Manny Machado has managed to get himself suspended for five games for a weekend’s worth of petulant behavior against various members of the Oakland A’s. By anyone’s standards, it was “conduct unbecoming” of major leaguer: throwing bats, bonking the catcher on the head with exaggerated follow-throughs while swinging the bat, inciting both benches to empty by getting mad after getting tagged out making a dumb running mistake. To me, he just looked frustrated by his own mistakes, and couldn’t channel his frustration in a positive way.
Manny is almost 22, and he’s had success early in his career, but now he has to deal with the fact that the essence of being a major leaguer is that everyone at that level is constantly making adjustments to try and gain a competitive advantage, and he needs to show that he is capable of making those adjustments himself. Talent gets you to “the show,” but to stay there you have to show lots of discipline to keep improving, keep figuring things out.
By contrast, the Romanian tennis player Simona Halep, 10 months older than Manny Machado, played in her first Grand Slam final last Saturday, losing in three sets to Maria Sharapova at the French Open. It was a great, great match. In the beginning I was rooting for Halep, mostly because I tend not to root for Maria Sharapova, but by the end I was rooting for her because her competitive fires were channelled so directly on the task at hand.
Sharapova is not waiting for and does not need my endorsement, so the fact that I was rooting against her did not trouble her in the slightest. She is ridiculously good-looking, and makes an unholy amount of noise when she plays, two things that, in combination, annoy me for some reason. But the fact is she played really well, exhibiting an intimidating killer’s instinct.
Halep was equal to almost every challenge, and at 5’6″, played David against Sharapova’s 6’2″ Goliath. But unlike Caroline Wozniacki or Agnieszka Radwanska who also achieved success at a similar age with a similar kind of game, Halep showed me the kind of unflinching, champion’s eyes that, I think, portends an exciting and successful career. There were many times in the French Open final where Sharapova got on an intimidating roll and it seemed inevitable that Halep would concede the advantage and momentum, but she never did. She fought back with purposefulness, never playing in a way that wasn’t authentic to her style and skills.
I hope that Manny Machado, who has to contend with talent, recognition, and a healthy dose of testosterone, can regain and then maintain his focus, like Simona Halep did at the French Open. I think he will. But at the moment it’s easier to love Simona Halep.