Things between Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson and the Twins on Sunday got fairly tense. The weekend series was somewhat chippy throughout, and Donaldson raised some hackles when he stared into the Minnesota dugout following a long home run (you get a snip of said glare at the end of this video). Very likely in response to all of that, Twins right-hander Phil Hughes twice busted Donaldson inside later in the game ...
As for John Gibbons' getting run, my colleague Matt Snyder has more on his ejection-packed week, but this is about what Donaldson said after Sunday's game, in which he was, as you saw, thrown at twice. SportsNet's Arden Zwelling did the important work of tweeting out Donaldson's lengthy remarks on the subject of retaliatory beanballs, and here are those tweets ...
Please do read it all, as it's a pretty rare level of ballplayer candor. Suffice it to say, Donaldson thinks the culture of reprisals in baseball is pretty silly. There's a lot of truth in what he says. Pitchers are throwing a hard object with raised seams from 55 feet away or so (talking about release point, not where the rubber is relative to the plate). Even a command-and-control artist like Hughes misses his spots. If you're trying to hit someone and your release is off by a hairsbreadth, then the consequences can be disastrous. We see gruesome injuries even when pitchers aren't trying to brush back the hitter. If it's a purpose pitch in response to some other act of physical aggression -- a hard takeout slide, for instance -- or even to back off a hitter who's crowding the plate then that's a different matter. But throwing a baseball at someone because of a perceived lack of decorum? That's pretty silly, and it's an out-of-scale response.
All that said, I'm perfectly fine with letting players police themselves when it comes this kind of thing. Yes, it's a pretty juvenile ecosystem that celebrates, in essence, throwing one's toy at someone else because he was a big meany-pants to you, but I have no problem with skin-in-the-game players forming a consensus over what the on-field codes should be. This is a common and very sensible response when fans bray for changes to the code. It goes something like, "The players can handle the code and changes to it, and they don't need your unsolicited advocacy." I agree.
That, though, is what makes Donaldson's comments so compelling. It's a prominent player -- the reigning AL MVP who's once again producing at an elite level -- calling attention to the native absurdities of beanball and its "best practices." You'll recall that Bryce Harper in 2015 openly lamented the "home run exuberance begets purpose pitch" protocols, and that may have played a role in his getting choked by Jonathan Papelbon in the dugout.
Donaldson, though, isn't so easily dismissed as Harper. Whatever pejoratives that have, fairly or not, accrued to Harper over the years -- pampered, arrogant, entitled, new-school to excess, wallowing in presumption -- they surely don't apply to Donaldson. Donaldson's almost seven years older than Harper, and he's on his third organization. He also didn't establish himself as a regular major-leaguer until he was 26 and didn't perform at a high level until age 27. Harper's signing bonus after the draft exceeds Donaldson's career earnings to date. In other words, it's hard to ding Donaldson as possessing any of those putative "Millennial" traits we so simplistically assign to Harper. Sure, Donaldson's criticisms of this particular sliver of the baseball code can be assailed but not in the usual way. This isn't an offense-seeking fan calling for players to change the way they behave toward each other. This is one of the best players in baseball who's come to the plate more than 5,000 times as a pro saying this is all a bunch of damned nonsense.
That's why, potentially, what Donaldson says matters. If these matters are best left to the players -- and, I repeat, I think they are -- then maybe we're seeing a sea change in how the players feel. Old-line ballplayers will surely object, and that's entirely understandable. However, Donaldson's straight talk and how difficult it is to dismiss it feels like it's heralding change. If the players are to be stewards of the code, then they have sanction to to mold it to their will. Maybe Donaldson's words are the start of a slow and incremental change to that code.