The inevitable end of the Manny Machado era with the Orioles took place in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, with the American League starting shortstop running to second base to take selfies with a former teammate — former Oriole and current Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis — and a rumored future one — cheesing with Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.
It ended with Machado maintaining his composure while his brow was sweating from the TV camera lights and the squeeze of reporters around his locker.
It ended with Machado entering Nationals Park wearing a baby-blue suit with only a thick gold chain underneath his double-breasted jacket — dress shirt optional.
And it ended with Machado, having worn the orange Baltimore script across his chest for the final time, picking up his Gucci duffel bag and heading out the door and taking the next step to his future away from the only organization he’s known.
He’s headed to Hollywood, after the Orioles traded Machado to the Dodgers on Wednesday for five prospects, leaving most Baltimore fans feeling numb this morning.
Baltimore loved Machado not only because of his greatness on the field, but also because of the exuberance he showed while playing the game.
“I’m going to continue to be myself,” Machado said. “I’m going to be the same player since I came up. I’m not going to change for anybody. Once I go out there, I’m going to have that smile on my face. I’m going to enjoy myself. My goal is to go out there and leave it on the field.”
He came to the Orioles as a lanky teenager, still growing into his body like a baby doe. He arrived with a tattoo on his back that read “Sky’s the Limit” from shoulder to shoulder, but he was still finding his mojo.
And he was allowed to do it in his own way with the Orioles. Manager Buck Showalter handled him well. The Orioles core group embraced him. His confidence grew with his accolades — with every All-Star Game and Gold Glove.
His star grew as well, and even though Machado has grown to be especially swaggy, he was always more comfortable on the field. There wasn’t a play he believed he couldn’t make on defense. He wanted to be the one at the plate with the game on the line, but he was also the first player on the top step of the dugout to greet a teammate after a home run. And the connection fans saw with best-buddy second baseman Jonathan Schoop was unquestionably real.
But more than anything else, Baltimore loved Machado because he was theirs. He was a player fans long looking for a homegrown hero could attach themselves to, someone whose No. 13 they could wear on their backs in the hope he would be the key to leading the Orioles to the promised land of a World Series title.
Sometimes his way wasn’t the right way. The beef with the Oakland Athletics and the bat toss that followed, charging the mound against the Kansas City Royals, which prompted a brawl, and his expletive-filled tirade against the Boston Red Sox. Even through those moments, Machado took ownership, explaining that his moments of hotheadedness were rooted from fear that one moment — the hard push he took from Josh Donaldson after coming back from knee surgery or Yordano Ventura’s high-90s fastball behind him or the retaliatory Chris Sale pitch near his head at Fenway Park — could jeopardize his career and everything he worked for.
Even this year, when Machado was booed for not running out a double-play ball against the Seattle Mariners, Machado was accountable, saying there were no excuses and promising he’d run it out next time.
Machado’s departure is something that sparks a lot of emotion within the Orioles fan base. Just check my work email box for proof. Reading it daily over the past month, I have felt on some days more like a therapist than a sportswriter.
That’s because this isn’t the way it was supposed to go — even though most knew it was the way it would — forced to say farewell to your best player less than two weeks after his 26th birthday.
For several years, I’ve told fans to enjoy watching Machado while they can, because he will be gone before you know it. He is a generational talent. It seems as if he landed in Orioles’ lap, but the truth is that the opportunity to draft Machado with the third overall pick in 2010 was one of the few rewards of the spiral of 14 straight losing seasons.
It’s still a reminder that in Baltimore, we can’t have nice things for very long, and that even though Machado grew up before our eyes, he’ll probably reach his peak wearing another uniform.
It’s a reminder that except for the greats who are chiseled in bronze beyond the outfield wall of Camden Yards — Brooks, Frank, Jim, Eddie and Cal — that many other great players who pass this way will be remembered for what they do somewhere else.
While Machado was representative of the Orioles’ recent resurgence, three playoff teams fell short of the ultimate goal of a World Series title. Machado immediately improves his odds of getting a ring within the next few months, and in free agency, he can navigate which team will build a contender around him.
The last great homegrown Oriole was Mike Mussina, and through the 1990s, he was one of the best reasons the Orioles might be able to beat the Yankees. Then, in free agency, he chose to go to New York.
More recently, homegrown talent Nick Markakis and slugger Nelson Cruz, two instrumental pieces to the Orioles’ last division title team in 2014, succeeded elsewhere, with Markakis making his first All-Star Game this season and Cruz posting the most homers of any player in the four years since leaving Baltimore.
For now, Machado will be out of the American League, and after experiencing Los Angeles firsthand, one would have to think that the Dodgers will have an edge in keeping Machado through free agency. But his heart could also call elsewhere, and he could be wearing pinstripes. He will have plenty of options.
There’s no secret the Orioles made a play to extend Machado in the offseason after his first knee injury in 2013. Machado said this week that a deal was really close, but after that didn’t work out, there were few mentions of his long-term future in Baltimore.
Fans will blame the team’s decision to invest in first baseman Chris Davis after the 2015 season, but when that happened, the Orioles still had hope they could find a way to keep Machado in an Orioles uniform. Several factors play into that, including the dark cloud of the MASN dispute, which leaves millions of dollars in limbo.
Still, by that time, their window had all but officially expired because Machado could already sense free agency. He still had three years to go before reaching it, but if you know anything about Machado, he’s willing to bet on himself.
He did, and after the best first half of his career, he will gives the Dodgers a big boost in their chase to be one game better than last year and win a World Series.
But Baltimore never got to truly saw goodbye to Machado — and Machado didn’t get to say goodbye to Baltimore — which is the difficult part because Machado would have probably have been overwhelmed to know how much he was adored here, even though we all knew this moment was a long time coming.