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Manny Machado must be suspended

6/9/2014

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is a month shy of his 22nd birthday, one of the bright young talents in the game.

But age is no excuse for his bush league move in Sunday's 11-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics in which he clearly, with intention and deliberate action, attempted to throw his bat at Oakland pitcher Fernando Abad. The bat ended up flying down the third-base line instead of toward the pitcher's mound, though Machado claimed the bat slipped out of his hands. No one is buying that piece of fiction: Machado should be suspended for at least five games.

Here's the longer version of the play as it unfolded. Decide for yourself, but note the lateness of the swing and when the bat "slipped." Even Orioles play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne accused Machado of deliberately releasing the bat.

Machado's bat throwing was the culmination of a series of events that began Friday night, when Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson tagged out Machado on a ground ball with two outs in the third inning, leading to a benches-clearing incident when Machado took exception to the play. Normally, the third baseman throws to first on that play, and the tag appeared to catch Machado off-balance and he flung his helmet to the ground as he fell and had words with Donaldson. But Donaldson didn't do anything improper; he obviously has the right to tag Machado.

That fracas cleared pretty quickly, but later in the game, Wei-Yin Chen threw high a couple times to Donaldson and hit him once. That set the stage for Sunday.

Earlier in the game, Machado hit A's catcher Derek Norris with a backswing. Then in the sixth inning, Machado whiffed on a pitch with another exaggerated follow-through that hit Norris on the top of his helmet and knocked him from the game.

From my view, the A's now had two reasons to be upset at Machado: He overreacted during Friday's play in which Donaldson did nothing wrong, leading to Donaldson nearly getting a pitch in his face; Machado's swing that knocked Norris from the game may not have been intentional but it's interesting that Machado didn't even glance back at Norris as the catcher attempted to shake off the blow. Factor in that it was the second time it happened in the game, and you can draw your own conclusions about Machado's actions.

So with a 10-0 lead in the eighth inning, Abad threw a fastball near Machado's knees, a pitch that was easy to jump away from. On the next pitch, Machado let the bat fly. Can you defend Abad's pitch? We get into the complicated area of retribution here. It's easy to argue, "Let it go. You're up 10-0. Finish off the game and go home." On the other hand, Machado had been acting like a punk.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter supported his third baseman after Friday's dust-up, saying, "Manny cares. Until you've walked a mile in a man's shoes you don't really know what goes on. It's a pretty easy call for me what side of the fence I'm on."

Look, I can't pretend to be in anybody's shoes here, but I'm trying to figure what Donaldson did on Friday that would deserve Chen throwing at him. This is where Showalter -- as a leader of men and the manager of the team -- should have said, "This is where it ends. Move on."

Showalter had a little more difficulty defending his young third baseman on Sunday.

"If you look at it realistically, it was two competitive guys. Both were probably a little right and a little wrong," he said in reference to Friday's incident. "Two days later, somebody decided to do something else. I'll manage my club accordingly and they'll live with their decisions."

Look, managers these days aren't going to publicly reprimand their player. But this wasn't a 50-50 situation; this was Machado throwing his bat and trying to injure a pitcher, after he may have tried to injure a catcher. No, this isn't as bad as Juan Marichal attacking Johnny Roseboro with his bat or Bert Campaneris throwing his bat at Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow in the 1972 American League Championship Series. I would, however, suggest it's worse than the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza incident in the World Series. To a certain extent, the game polices itself, but I'm going to predict that Joe Torre in the league office is going to find good reason to suspend Machado.

After the game, A's catcher John Jaso brought up the proverbial "play the game the right way" stuff you hear from players after incidents like this, and in this case I actually agree with him. This isn't the same thing as Yasiel Puig flipping his bat or David Ortiz watching a home run, in which the "play the game the right way" stuff is nonsense. There's a big difference between playing the game with joy and playing the game with the intent to injure.

I don't agree, as Jaso said, that a player like Machado who acts "like he's got 10 years in the big leagues" has "to be brought down a little bit." That leads to incidents where players can and do get hurt. But we can all agree that Machado failed to play the game the right way on Sunday and must pay a severe penalty.

Norris called Machado's actions "a disgrace to baseball." Those are strong words, but I have to agree.