Column: Baseball Justice Dumb and DumberMay 25, 2017
As we’ve said before, pitching inside is a recognized and effective tactic that’s both legal and accepted. Hitters who crowd the plate or lean over it as they swing should expect to be pitched inside. But what took place in back-to-back series between the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles earlier this season is unacceptable.
In the eighth inning of a 2-0 win by Baltimore on April 21, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado slid aggressively into second base and spiked the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia. If Machado intended to injure Pedroia, you could have fooled everyone in the ballpark, save some of Pedroia’s teammates as it turns out. When Machado saw what he had done, he seemed genuinely concerned about Pedroia’s condition and immediately attempted to help him.
Common sense says that should have been the end of the incident. Baseball player plays hard, tries to break up a potential double play and makes contact with his opponent who is trying to turn said double play. But Pedroia had to leave the game as a result of his injury and would ultimately sit out three more games. After the game, in response to a question about whether Machado’s slide was legal (it clearly was), Pedroia said he wasn’t “the baseball police.” But the next night it was clear two of Pedroia’s teammates took it upon themselves to play judge, jury and executioner.
Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches in a row dangerously inside to Machado in an obvious attempt to hit him, missing with each one. Later in the game, reliever Matt Barnes decided to finish what Rodriguez couldn’t, and threw a fastball behind Machado’s head. Machado wasn’t the only one upset by Barnes’ actions. Pedroia, sitting out the game as a result of the previous night’s spiking, was seen in the dugout mouthing in Machado’s direction, “It wasn’t me. I know that and you know that.” After the game Pedroia said the situation was “mishandled” in reference to his teammates throwing at Machado and went on to say, “I love Manny Machado.”
Barnes was ejected and later suspended four games for his obvious headhunting. Once again that should have put an end to what began as a non-incident, but that isn’t the mindset of a baseball clubhouse. Orioles closer Zach Britton decided to anoint himself an expert on leadership. He took a potshot at Pedroia’s reputation as the leader of the Red Sox by saying, “If he can’t control his teammates, then there’s a bigger issue over there.” Oops!
Fortunately, Pedroia played the role of elder statesman superbly. Prior to the next series between the two clubs, he reached out to one of Britton’s teammates in an effort to deescalate the situation. It apparently worked as Britton stated publicly that the whole thing was “over with.” But not all of Britton’s teammates were listening. Orioles starter Dylan Bundy plunked Mookie Betts, after first missing him with an inside pitch, in a you-hit-our-best-guy, we’ll hit yours tit-for-tat.
The next night Boston starter Chris Sale sailed a pitch behind Machado. Shockingly, Sale wasn’t ejected nor was he suspended by the league. But MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had seen enough. In an unprecedented move, he told both clubs on a conference call that enough was enough, claiming it was a matter of player safety.
Is this the end of the feud? Don’t count on it. Rivalries are usually good for a sport but when they morph into the sporting equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys, no one wins - not the players, the fans, or the sport itself.
A baseball in the hand of a pitcher is a weapon that can injure, alter a career, and potentially maim. There’s enough crime to deal with on our streets. The least we can expect is the playing field will be reserved for competition, not combat.