MANNY HAPPY RETURNS
As Manny Machado celebrates 10 years in the majors, he reflects on the Baltimore years, his Kobe Bryant fandom, and some early hot tub advice from Jim Thome
By Jerry Crasnick
Some players view 10 years of big-league service time as a destination, while others whip past it like they’re rounding second base en route to a standup triple. Padres third baseman Manny Machado falls in that rare second category. He celebrated 10 years of MLB service Sunday – three weeks after his 30th birthday – so he has a lot of milestones left to reach before he’s done.
Since his first full season in 2013, Machado ranks fifth in Baseball-Reference.com WAR (47.8) behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. In career stops with the Orioles, Dodgers and Padres, he has made six All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger Award while navigating the ups and downs of life as a highly-scrutinized prospect maturing on the big stage. Experience and time have given him a more even-keeled perspective on the game and his place in it.
“There are things you learn along the way, like how to slow down the game a little bit or how to handle the business side of things,’’ Machado said. “But honestly, I think the best advice is just to go out there and enjoy yourself and have fun. We’re talking about 10 years now, and not a lot of people accomplish that. Not a lot of people accomplish five. So enjoy it, because you never know when this game can get taken away from you.’’
Earlier this season, as 10 years approached, Machado reflected on his time in the majors with the MLBPA. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Your big-league debut came on August 9, 2012, against the Royals at Camden Yards. What do you recall?
I was playing in Altoona (Pa.) when I got the call, and I got to the field and they had a car waiting for me and drove me to Baltimore. It was an unreal day. It was kind of fake -- like it wasn't really happening. I was kind of in a cloud, just walking around seeing Adam Jones (and the other guys). The team was winning at the time, so the city was on fire. People don't realize just how fast that day goes by. You blink and it just goes away.
We were playing against KC and they had Eric Hosmer, so I had another Miami boy there across the field. My family came to town and that was fun. You’re finally able to compete at the big-league level and reach a dream that you've been dreaming about since you were a little kid. When you put on that uniform, it’s a privilege. It's a big-league uniform and it's a different feeling.
You grounded out against Will Smith in your first at-bat, then tripled for your first hit.
Jeff Francoeur was in right field and I thought it was gonna be a double. I watched him when he was with the Braves, and I was like, ‘I don't want to run on this guy to third base.’ Then he kind of bobbled it and I said, ‘I’m going for it. Who cares?’ So I kept running and I got there and (Mike Moustakas) was on third base and I got a triple. DeMarlo Hale was our third base coach at the time, so that was pretty cool, too. I'm not a speedster, but I’ll take a triple as my first hit.
The next day, you hit two home runs off Luke Hochevar.
We were wearing the black jerseys because it was Friday night. Saturday was for the orange jerseys. I was already on kind of a high from the night before and he hung me two curveballs and I hit them both out. The stadium went crazy, and my family went crazy up in the stands. Oh, man. I loved hitting in Baltimore.
You were 19 years old and had a lot of hype when you first came up. How much pressure did you feel to perform?
I've always carried myself in a way that I don’t want to put more pressure on myself than there already is. This game is hard enough to begin with. I had never played third base before and the team had a chance to make the postseason for the first time in 20 years. But (coach) Bobby Dickerson was with me in the minors, and he relayed the message from Buck (Showalter) and told me, ‘All you have to do is play defense and be a part of this team.’ And I was like, ‘OK. I can do that.’
The Orioles were like, ‘We’re not expecting you to carry the team or hit 50-60 homers.’ We had a great group of guys who made it easier. Adam Jones. J.J. Hardy. Matt Wieters. Nick Markakis. Nate McLouth. Robert Andino. The group was so awesome. And Buck gave me that confidence to go out there and just be myself and play. Whether I sucked or whether I was good, (the message was), ‘If you give your best, good things will come out.’ So I was lucky with that.
How much of an impact did Jones, Markakis and the veterans have on young guys like you and Jonathan Schoop?
They gave us that tough love, but at the end of the day they took care of us like family. To this day, we're still really close. They’re just showing you the ropes. Sometimes as a young kid, you don't really want to hear it. But that’s why they have 10-plus years in this game.
I always remember this: We had a chance to win the division, and I made an error in the (seventh) inning to help lose a game in Tampa on the final weekend of the year. But the team was like ‘Hey, it is what it is.’ They all backed me up and gave me that confidence and allowed me to go out and enjoy myself.
You underwent season-ending knee surgery in 2013 and again in 2014. How big an obstacle was that in our career?
That was definitely a low. It was a double whammy. You can’t really do anything. You feel kind of useless. But I learned a lot about my body and a lot about myself. This game isn't just going out there and hitting baseballs and catching balls and throwing balls every single day. It's about what you do on the field, in the clubhouse and in the weight room. If you want to be the best, it takes toughness and a work ethic. It really sucked having two knee surgeries back-to-back. I missed a full year and a half. But I learned a lot from that. I think it made me the player that I am today.
