Will the real Manny Machado please stand up?

Things got heated between Manny Machado and the Oakland A's this weekend.

Patrick Semansky/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Yes, Manny Machado behaved poorly last weekend. Friday night, Machado reacted angrily after a perfectly clean and appropriate tag play. He seemed to take Saturday off, but came back Sunday and flung his bat … at whom, exactly, it’s not clear. But angrily, for sure. Earlier in the game, he’d struck A’s catcher Derek Norris twice with his backswing … and seemed amused by this. He later claimed that he just didn’t know he’d hurt Norris, who’d been forced from the game with blurred vision.

Yeah, it was all pretty ugly.

Let’s not overreact, though. Heat of the moment and all that, and we might be charitable and assume that Machado didn’t strike Norris on purpose. So otherwise, what are we talking about here? He didn’t need to get in Donaldson’s grill, but nobody got hurt. Same with the bat-toss. Granted, it wasn’t something you see very often. From Susan Slusser’s on-the-spot reporting:

Donaldson couldn’t condone the bat toss on any level, saying that he’s always been taught that if hit by a pitch, “You take it like a man, go down to first base, and if you have that big of a problem, you go out to the mound. That’s how I’ve always been told, that’s how I’ve been brought up in the game. That said, I hope something’s learned from this. But I don’t really care. I’m trying to win games for my team.”

That’s great … except what do you think is more dangerous? Throwing a bat at a pitcher, or going after him with your fists? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. I do not mean to suggest that bat-throwing should be condoned or tolerated. But it’s not really so dangerous. Most of the energy in a thrown bat is rotational instead of linear, which means it’s not traveling fast when it reaches you, which means you can probably dodge it or deflect it, and if you can’t it won’t hit you very hard.

Again, not to condone or tolerate it. But if you hear somebody say, “Hey, he could have killed somebody with that thing!” … well, anything’s possible. But a significant injury was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, every year somebody gets hurt fighting on the mound. Donaldson’s way is more manly, but it’s also more likely to result in a stint on the disabled list.

David Schoenfield makes a convincing argument that Machado should be suspended. Well of course he should be suspended. He essentially caused not one, but two benches-clearing situations, and somebody might have been hurt. But let’s also hate the sin rather than the sinner. Let’s imagine what life might be like for someone with these experiences:

• Third pick in the whole 2010 amateur draft;

• Summoned to the majors just a month after turning 20;

• Becoming an All-Star at 21, finishing 19th in Most Valuable Player balloting at season’s end, and winning an award as the American League’s best fielder;

• Suffering a knee injury that cost him a week at the end of the 2013 season, and a month at the start of the 2014 season;

• Struggling badly upon reentering the Orioles’ lineup; last season he really was one of the American League’s best players, and this season he’s been one of the league’s worst (every-day) players, his hitting and fielding both way off his previous standards.

Granted, when you’re young and dumb and full of fun, four years can actually seem like a fairly long time. But for most of us, these aren’t four years of great emotional and spiritual growth. Rather, they’re four years of trying to figure out how you fit into this mixed-up crazy world … and the figuring probably isn’t any easier when you’re suddenly wealthy and famous and don’t have to carry your own bags.

In his (subscription-only) newsletter, Joe Sheehan pointed out that just a year ago, all anyone could talk about was Machado’s maturity. Now, though?

Now, that coverage will pivot, because there’s clicks to be had in the pivot. Machado’s bat toss will be looped and GIF’d and analyzed by people who wouldn’t have known the difference between Manny Machado and Scott Machado on Sunday morning, and we’ll have hot takes and lukewarm takes and takes that will have to be sent back to the kitchen.

As Joe writes, this really isn’t about Machado; “It’s about us.”

Well, sure. To some degree, it’s always about us. But I think Joe’s being just a little too rough on us. I think people wrote that Machado was mature because he seemed mature, and now they’re writing that he’s immature because he’s seemed so immature. Not because of the clicks to be had, but because we tend to remember what we’ve seen most recently. And also because we usually forget or ignore that human beings are complex creatures, perfectly capable of a mature act one moment and an immature act the next. I just proved that yesterday!*

• You probably did, too. Think about it for a couple of minutes.

Joe’s central point is spot-on: Machado isn’t the wise sage of a year ago, nor the petulant crybaby of last weekend. He’s somewhere in the middle, just like the rest of us. He deserves a suspension, and then he deserves to get on with his life. And next time he’ll do better, I’ll bet.

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