Addressing the Barnes headhunting controversy

Baltimore Orioles Manny Machado looks to the pitching mound after a pitch was thrown near his head by Boston Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 23, 2017, in Baltimore. The Red Sox won 6-2. (Gail Burton/AP)

I’m not sure if you heard, but Matt Barnes nearly drilled Manny Machado in the head with a fastball over the weekend. Not nearly enough people have talked about the Machado, Barnes, Pedroia situation, so I’m here to give it some attention.  

In case you missed it, Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado had a controversial slide last week at Camden Yards. The third baseman slid into second, spiking Boston’s Dustin Pedroia in the calf while doing so. There was immediate outrage from Red Sox players, and fans in both Baltimore and Boston. Whether or not the slide was intended to be dirty, it was clear there would be some retaliation from Boston after Pedroia was taken out of the lineup the following day due to soreness.

The retaliation came two days later in the 8th inning of the final game of the series. Boston reliever Matt Barnes threw a pitch that came within inches of Machado’s head. The ball missed his head and hit the bat instead. Machado took a base, and Barnes was ejected. The drama didn’t end there, as the NESN cameras panned over to Dustin Pedroia in the dugout, yelling over to Machado at first. Lip-reading determined Pedroia said something to the effect of, “I wouldn’t do that, that was them, not me.”

Pedroia’s words drew immediate criticism from fans because he seemed to throw his teammate under the bus, which isn’t a very captain-like action.

There are a few people to address when talking about how this incident was handled. I’ll start with Machado and the original slide-in question. After going over the video a million times, it’s hard to say what his intent was. It was an awkward slide, and it’s very clear his foot popped up and aligned perfectly with Pedroia’s calf. My somewhat definitive conclusion is that Machado meant to hit Pedroia to deflect a defensive play, but didn’t intend to spike his leg and take him out of the game.

Now we’ll talk about Matt Barnes. Do I think he intended to hit Machado? Yes. Do I think he tried to headhunt? No. It would be hard to argue that Matt Barnes wasn’t trying to drill, or at least give Machado a warning during his at bat. But Barnes isn’t a monster; it seems he tried to defend his teammate, and the pitch got a little out of control. He was ejected and sentenced to a four-game suspension, which he appealed. The punishment seems fair to me, whether or not the near hit was intentional. No, he didn’t actually hit Machado, but the MLB is clearly trying to send a message that they don’t tolerate headhunting, which I don’t blame them for.

And finally, Pedroia. As the captain of the team, people seemed to be outraged at how he handled the situation. His words after the pitch and then after the game seemed to throw Barnes under the bus, and praise Machado and their friendship. What would the better response have been from Pedroia? As a captain, he’s responsible for being a leader, and sticking up for his guys. And I think he did just that. Pedroia has been in the league for some time, and understands how these unwritten rules work. Had he not tried to diffuse the situation, it’s inevitable every one of his guys would have targets on them for every at bat during the next Baltimore series.


Starting with the slide, nobody handled this situation well except for Pedroia. Machado’s a good baseball player, and had to have known what he was doing during the slide, whether or not he meant for it to have as big an impact as it did. Retaliation was inevitable, and if anything, it should have been done the following day with a drill to the behind, and nowhere near the head. Pedroia simply made clear he had nothing to do with the decision, and in doing so potentially prevented this from dragging out any longer. Naturally, the O’s head up to Fenway next week for their third series of the season. We can only hope we’ve seen the end of this, but I have a feeling we haven’t.  


Molly Burkhardt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at mary.burkhardt@uconn.edu.