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The unwritten rules of throwing at Manny Machado’s danged head

There are written rules, of course, as there usually are. There’s also common sense.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

Over the weekend, Manny Machado viciously spiked Dustin Pedroia, coming up high on a slide and intentionally filling an opponent’s calf with sharpened metal. It was unacceptable, and frontier justice needed to be taken.

Over the weekend, Machado was nearly concussed or killed because of an accidental slide a couple days before. It was an unintentional slide and he immediately, clearly showed remorse for it, but Matt Barnes decided that throwing a baseball at his head was the only rational response.

Over the weekend, a bunch of dumb baseball things happened and a bunch of dumb baseball men had dumb baseball reactions.

Which version is true? Oh, it’s a regular Rashomon over here, and we’ll have to get to the bottom of it. Also Zach Britton was saying things that somehow made people sympathetic to the Red Sox, somehow, which is some deft sleight-of-hand.

Start at the beginning:

Act I: The slide

In which an undead Ty Cobb clambers out of his cobbhole to tear your ears off for calling this a vicious slide.

An ideal slide? Oh goodness, no. It was clearly a bad slide, the kind that can get people hurt. Which it did. I can understand why Pedroia would be mad. I can understand why the Red Sox would be mad.

Still, it was an understandable slide. Machado started it late, but not out of malice. It was late enough to disrupt Pedroia, in theory, but not late enough to run afoul of the new rules about sliding into second base. Two years ago, the appropriate slide wouldn’t have worried Pedroia with spikes; the real danger would have come with Machado’s entire body, and it would have been totally acceptable.

However, because Machado is a large baseball man, his late slide took him into the base with serious force, and he was in danger of crumpling his ankle.

You can see in the GIF that it was a last-second decision, and that as soon as Machado can control his body, he avoids driving through Pedroia. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to zapruder the film, you can probably let it go with a few choice words the next time the guy is on first.

If you think I’m in the tank for Machado, note that he’s not a stranger to these unwritten-rules articles, and he’s been called a dillweed because of it. He has a reputation that almost certainly played into this, in part because the Red Sox are sick of playing against him for about 40 different reasons, even if one of those reasons is absolutely about him being a wondrous baseball genie. Machado’s the guy who threw a bat at another player. So he could be the guy who spiked another player on purpose.

Still, I’m pretty sure that it was an accident, and while the Red Sox have the right to be mad, it’s more in the sense of, “Hey, control your body better, you oaf.” Here, listen to Dustin Pedroia agree with me.

What’s the appropriate punishment for a player sliding recklessly but within the written rules? I’ll tell you what it isn’t ...

Act II: Vengeance is a dish served coawwww jeez, I didn’t mean to throw it there

Before we get to Barnes, note that Eduardo Rodriguez tried to solve this the inning before.

That’s it. That’s your chance. It’s over. This is close to the appropriate response, too. Throw three pitches kinda sorta at him to let the world know you haven’t forgotten about the slide, and move on. The worst unwritten rule that was broken in the series was the one that goes something like, “Don’t look like a dingus because you can’t hit someone you’re trying to,” and yet it was accidentally the most reasonable response to what Machado did.

Then Barnes did the absolute worst thing a major league pitcher can do.

No. No, no, no, no.

That is how Manny Machado becomes a Wikipedia page in 2079 that a young baseball nerd stumbles upon instead of a Hall of Famer he already knew about. Think of all the ways that could have gone wrong. Manny Machado, unable to deal with the dizziness and constant ringing in his ears, will miss the remainder of the season. Manny Machado, who underwent surgery to relieve swelling in his brain, is still in critical condition. Manny Machado, after struggling for years to return from his injuries, retired today at the age of 26.

And you know that doesn’t even include the worst-case scenario.

What did Barnes have to say about it?

I would never, ever intentionally throw at somebody’s head. That’s kind of a line that you don’t cross. I’m sorry that it kind of ended up that high, and fortunately it did not hit him.

