PHILADELPHIA — In his last eight months as an Oriole — dating to December’s winter meetings when a trade first became a possibility — Manny Machado did everything he could to rise above the noise. But it was in a moment of silence the night of July 18 when he finally broke down, realizing he was no longer an Oriole when, packing up his locker inside an empty clubhouse at Camden Yards, he took off his nameplate.
“I took off my nametag and just lost it,” Machado said this past week as a visitor at Citizens Bank Park. “I had been there for eight years and it’s just been … it was the first time I broke down. I had to get out of there because it was going to get really ugly.”
Machado, 26, is a Los Angeles Dodger now. He went from an Orioles team that was the worst in baseball to being thrust into a playoff race. He’s playing meaningful games in front of packed crowds. His new teammates have been welcoming. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, realizing the pressure Machado might feel to perform, pulled him aside on his first day and told him to be himself. Machado had the benefit of getting adjusted to his new surroundings with a 10-game road trip before playing his first game at Dodger Stadium.
These are all things that have helped make Machado’s transition as seamless as possible. The performance has been there. Machado entered Friday with hits in six of his first seven games, and homered for the first time as a Dodger on Thursday in Atlanta. Because of a recent injury to former Oriole Justin Turner, this season’s return to shortstop now includes a detour back to third base, where Machado played his first six major league seasons. But it’s a move Machado has embraced.
“I’m finally able to just relax and settle in knowing that everything is at peace,” Machado said. “I’m going to be here for a while now and I can just relax now. Everything’s done. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have to worry about everything. I can just go out and play baseball. At the end of the day, this last week has been crazy with a lot going on and people wanting to talk and meeting new faces. Everything’s been new, but it’s just part of the experience that I’m going to try to enjoy it and keep riding it, just look back at all the great things that have happened to me.”
Machado will play his first home game at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. Roberts expects it to be memorable.
“I think it’s going to be an excited, warm, energetic reception,” Roberts said. “There’s obviously been a lot of speculation, so for it finally to play itself out, he’s excited. But the fans, there’s going to be a lot of people. There’s going to be over 40,000 on a Monday night.”
But before that Hollywood story gets written, all the goodbyes that led into this past week — turning the page on his Orioles career through FaceTime and text messages, phone calls and Instagram posts — that wasn’t easy.
“It was terrible,” Machado said. “It wasn’t fun.”
On Tuesday, before playing his fifth game as a Dodger — an energizing 16-inning game between two contending teams at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park — Machado toed the line between expressing the sadness of leaving the only organization he’s known and looking forward to what he’s been brought in to do: help a team that was one victory away from a World Series title be one win better this postseason.
“It all happened quickly,” Machado said. “I think everyone was waiting for it to happen, but when it happens, it just hits you a lot harder. … A lot of anticipation and stuff, the talks keep going and this and that. It finally happens and it didn’t feel true. I didn’t feel like it was actually happening.
“It’s been a lot this week. But the team here has been with open arms, really welcoming. It’s been pretty nice to come here and be welcomed with open arms. It kind of reminds me of the old times in Baltimore when we were winning, when we had that winning mentality of trying to win a ring. It’s been different, but great at the same time.”
Roberts’ message to Machado was clear. It was important for Machado to not feel like he had to carry his new club.
“We just wanted him to be himself and whatever he does to help us win baseball games, he doesn’t need to do more,” Roberts said. “We’re better with him. He understands the talent level and can see it. He’s said it many times, that when he’s on the baseball field, that’s his haven and that’s what I’ve seen at this point.”
When Machado left the clubhouse after getting pulled from the last game before the All-Star break, he was told a deal was in place but not where he was going. That was the last time he would see his Orioles teammates, and many also knew it was likely goodbye. The trade became official July 18. Machado’s first call was to Jonathan Schoop.
“This is happening,” Machado told Schoop. “I’m out of here.”
Schoop, who was spending the break three hours away from Baltimore, drove back the next morning to say goodbye in person.
“It’s hard,” Machado said. “Those guys are practically my family. They’ve been a big part of everything I’ve been through. It left a big hole in my heart. It was wasn’t fun watching Jonathan storm out of my house knowing that we weren’t going to see each other for the rest of the year on a baseball field. We go back [almost] 10 years. It’s not an easy breakup. It’s not a breakup, but it’s not easy. It wasn’t easy.”
Machado said he wished he was able to say goodbye to others — including the fans — in person.
“They’ve given me a lot of my career,” Machado said. “They’ve always been there. … They know that my heart will always be there, with everybody in that clubhouse, from the front office, the Angelos [family], to [manager] Buck [Showalter], [third base coach] Bobby [Dickerson], [hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh], all my teammates. These are all guys who have been very influential in my career.
“Those are things that will never be forgotten. At the end of the day, it’s always a business. It just wasn’t easy to say goodbye in a proper way. They know. I don’t think they wanted me there either [to say goodbye]. There’d be a lot of tears. They would have to get buckets. But I still talk to those guys. I still talked to a couple of them today. Those are relationships that go a lot further than just being on a team or being in a clubhouse with someone.”
Despite all the good memories — and in part probably because he’s been thrown suddenly into a winning atmosphere — Machado still expressed some frustrations about how this season played out. Since he joined the big league club in August 2012, the Orioles were competitive until this season. While the Orioles went to the postseason three times in his first five years, they fell short of the ultimate goal.
Machado said he didn’t want to blame this season’s free fall on the uncertainty that encapsulated this season, with him being one of four key pending free agents as well as Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette in the final year of their contracts.
“I think there were better reasonings than for that, than to blame it on trade rumors and stuff like that,” Machado said. “Everybody, come on, everybody is going to get traded at some point. Everyone, me, Zach [Britton], Adam [Jones], we knew we going to get traded at some point. For us to win, it was going to be tough. Everything was going to have to be perfect. And nothing’s perfect in this world. It’s just hard. It’s just hard. You can’t just blame is on that.”
So, where did this season go wrong for the Orioles? Machado shrugged at first, but then said he saw the struggles coming.
“I think it was just bad luck,” Machado said. “It started with injuries, [Alex] Cobb signing late. We didn’t get into the right form. Injuries blew us apart. It wasn’t the same guys who were supposed to be out there grinding who were on the field. It’s just baseball. It was just one of those years. You can’t just blame one thing. It was this or it was that.
“It was overall a lot of things. It was bad luck. It continues to be bad luck with a lot of things going on. There’s a lot of moving parts. The front office says something, the other people are saying other things. It’s just, bumping heads, not being on the same page. When that’s happening, it’s just waiting for something [bad to happen]. It’s not just this year — it’s been for years now, some of the people haven’t been on the same page. It was just a matter of time that things weren’t going to be as lucky as they were in the past.”
Machado experienced more ups than downs in Baltimore, from the time the Orioles made him the third overall pick in the 2010 draft to his final All-Star appearance this season.
“It’s been my second home for a long time,” he said. “Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. It’s not easy.”