Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was named American League Player of the Week today, not a surprise after he hit .385 with four homers and 12 RBIs in six games (the Orioles are getting used to the honor; Tim Beckham and Jonathan Schoop have also won it in the second half).
Machado said the normal stuff about winning the award – “it’s an honor” – but that he’s more focused on team goals. Again, no surprise. A cliché out of a baseball PR manual.
Machado then made a point of giving credit to hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh for getting him out of his first-half funk by, “staying on me every day.”
And maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise either. A hitter thanking the support staff.
But what struck me about the comments were twofold: One, the 25-year-old Machado was effusive in his praise of Coolbaugh without being prompted. He was freely giving credit, and not basking in his own spotlight, which is a sign of maturity and “getting it.”
“He’s had a big influence on why I’ve been doing so well. Staying on me every day and getting me in the cage,” Machado said of Coolbaugh. “I talk to him between innings about if he sees something wrong or how he sees pitchers are pitching to me. I think that’s why offensively we’ve been so different, because he’s been on top of us a little more. It just makes the game easier. Obviously, it’s already hard enough for me playing the game, you don’t see those types of things. So, what our coaches are so good at is they come to us between innings and tell us the things that we’re doing wrong or things that they see that will help us out.”
Secondly, when asked to elaborate about Coolbaugh and some of the blame that has been heaved his way as the offense continues to surge then sputter, Machado didn’t hesitate. Again, Machado made a point of coming to his hitting coach’s defense, leaving no doubt that he is fully on board with Coolbaugh’s role as mentor.
“You know what? If he could get up there and grab a bat he would. It’s already hard enough to hit. Obviously, I wasn’t hitting the first two months, and it’s not on him. He has nothing to do with it. He’s not up there swinging the bat or doing that. It’s us. It’s on us,” Machado said. “Obviously, there’s the business side of it. You always have to blame someone for our mistakes and for our failures, but, you know, he helps us tremendously and goes above and beyond for every single guy in this clubhouse. That’s what we feed off of. That’s what we see. That’s how we like it. He’s a great guy. He’s smart. He’s definitely made me a better hitter this year than I would ever thought of being. Hopefully, we continue to keep working and continue to get better with all of us in here and the staff as well.”
OK, so oftentimes players defend their coaches if they think their job security may be in question. But sometimes they don’t. That’s an important point here.
About a decade ago I gave a key veteran player a chance to defend a staff member on the hot seat, and the player avoided the question on the record. Sidestepped any endorsement. I wrote it straight. The staff member’s feelings were hurt. Within a week or two, that staff member was gone.
If management thinks a manager or coach has lost the clubhouse, that’s always the first sign that trouble is brewing. It’s often a precursor to a move.
Now let’s be clear. No one of prominence is publicly calling for Coolbaugh’s head; there’s more concern, as always, about the Orioles’ pitching. But given the offense’s penchant to crush or crash, Coolbaugh has had to deal with his share of criticism.
How he deals with it is just to keep doing his job. Coolbaugh’s not a self-promoter. He’s a worker. You rarely see him doing interviews because he is seemingly always in the cage assisting someone.
Again, maybe this isn’t anything. But when Machado, on a day when his recent offensive heroics is being lauded, makes sure to shift some of that spotlight onto Coolbaugh, it says something to me.
It says something to me about Coolbaugh. And about Machado, too.