Whether or not front offices across baseball cared much about Manny Machado's comments about not being "Johnny Hustle," one of the biggest fish in this winter's free-agent pond has tried to clarify the remarks that have gone a good way toward defining his offseason to this point.
For those who might not remember, Machado, who reportedly has interest from the White Sox, made big headlines during the playoffs, when after getting criticized for not running out a ground ball, he made the optics so much worse by telling The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal that he'll never be "Johnny Hustle" and that hustling "isn't my cup of tea." That was a scene right out of a public-relations person's nightmare, but it wasn't all that Machado did wrong during the postseason. He also caused mini controversies by interfering with a pair of double-play turns and dragging his foot over the leg of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar.
All those antics combined to make Machado a sort of postseason villain, though he also displayed the incredible talent with the bat and glove that has made him one of the best players in baseball.
But while time supposedly heals all wounds, the "Johnny Hustle" comments have lingered into the offseason, with former players — A.J. Pierzynski being one of them — joining the ranks of those unhappy with an apparent non-hustler. Hence, perhaps, the need for Machado to clear things up, which he did in an interview with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.
"When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive, and I was wrong to answer it the way that I did, because looking back, it doesn't come across how I meant it," Machado said in the interview. "For me, I was trying to talk about how I'm not the guy who is eye wash. There's a difference between fake hustle for show and being someone who tries hard to win. I've always been the guy who does whatever he can to win for his team.
"But I know how I said it and how that came across, and it's something I take responsibility for. I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have."
Again, there's no knowing how Machado's words and actions impacted the thinking of general managers and front offices. Teams have been known to value on-field production over players' perceived attitudes in the past. Only New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, whose team seem to be one of the most likely landing spots for Machado, has had something to say about Machado's comments, specifically "that ain't going to sell where we play baseball."
But for the White Sox, specifically, it has made for an interesting situation. Vocal fans on Twitter long coveted Machado to be the big-money addition to the White Sox rebuilding effort, but the tone changed noticeably during the playoffs, with fans much preferring the South Siders shop elsewhere (and the rumor connecting them to Bryce Harper probably helped). And then there's manager Rick Renteria, who while he would surely appreciate the addition of a talent like Machado to his roster, made many a decision during the 2018 season to bench his players for not hustling out ground balls, pop ups and line outs. How would Machado fit into that culture, which the White Sox praise at every opportunity and committed to enough to give Renteria a contract extension?
Of course, it's important to remember that those poorly worded comments about hustling are hardly the only blemish in Machado's otherwise sensational career. He's had several on-field incidents that ended in the throwing of helmets and bats, and he had an infamous spikes-up slide into Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. His feud with the Red Sox — who just last month defeated him and his Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series — even featured former White Sox pitcher Chris Sale delivering some pitches, let's say, well outside the strike zone.
It makes complete sense that a guy aiming to receive one of the richest contracts in baseball history would try to go on the PR offensive, and it's also believable that those original comments didn't tell the whole story about Machado's approach to the game. The results, of course, speak for themselves, and the four All-Star selections, three top-10 MVP finishes and two Gold Gloves all came before his career year in 2018: a .297/.367/.538 slash line with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs, all career highs.
But whether it's to front offices or just fans, Machado feels he's got some clarifying to do. Maybe he won't be "Johnny Hustle" anytime soon, but he's out to prove he's far from the opposite.
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