues in light of his struggles since coming back from offseason knee surgery that delayed his 2014 debut until May 1. Duquette told SI.com's Tom Verducci, "I think what we're looking at is a player development issue with Manny. [A minor league assignment] is always an option." Currently, Machado is hitting just .229/.283/.336 through 154 plate appearances this year. Worse, he's at .252/.286/.380 in 570 plate appearances over the past 365 days, with a 101/25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. While his elite defense has given him a place in any discussion regarding the game's young stars past and present, it's clear that he still has so much to learn at the major league level — and not just at the plate.