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Atlanta Braves Afternoon Chop: we embrace Jonny Hustle

So do the Braves want Manny Machado? After last night, their interest level could change.

The Atlanta Braves don’t “need” a third baseman this off-season. They need a corner outfielder, a catcher, maybe a frontline pitcher and bullpen help. They can continue to work well enough with the pieces they already have assembled for the left side of the infield.

That being the case, there was trade deadline interest in Manny Machado. Whether he would have played shortstop or third base is up for debate, but the interest was real, and presumably the team would kick the tires on him again this Winter as a free agent.

Then there was the other ‘kicking’ that happened last night.

If you didn’t stay up long enough to see this, there was an incident in the 10th inning in which Machado grounded out on a routine ball to short and was thrown out by a fairly considerable margin.

Normally in such a situation, you either have a player busting it down the line to try and make it close (or just because that’s what he does routinely) or he’ll recognize the inevitable once the throw is in the air and peel off early in anticipation of being out.

Machado didn’t really do either of these things. He ran (a quick  jog?) on to first base and then kind of dragged his feet as he came across the first base bag.

However, first baseman Jesus Aguilar was still on the bag himself, with the ball portion of his right foot on the inner side of the base and his heel up in the air – extending over the base.

Machado made no effort to avoid him and clipped Aguilar’s foot fairly hard on the way by. In the video replays (they are literally everywhere on twitter and in the myriad of stories posted on the subject), you can see the force that was applied as the contact was made.  Aguilar took exception as well.

So that’s the setup…

I am not going to pass judgment on whether this was a dirty play (Christian Yelich did enough of that for everyone on the behalf of his teammate). I’ll only suggest that both Aguilar and Machado had roles not acted upon that could have avoided the whole thing:

  • Aguilar should have cleared the area earlier;
  • Machado could have peeled off early;
  • by rule, the runner is entitled to be able to have a running lane, so technically Aguilar was fair game based on his positioning

My concern here is about Machado himself after seeing his comments about the incident. There are 2 specific problems I have with him:

PROBLEM 1. When asked about it after the game, the best answer he could have constructed in answering the press would be something like this:

‘I was intending to run through the bag, but didn’t anticipate that his foot was still going to be there. I chopped up my stride to try and reset my feet, but I couldn’t avoid him – really sorry that this happened and I’d probably peel off early next time.’

That might have mitigated the damage here… but it’s definitely not what he told reporters.

Machado appealed to the video (which didn’t exactly help his cause) and was quoted as saying this:

“I play baseball, I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments [re: ‘a dirty play’], that’s their comments, I can’t do nothing about that.”

So it was a terrible job of handling the initial response – no attempt to explain or mitigate his actions. But that leads to problem #2…

PROBLEM 2. His post-post-game interview. I’m guessing that somebody on the Dodgers suggested that he explain himself a little better so that any retaliation might be limited to just him, but even then Machado didn’t help matters with his comments to Ken Rosenthal:

“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

Oh really?

There was something of an apology to Aguilar in all of that, but it was a bit muted compared to the rest.  The idea that Machado himself is admitting that he’s not really inclined to hustle is the key takeaway.

Now I get it:  100% effort on every single play isn’t going to be sustainable for 162+ games each year.  We’ve noted Ender inciarte picking spots to take it easy on the way to 1st base.  But at the same time, (a) you should be busting it most of the time, and (b) you should never admit that it’s not in your personality to do otherwise.

Also of note here:  this is a 26-year-old… not a 36-year-old.  And this line from Brewers’ manager Counsell speaks very loudly…

Just Say No

So if I’m Alex Anthopoulos and I’m debating whether to get into the bidding scrum for Machado’s services this off-season, then my enthusiasm for doing so just got reduced at least 2 notches on the meter… and this meter only has about 5 notches on it.

Here sit the Atlanta Braves with an impressionable bunch of youngsters who just busted their humps all season to over-achieve in winning the NL East. The last thing I want on this club is a player – especially a ‘superstar’ – who is willing to admit to a national audience that he’s not a ‘hustle’ guy.

Moreover, as good as Machado is today, how much better might he be if he was Jonny Hustle? Certainly there are players we’ve seen through the history of the game who maximized their potential through grit, determination, and yes – hustle.

Happily, Machado didn’t say ‘Charlie Hustle’, since Pete Rose is the poster child for exactly that last point – someone who maximized his ability be sheer will and determination.

You want guys like that on your team – players that will take risks (hopefully not to life and limb, but risks nonetheless) and take that extra base or put pressure on the defense. That’s necessary in this game – and the 2018 Braves showed that it’s a winning formula.

I had been in the camp suggesting that the Braves go after Manny Machado this Winter.  I am now off that bandwagon and the reason for this came from the player’s own words on top of his actions.

Yeah – I do want hustle.  Which probably means that I want Bryce Harper.

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