I absolutely, 100-percent believe him. He didn’t go up there thinking, “Gonna hit this dude in the head and see if he can eat solid foods after that.”

That’s the whole point, though. My job, here, is to point out the silliness from the outside. It’s absurd from my couch, and I know some players might think that disqualifies me from weighing in. But I’m someone who stopped playing baseball in my teens because once the big-ass kids started throwing 80 and 90 mph, I was scared of the ball, and I couldn’t hit anything. That makes me supremely qualified to discuss this. I’m an expert in those-things-hurt-dammitology.

It helps to add the appropriate finish to Barnes’ sentence. “I’m sorry that it kind of ended up that high ... and almost killed him.” It was an accident, but if every pitcher could throw exactly where he wanted to, every game would be a 19-inning, 1-0 game. Pitchers can kind of throw it where they want, but the difference between throwing at a butt and throwing at a head is releasing the ball a fraction of a second later. Unless you’re throwing at A.J. Pierzynski and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but seriously, folks.

If the response to an unwritten rule is to do something that might kill another player, it’s an unjustified response. Which means baseball can figure out something better. The tradition isn’t working. The old-school mentality of “hit him in the keister, where it won’t hurt” tries to straddle a line, and it works most of the time, but the risk isn’t worth the reward.

Apply this to the real world. I carry a pocket knife around — for the tweezers and toothpick, you know — so imagine if my response to someone knocking me down on the street because they were in a hurry was to open the pocket knife and wing it at them. It’s a small knife, so even if it went into the flesh, it wouldn’t require more than a couple of stitches. More likely, the butt end would hit them, and they would say ow, or I’d miss them entirely.

I would be arrested, of course, because throwing something with the intent to hurt and potential to kill isn’t an appropriate response to anything other than an immediate, serious threat. That’s how the world has worked for hundreds of years, and it’s a pretty good system.

Now imagine that the pocket knife somehow hit the magic spot and nicked a jugular, or maybe it’s dirty (what with the tweezers and toothpick and all) and the cut caused an infection that became life-threatening.

ME: I’m sorry that it kind of ended up that high, your honor.

JUDGE: Oh, yeah, well, it happens.

Nope. I would go to jail for years. And I’m not rich, so it would be real jail! I’m too delicate for that, so I don’t throw my pocket knife.

For some reason, though, baseball is in a weird bubble where this stuff has been codified and passed down from generation to generation. It takes someone screwing up like Matt Barnes to remember that, oh, right, pitchers can screw up when they’re trying to retaliate, and it invalidates the whole system.

Two different Red Sox players used four different pitches to try to hit Manny Machado in the legs or butt, and they missed with all four. That means that throwing pitches at a batter’s legs or butt isn’t a functional system. Think of something new. This one is too dumb, too dangerous.

Maybe the catcher can carry an extremely large spider in a jar and shake it on the batter when he isn’t looking. Help me out with suggestions that don’t involve projectiles, people.

Act III: Zach Britton blames Dustin Pedroia

I went longer on the last section than I wanted to, so I’ll be quick here. Orioles closer Zach Britton said that Pedroia could have stopped the whole thing before it happened by telling his clubhouse not to retaliate. That’s probably true!

That doesn’t mean it’s Pedroia’s fault. Everyone in baseball is caught up in the weird disconnection from reality. Even Britton in the same damned interview:

“I think you should have the ability to control the ball enough if you want to hit somebody. You do it in their body,” Britton said.

Yeah, well, it doesn’t always work like that, which is the problem. Britton threw 10 wild pitches last year. He tried to execute a specific pitch in a specific location, and because that’s really hard, there were 10 instances of him missing badly enough that it couldn’t be caught by a major league catcher.

If the same mistake happens when Britton is trying to “do it in their body,” he could kill someone, too.

The answer is to stop throwing baseballs on people on purpose. “Tradition” isn’t a synonym for “good thing,” and some traditions are incredibly shortsighted and awful. It takes Manny Machado almost bleeding out of his ears to remind us that this is one of them.