Let’s say you’re in an argument with one of your colleagues. If you work in an office, maybe that comes in the form of a heated disagreement during a meeting. Maybe you work construction and you’re unhappy with the way the foreman is running things at your site. Maybe you just think the head chef at your restaurant is an ass. Regardless of what the circumstances are, your workplace disagreements — whatever form they take — likely don’t include flinging projectiles at each other at speeds in excess of 90 mph.
Baseball is far from a typical workplace, of course. For most people, work generally doesn’t require one to compete against another “team” for the amusement of the masses. Most job descriptions don’t mandate that the applicant possess elite athleticism, expertise with balls of cork and twine, or extensive experience with wooden clubs. There are rarely endorsement deals for a particularly capable account manager. Statistically speaking, you’re unlikely to be making in excess of a million dollars. Professional sports are a strange realm, and baseball may be the strangest of them all.
The politics of the beanball are as intricate as they are confusing. To hear some people discuss it, there’s a right way and a wrong way to heave a projectile at another human being. There’s a time and place for that sort of behavior. You’ve got to protect your guys.
Yet, in a vacuum, this all makes very little sense. When Matt Barnes threw a fastball at Manny Machado’s head, he got a four-game suspension. If Barnes had done the same thing anywhere but on a baseball field, the justice system would have likely gotten involved. Construction workers can’t hurl wrenches at each other without facing some form of repercussion.
Ever since Machado slid too hard into Dustin Pedroia, though — an act that players on both sides acknowledge was unintentional — the Orioles and Red Sox have been throwing at each other. As you may have seen last night, Manny’s had about enough of it. He launched into a profanity-filled tirade against the Red Sox after yesterday’s game, in the first inning of which Chris Sale threw behind him. It’s worth a listen. (Although, if you’re at work, I advise using headphones.)
Sale’s decision to throw at Machado came after Dylan Bundy hit Mookie Betts on Monday night, and was therefore likely retaliation for that. The Red Sox (or at least Sale) felt that Betts being hit was actually in retaliation for Machado being thrown at in Baltimore, and so on and so forth. It’s like a Taylor Swift song come to life. There’s nothing but bad blood here.
Had Barnes actually connected with Machado’s head, the latter could have been grievously injured, or worse. It’s not clear whether Barnes was actually trying to hit him, or if he was just buzzing his tower. Let’s hope it was the latter. Machado made the point that, if he were to hit an opposing pitcher with his bat, he’d be looking at a very long suspension. Barnes got four games. Remember what happened when Giancarlo Stanton got hit in the face? It was ugly.
Sale threw behind Machado’s legs. He wasn’t trying to injure him seriously — and Bundy wasn’t trying to seriously injure Betts. It’s not even clear whether Bundy did it on purpose, seeing that he did it on the fourth pitch of the relevant plate appearance, that he’d already run a fastball inside earlier in the PA, and that it brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth inning. If it was on purpose, he hid it well, and he did it at a very inopportune moment.
I’m not trying to blame the Red Sox for all of this. Bundy certainly didn’t help matters. The first fastball with which he missed very nearly hit Betts, and that could have been what he was trying to do. It was Sale, if not others on the team, as well, who decided to continue to drag this out.
What’s the point of all of this? What is gained from throwing 95 mph fastballs at other people? I’m trying to apply reason to a very unreasonable set of actions, of course, and that’s only asking for trouble. The public at large seems to regard this as a boys-will-be-boys kind of thing. These players are paid to function as masculine paragons, and if tempers flair, that’s just good entertainment.
We’ve seen plenty of inter-team feuds like this in recent years, and they’re nothing new. The Royals and the White Sox. The Blue Jays and Rangers. The Red Sox and Rays. The Pirates and Reds. There are spats that happen. This one seems particularly bad, and Machado’s comments after the game didn’t exactly create any goodwill. Is Machado going to get thrown at again tonight? Is a Boston player going to get hit? Possibly, possibly not. Maybe the managers will tell the players to put it to bed. Maybe the whole season is just going to be one long chippy affair between these division rivals that culminates in a benches-clearing brawl that’s feeling more and more inevitable.
If you got into a cubicle-clearing brawl at your office, or into a scuffle with a rival company at a conference, there would probably be some assault charges filed. When there are brawls on a baseball field, some suspensions get handed down and it’s the lead story on SportsCenter. How many times did you see the slow-motion video of Rougned Odor ringing Jose Bautista’s bell last year?
We excuse this sort of thing because it’s What Men Do. It’s How The Game Is Played. We shouldn’t. Throwing at people is a ridiculous exercise in proving one’s masculinity. It’s silly even if it’s just a quiet exchange of fastballs into the hip, and it’s far more stupid when it involves throws at the head and it drags on and on like this. Machado clearly thinks it’s stupid. He doesn’t understand why they’re throwing fastballs at each other. I’m at a loss for a rational explanation, as well.
This is childish. It’s a contest to prove who has the bigger set of cajones. Goodness knows what’ll happen tonight if there’s another incident. Hopefully the retaliation will be what Machado did to Sale in his third plate appearance, when he sent a pitch over the Green Monster.
It’s easy to say that boys will be boys. These players are adults. Perhaps they should start acting like it.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.