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Spitballin’

Spitballin’

Hakuna Machado

When I was 20 years old, my crowning achievement was building a 3-foot log longboat to send my dead iguana to Valhalla. That same year, I had to be rescued from nearly drowning in 3 feet of water about 2 yards from shore. I should point out that I’m 6-foot-2 and don’t breathe through my knees, so this was an astounding feat of incompetence. If you’ve never been 20, like maybe you’re not there yet, or hitched a ride in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and skipped from 18 to 31, my complete lack of accomplishment is about what you expect from 20. A few months back, I sat on my porch and watched my neighbors on theirs. They’re about 20 and students at Johns Hopkins University. I’m guessing they’re building space telescopes, inventing artificial Cheez Whiz and other revolutionary stuff. That night they were taking turns hitting themselves in the head with a gourd. There’s a reason we don’t let these people drink, the bar for 20 ain’t set too terribly high. That’s why Manny Machado needs to slow the hell down. He’s blowing it for the rest of his generation.

As I write this, Manny, who won’t turn 21 until July 6, has been a major leaguer for 270 days. Just 271 days ago, he was a shortstop. Last week, ESPN named him the defensive player of the month—at third base. In the first month of the season, Manny has used his vestigial shortstop range to lead all third baseman with five defensive runs saved and with 13 “out of zone” plays, meaning he’s getting to balls a third baseman is not even supposed to sniff (I mean this figuratively, but it also works literally). He’s being penciled in for his first gold glove and has righted a floundering defense. While Manny was still in Bowie, the Orioles D was one of the worst in baseball. With him at the hot corner, they are second in the American League with a .991 fielding percentage. At 20, I dropped more classes than Manny’s dropped balls.

So the kid can field, you say, big whoop. My German Shepherd isn’t even two and he can shag grounders. True, he has trouble with the throw to first and he looks ridiculous in cleats, but he’d sign a 73-year exclusive contract for a bag of biscuits and a promise not to neuter him (which, come to think of it, is a clause I am going to insist on in all future contracts). But can this German Shepherd hit? (Please tell me yes. I guarantee he’ll be my next column.) You could probably pull up some kid from Frederick if you only needed his glove, but young master Manny also brought his bat. In 83 games, one over half a season, the kid has already hit a dozen homers, and his power bat is just starting to heat up. To put this in perspective, I recently turned 40 and have hit zero home runs. Manny is on a pace to obliterate all of my career numbers, except perhaps my record for most Esskay Orioles Franks consumed and my consecutive games vomiting in a Camden Yards men’s room streak (currently standing at 374!).

Seriously, when was the last time you wanted a 20-year-old for any high-pressure situation? Mom needs a heart transplant. Is there a doctor available two years out of high school? The economy has gone to hell in a ham-basket (Yes. Ham.), hit the showers, Bernanke, this kid can grow sideburns and a fine neck beard. But with the game on the line, is there anyone else on this club you’d rather see setting up for the ball? And at the plate, I’d take him with Jones, Crush, and McLouth, and just ahead of Markakis. Machado is hitting a stellar .309, is on pace to hit close to 30 home runs, to top 100 runs and RBI, and looks headed over 50 doubles. If he keeps it up, he could be the second youngest Orioles All Star ever, which begs for some historical context.

Manny hit two home runs in his second game as a pro, the youngest person ever to accomplish the feat and also became the second youngest Oriole even to hit a home run. The only guy younger? Jim Palmer, who did it way back in 1965. In 1965, the bullpen car was dragged by a brontosaurus. I say dragged, because the wheel had yet to be invented. From April 21 through May 2, Manny hit in each of his 11 games, setting the record for the longest hitting streak by an Oriole under 21. The previous record of nine straight had stood since 1962 and was set by Boog Powell, who has now been selling barbecue in the outfield longer than Manny has been alive. On April 29, Manny went 4-for-5, the last 20-year-old Bird to collect four hits in a game? Another third baseman named Brooks Robinson, who did it in 1957, nearly 700 years ago by my reckoning. For O’s fans, it’s tough not to compare Manny to a Cal Ripken Jr. and not only is he younger than Cal—who was 22 when he finished his 1982 AL Rookie of the Year season—he’s on pace to eclipse Cal’s rookie numbers in nearly every major category. Granted, there’s a lot of baseball left to play this season, but Manny’s just getting better.

And he’s doing all this at 20? The year scientifically proven to be the worst year for anyone to do anything? (Don’t believe me, check your Bible. It’s in the middle somewhere.) Just imagine what he’ll do when he turns 21. Tragically, MLB has scheduled the Orioles in New York for Manny’s birthday, but I am scheduling the first ever Spitballin’ field trip for his first game back home. We’re meeting Monday, July 8, 6:30 p.m. in the outfield bar to buy Manny his first legal Baltimore beers. Of course, since Manny will be busy hitting nine home runs and unable to drink them, I will be his designated drinker. With your help, my consecutive games streak will hit 375.

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