As the Dodgers’ starting shortstop during a run to the World Series last month, Manny Machado took on the role of baseball bad guy, kicking players at first base, declining to run out select ground balls, and taunting opposing fans. He appeared to embrace that reputation, too, telling Fox Sports last month, “I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle' and run down the line and slide to first base.”
Now, as a free agent seeking one of the largest contracts in baseball history, Machado, 26, is changing his approach, attempting to walk back those comments.
"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 told MLB.com on Tuesday night. "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.”
That clarification is a significant difference from the smug tone Machado adopted in October during chances to expound on his “Johnny Hustle” comments. In the alcohol-soaked chaos of the Dodgers’ NLCS win over the Brewers, for example, Machado wasn’t interested in responding to criticism or discussing his newfound villain role after being booed heartily in Milwaukee.
“I can’t say what I really want to say,” Machado, objectively one of the best players in baseball, said at the time.
The day before the World Series against the Red Sox, Machado again bit his tongue, saying he was just there to play baseball.
Machado’s overall October conduct drew strange looks from around the game, including from Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. The Yankees will presumably have interest in signing Machado this offseason, especially with Didi Gregorius' status for the upcoming season unclear after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
“If it’s a $300-million guy, or a $10-million guy, clearly those comments are troubling,” Steinbrenner said last week at the owners meetings in Atlanta. “But that’s really [general manager Brian Cashman’s] job — if we’re interested in any player — to sit down with them face to face, and the agent, and ask them, ‘Where did this come from?' "
Machado said he is ready for those conversations. He said he plans to sit down with “a few of the teams” that have shown interest in him.
“I know how I said it and how that came across, and it's something I take responsibility for,” Machado said to MLB.com. “I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have.”