By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) It all has to go, eventually, and it will.
Every last bit of the antiquated, indefensible laws of baseball machismo will somehow be fined and suspended out of the culture from the top down by people more concerned about player safety than hewing to the Code of Hammurabi. Sadly, those people are starting to care more due to the amount of money invested in the individuals and the economic stakes of the game rather than the inherent humanity.
No more self-deputized baseball police or on-field vigilantism to avenge the honor of those so righteously besmirched. Enough with the petty retaliations that have nothing to do with winning or losing. May we never again see the low comedy of the relief pitchers hurriedly dropping their idle conversations to run and join the angry swirl of crowing roosters.
The recent spasm of idiocy between the Orioles and Athletics was both the latest and silliest example of how baseball’s entrenched behavioral patterns allow games to be dictated by little moments of childishness that go un-parented by those supposedly in charge.
Baltimore’s Manny Machado got tagged firmly and properly by Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson, and Machado fell down. Embarrassed, he threw his helmet in a fit of pique and confronted Donaldson, who smiled at the bizarre overreaction. Predictably, the responses escalated into brush-back pitches both ways, with Machado twice “accidentally” clocking A’s catcher Derek Norris with his bat, and then Machado chucking the bat down the third-base line on purpose.
Nobody was hurt, but too many were irresponsible. Sunday was proof that an end to the retributive reflexes of baseball culture won’t come from within, because that desire doesn’t seem to exist.
Machado, sensing a looming punishment, has already issued his perfunctory public apology. His manager, however, continues to deflect blame from his young star, preferring to employ pointless violence in the name of clubhouse cohesion.
Buck Showalter is an old-school baseball man, ya see, and he made sure not to stop his pitchers from throwing at Donaldson, because that’s just what you do: potentially injure an innocent opponent and put the rest of your team in the line of fire due to your own player’s foolishness, because that somehow brings the team together.
That’s not management from Showalter, but cowardice. Might as well replace him with a less expensive, equally effective look-a-like — a baked potato with an orange hat.
Here’s what should have happened then and what an actual manager should do when something like this occurs. After the initial fray subsides, he pulls his talented player aside and says “I understand that you felt bad when he tagged you out, but we aren’t going to be distracted from our jobs because you were embarrassed for a fleeting moment. He didn’t disrespect you, nor did he do anything unsportsmanlike. Concentrate now on what you need to do to help us win today, and we will support you by doing the same.”
And he tells the rest of his team: “My most important professional responsibility is to put each of you in the best position to succeed, and if I allow one player’s momentarily hurt feelings to impede that, then I am failing at my job. No decision of mine will ever expose any of you needlessly to potential injury. So no pitcher here is entitled to act recklessly on my team’s behalf, and no batter of mine will worry today about having his wrist broken because of something so trivial. We are bigger and smarter and better than that, and we will back our teammate not by trying to injure our opponents, but by outplaying them.”