No doubt, Manny Machado arrived in San Diego with a reputation–not a real positive one. Critics complained that he didn’t hustle all the time and played dirty.
In fact, during the National League Championship Series in 2018, Machado himself bragged about not being a “Johnny Hustle’ in an interview on FOX Sports. During that same series Cristian Yelich called Machado out. For being a “dirty player.”
Machado has been blamed for the decline of Dustin Pedroia, the second baseman for the Boston Red Sox, from 2006 to 2019. In a game in 2017 between the Baltimore Orioles and the Red Sox, Machado’s high slide spiked Dustin Pedroia in the back of his left knee. Although Pedroia tried to play through the pain, he was never the same after the injury. In 2018 and 2019, he appeared in a total of nine games, batting .091 and .100, way below his career average of .299.
Obviously undeterred by Machado’s rep, in February 2019, A.J. Preller, the Padres general manager, offered him the most generous contract at the time in American sports history at $300 million over ten years. Machado agreed to move to third to make way for Fernando Tatis Jr.
The White Sox had also tried to lure him with $259 million over eight years. Fortunately, the division-rival Los Angeles Dodgers let him walk. In July 2018, the Orioles had traded Machado to the Dodgers for outfielder Yusniel Diaz, third baseman Ryan Bannon, right-hander Dean Kremer and two other prospects. He’d taken over at short when Corey Seager was injured. But, with Seager back, the Dodgers chose not to pursue Machado.
Since arriving in San Diego, Machado has turned his reputation upside down. Perhaps he’s just grown up, as he’ll be 30 in July and is playing in his tenth big league season. Whatever the reason, Machado has become irreplaceable in San Diego.
According to Ryan Flaherty, a former teammate of Machado from 2012 to 2017 and currently the Padres quality control coach, “He’s just engaged—offensively, defensively, base running.”
Padres manager Bob Melvin has also weighed in on his no-hustle reputation, “You have a perception of him from the other side, that maybe it’s not the fastest pace in the world. But it’s an easy peace because he makes the game look easy. When you’re around him every day, you realize this guy plays hard. He’s out there every day.”
Rarely will Machado skip a game, although he finally sat out Saturday, May 28’s disappointing 4-3 loss to the Pirates as he nursed an injury akin to a tennis elbow. Instead of going on the IL, Machado has chosen to rely on ice, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Last year he hurt his shoulder in April but played on for another month before he finally sat out five games. He returned to the field, playing in 105 of the final 112 games of the season, ending with a batting line of 278/.347/.489. His OPS of .836 ranked 17th in the N.L.
In Machado’s own words, “You put the blinders on and just go.”
Machado’s first season was a bit of a disappointment, considering the hoopla and dollars involved. He batted .256/.334/.487/.825, with 21 doubles, two triples, and 32 home runs, OPS+ 110. However, in the 2020 mini-season, he batted .304/.370/.589/.950, with 12 doubles, one triple, and 16 home runs, OPS+ 160. Last year, Machado batted .273/.347/.489/.836, with 28 home runs, OPS+ 131.
Machado led the Padres with 157 hits and 106 RBI, was second in doubles at 31 behind Jake Cronenworth’s 33, and second in home runs at 28 behind Tatis Jr.’s 42.
Cronenworth has high praise for his teammate: “He’s the perfect example of like, whatever he’s got that day, it doesn’t matter. That guy shows up more ready to play than anybody I’ve ever played with.”
Ex-manager Jayce Tingler marvels at Machado’s baseball IQ, including his instincts and timing, calling him “the most talented defensive player I’ve ever been around.”
Bobby Dickerson, the infield coach with the Padres, has compared Machado’s skills to that of Michael Jordan’s penchant for three-pointers and called him “the best defender in the league. He’s one of many to praise his baseball savvy, strong arm, and skills at transfer. Executive Chairman Ron Fowler considers Machado to be “a generational talent.”
In 2021 catcher Victor Caratini marveled at Machado’s level of commitment to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, “He’s playing with heart, and he’s done it all year, even when he’s not feeling 100 percent.”
Adam Jones, a teammate for seven years in Baltimore, insists that if Machado were white, he wouldn’t carry around a reputation as a dirty player. Instead, Jones regards Machado as a guy who plays hard and with passion.
When Manny Machado got in Fernando Tatis Jr.’s face in full view of spectators and television cameras, he cemented his place as a team leader for the San Diego Padres. He had the audacity to call out the uber-talented fan favorite for his lack of hustle.
Indeed, the 300-million-dollar man got in the face of the 340-million-dollar shortstop. After all, he’s the veteran, a guy who has been there and done that, who has earned the respect of his teammates.
Preller, the man who brought him to San Diego, also extols his talent: “Manny is one of the truly elite players in baseball and impacts the game on both sides of the ball…His combination of youth, experience, and ability makes him a perfect fit for the Padres both now and in the future as we work to build a perennial contender at the Major League Level.”
When the Padres acquired Machado, the front office focused on his talent, a talent that has earned 45.2 WAR over his career so far. No one assumed he would become a clubhouse leader. But his confrontation with Tatis Jr. elevated his status with the team. If anyone can reach the wunderkind, it’s a guy like Manny Machado.