You moved to third base because J.J. Hardy was the regular shortstop. Do you ever think about how your career would have unfolded if you had stayed at short?
Honestly, no. Never. I think I could still do it. I went back and played short in (2018) and it was one of the best years I’ve had. But I don’t even think about that now.
You’ve always cited Kobe Bryant as one of your athletic heroes. Why did he strike a chord with you?
He was just a gamer. He knew he was the best one on the court, and he had that presence when he walked around the court every single night. As an athlete, you watch and look and admire and kind of want to be that guy. You ask yourself, ‘Why is he like that? Why is he doing that?’ It’s always the ‘why.’ (Kobe) could be a tough guy, but at the end of the day he was going to show his teammates a lot of love. Everybody in a locker room is a family. So the attitude has to be, ‘I want to push you so you can push me. If you’re not better, I’m not going to be better.’
Any early advice from a veteran teammate that stuck with you?
Going back to my rookie year, Jim Thome told me something one time in a hot tub. He said, ‘You’ve got to stick with the same routine every single day. If you want to be a future Hall of Famer, this is what it takes.’
In a hot tub?
Yeah, it was right before a game. I was kind of scared to talk to him, but he was one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet in your life. I was like, ‘What does it take to be the best every single day? What did you do to make you who you are?’
Obviously he had talent. He was one of the best hitters in our game. He goes, ‘Man, it’s about your routine. Once you find your routine, you have to stick with it. Whether you go 0-for-40, 4-for-40 or 40-for-40, you have to stick with the same approach and the same mindset every single day. If you do that for 162 games, at the end of the year those numbers are going to be there.’
On Baseball-reference.com, they list the nicknames for different players. Yours are Hakuna Machado, Baby-Faced Assassin, Mr. Miami and El Ministro de Defense. Do you like any of those?
I love them all. ‘Hakuna’ was my first year as a rookie in 2013. I think one of the fans came up with it. They made shirts for me in Baltimore, and I’d wear it around the clubhouse.
Adam Jones gave me the name ‘Baby-Faced Assassin.’ He said I looked like a baby, and I was raking that year. I had 50-something doubles, and he was like, ‘You’re an assassin. A baby-faced assassin.’ But I couldn’t put that on my Players Weekend jersey, so I went with my city and used ‘Mr. Miami.’ They gave me the nickname ‘El Ministro de Defense’ in the WBC. That's the one I've been rolling with, and it’s just stuck. They’re all pretty unique.
A little Manny Machado trivia: Do you know which pitcher you’ve faced the most in your career?
It’s gotta be CC Sabathia, right?
That’s correct. You hit .375 against him (21-for-56) with five homers and a .768 slugging percentage. Any particular memories spring to mind?
My first year, in 2012, CC was dealing. He was nasty. He was throwing that little changeup away and I was like, ‘Man, how come I can’t hit him? I’m pretty good against lefties.’ That offseason I had the mindset that ‘this guy's not going to get me out anymore.’ Every day in BP I was like, ‘I’m gonna get CC.’ After that I’d see him and he’d tell me, ‘Why did you do that? Now I can’t get you out anymore.’
He knew I hit him (well), but he would not shy away. That’s what I respect about the veterans. He continued to keep throwing the same pitches. That’s why he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, to me. He was a grinder.
Three of the guys who gave you the most trouble: Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman, formerly with the Blue Jays. You’re a career 18-for-95 against them.
We faced them a lot from 2013-2016. Toronto had good pitching and good pitch calling. Marco Estrada had that changeup and he was the easiest 0-for-4 you ever had. You would just miss balls. You were like, ‘Man, I got this guy today.’ Then you would look up and you’re like, ‘How the hell did I go 0-for-4 today?’ It was a comfortable 0-for-4, which is the worst one you can get. I’d rather strike out four times.
If you're going through a hard time, is there a player you can text to help get you through it?
Obviously Yonder (Alonso, Machado’s brother-in-law) is the biggest one. He's with me day-in and day-out, so he knows my mentality -- how to bring me down and how not to. I have a couple other buddies who really take care of me. You don’t want to put too many voices in your head, because it gets a little crazy. I’m fortunate to have a really good, tight group who say the right things to me and get me back on track.
The New York Times ran a story in May about your fondness for chess. What else do you do to decompress off the field?
I’m probably on a boat, on a sandbar around Miami. I haven’t ventured off to the Bahamas yet. I bought a 47-foot outboard that’s big enough for the family to be on it, but small enough that I can drive it. I love the beach, so it’s nice to have a little beer and hang out and enjoy the sun and jump in the water.
If I want to compete in the offseason, I go play golf. My handicap is 11, 12, 13. I can scramble around the greens and putt a little bit, but my drives suck. I’ve been saying for two years, ‘I’ve got to take a couple of lessons with my driver.’ But I’d rather be on the boat.