Inside Machado "No Hustle" Interview

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T15D23
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Inside Machado "No Hustle" Interview

Postby T15D23 » Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:11 am

Inside the infamous ‘I’m not Johnny Hustle’ interview, and why it won’t define Manny Machado’s career
Ken Rosenthal

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Manny​ Machado wanted​ to​ know​ the direction​ of the questions I​ would​ ask, and I​ understood that​ was a condition​​ of the interview, an exception to the usual journalistic standards I was willing to make. He had agreed to tape an on-camera Q&A with me for FS1 before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, and it was not unreasonable for him to want to avoid being surprised.

I told him I would ask him about his experience with the Dodgers, his pending free agency, all the usual baseball fare. And I told him, unequivocally, that I would ask him about his failure to run hard on a grounder in Game 2, a play that attracted inordinate attention because it had happened during the postseason.

Machado, sitting at his locker inside the Dodgers’ clubhouse, nodded silently, as if to say, “I understand.” A few minutes later we reconvened in a room underneath the left-field stands, a makeshift studio Fox had designed for one-on-one sit-downs. And then came the interview, the infamous “I’m not Johnny Hustle” interview, the interview that would haunt Machado in the months that followed – and ultimately, not damage his free agency one bit.

The interview did not stop after Machado’s extended explanation for why he did not always run hard to first base. No one in the Fox crew shouted, “Gotcha!” and celebrated. No, the discussion continued, concluding with a humorous moment in which Machado, 26 and the definition of cool, draped his flashy necklace around my shoulders, allowing me, 56 and decidedly uncool, to wear his bling.

When the interview ended, Machado went out to the field to prepare for Game 3, in which he would make two questionable slides into second base. He then would clip the leg of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar while running out a routine grounder in Game 4, prompting a public lambasting from Christian Yelich, and grab his crotch in front of taunting Brewers fans at Miller Park in Game 7. His antics continued in the World Series, in which he turned a 368-foot shot off the wall into a single by failing to run hard, and stepped on the heel of the Red Sox’s Steve Pearce while running through first base.

On Tuesday, we learned the cumulative effect of all of Machado’s offenses during the postseason, which included a 7-for-38 performance in his final nine games. Machado reached preliminary agreement with the Padres on a 10-year, $300 million contract, the biggest free-agent deal in North American sports history.

Remember this moment the next time anyone suggests a player’s sub-par performance in October will cost him financially. Machado’s October was an invitation for teams to shun him, an October he could not have scripted worse. But the enduring lesson of professional sports is talent always prevails. And Machado, without question, is a brilliant, transcendent talent.

The other day, at a spring training camp in Florida, two starting pitchers were sitting at their lockers, weighing Machado as a free agent against Bryce Harper, who in the coming days might sign an even bigger deal. To the pitchers, there was no question: Machado is better. Fewer holes as a hitter. Superior skills as a defender. An opponent who, frankly, they would prefer to see as little as possible.

A rival general manager saw it as a closer call, viewing Machado as more consistent but Harper as capable of greater peaks, with their long-term production ultimately proving to be quite similar. The two will be compared throughout their respective contracts, a fascinating baseball yin and yang. For now, Machado can savor his triumph in free agency, knowing that his talent is respected and appreciated, and that he now can go about repairing his image.

Truth be told, for all the attention it received, the “Johnny Hustle” interview haunted me, too. Once I assessed what Machado had said, I knew immediately his comments would offend many fans and baseball people. I asked the Fox producers to use as much of his answer as possible within our short feature because Machado had acknowledged he was wrong not to run hard and needed to eliminate his occasional lapses in effort. That night, even before the interview aired on FS1, I posted his entire answer in an article for The Athletic, wanting to provide the full context.

I did not feel obligated to protect Machado – I had alerted him to the question, and once he gave his response with the cameras rolling, there was no turning back. It would have been unprofessional for me to tell FS1, “Hey, let’s scrap that part. Manny didn’t really mean it.” But I also knew Machado might see it differently. He had consented to the interview because he trusted me. And then the whole thing backfired on him, forcing him to do damage control.

Machado and I continued to talk throughout the postseason, but in those conversations I sensed a certain coolness. Later, after the World Series ended, I learned from people close to Machado that he was upset with me over the interview. I was not about to lecture him on journalistic responsibility, and will not the next time I see him. He’s 26 with his own view of the world – and yes, some might call it the pampered athlete’s view. But I always liked Machado, and I know many of his teammates have liked him, too.

The problem, in the words of one rival manager, is that Machado does not yet know how to harness his frustration on the field. In our interview, he should have chosen his words more carefully. Still, players mature at different rates, and like many of us, often learn – the hard way – from their mistakes. Machado doesn’t always hustle; very few players do. But what matters most is that over the last four seasons, he has missed just 11 games.

The postseason is behind him now. Manny got his money, and also regained control of his narrative. One unfortunate October should not define his entire career.
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