MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — After nearly being hit twice by pitches that he deemed to be intentionally thrown at him, Josh Donaldson has had enough.
“Major League Baseball has to do something about this,” Donaldson said after the Blue Jays’ 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins Sunday. “They say they’re trying to protect players. They make a rule that says you can’t slide hard into second base. They make a rule to protect the catchers on slides into home. But when you throw a ball at somebody, nothing’s done about it. My manager comes out to ask what’s going on and he gets ejected for it. That’s what happens.
“I just don’t get the point,” Donaldson continued. “I don’t get what baseball’s trying to prove. If I’m a young kid watching these games, why would I want to play baseball? Why? If I do something well or if somebody doesn’t like something that I do, it’s, ‘Oh, well, I’m gonna throw at you now.’ It doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Donaldson’s comments come after an emotionally charged two games against the Minnesota Twins that saw both Donaldson and his manager, John Gibbons, ejected from games.
It began on Saturday, when Twins bench coach Joe Vavra yelled at Donaldson from the Twins dugout for not running out a first-inning ground ball hard enough. Donaldson chirped back. But home plate umpire Toby Basner thought Donaldson’s words were directed at him, so the umpire threw the reigning AL MVP out of the game. After the game Donaldson said he was “shocked” to be thrown out.
Then, on Sunday, in Donaldson’s first at-bat, the Blue Jays third baseman took a hanging curveball from Twins starter Phil Hughes 428-feet to centre field. As Donaldson touched the plate following the homer, he stared directly into the Twins dugout at Vavra.
“I looked right at the guy who chirped at me yesterday and got me thrown out,” Donaldson said, “letting him know I was coming to play today.”
Now flash forward to the sixth inning. Hughes—a pitcher renowned for his control who had the lowest BB/9 in the MLB two years ago—was throwing 60 per cent of his pitches for strikes and had walked only one batter. He hadn’t even come close to hitting any Blue Jays and displayed nothing but a complete command of his pitches.
But when Donaldson stepped in for his third at-bat of the game, the first pitch Hughes threw careened inches from the slugger’s hip, and the next one flew behind his back. Donaldson immediately turned to home plate umpire Mark Ripperger and raised his hands in disbelief.
“I was asking, ‘Hey, that’s twice now, what are we doing?’” Donaldson said. “He should throw him out of the game. You saw both pitches. The first one almost hit me in my gut. And the second one almost hit me in the back. It went behind me.
“If you watched the game at all, you saw Hughes was not missing. He wasn’t erratic. It would be one thing if a guy came in and he’s throwing the ball and has no idea where it’s going. Or maybe one slipped. We hear that all the time. The ball slipped. But two back-to-back? You know what he’s doing.”
Gibbons came out of the dugout to argue that Hughes should be thrown out of the game. Crew chief Joe West came over from first base to spearhead the discussion from the umpiring crew’s perspective, and after a brief debate, he threw Gibbons out of the game.
“The guy’s a strike-throwing machine. And then there’s a tight pitch, and then he throws behind him,” Gibbons said of Hughes. “I thought they were going to chuck him. But you never know what’s going to happen nowadays, if you want to know the truth. Whether it’s warnings, the guy gets thrown out, or nothing. You never know.”
What Donaldson doesn’t understand is how Hughes wasn’t reprimanded for throwing intentionally at him. And how the only person who suffered any kind of consequence was his manager.
“It’s getting to the point now where I’m upset with how it’s being handled,” Donaldson said. “Their guys want to hit me intentionally? So be it. But there has to be a consequence. Not our manager getting thrown out of the game because he came in to ask what’s happening. It makes no sense to me.
“In the rule book it says that if a pitch is deemed to be intentionally thrown at somebody, the umpire has the right and the opportunity to throw the guy out of the game. I don’t know why they don’t do it.”
Donaldson also says he harbours no ill will towards Hughes, who he feels was simply following orders.
“I don’t blame Phil Hughes. He was doing what was told. He was doing what was asked of him to do. Do I think Phil Hughes wanted to hit me? No, I don’t. I think it came from somebody else on the bench. My beef is not with Phil Hughes, the pitcher who threw at me,” Donaldson said. “My problem is with how in baseball you have to feel like you’re a tough guy by throwing a pitch at somebody who’s defenceless. I don’t have a chance. I’m not going to throw my bat at the pitcher. And in the American League, the pitcher doesn’t have to hit.
“The fact of the matter is, I’m not going to throw a projectile at the pitcher. I’m not going to throw a projectile at anybody. I go out there and I play the game. If you don’t like something I do, I don’t care. You’re not supposed to like me as an opponent.”
Donaldson feels that in an era when the MLB is instituting new rules to prioritize player safety, such as barring takeout slides at second base and eliminating collisions at home plate, the league should also be more stringently policing pitchers who intentionally throw at hitters.
He brought up Giancarlo Stanton, who was hit in the face by a Mike Fiers pitch in September 2014 and missed the remainder of the season with multiple facial fractures, lacerations and dental damage, as an example of how dangerous baseball’s score-settling practice can be.
“They’re putting my job in jeopardy,” Donaldson said. “What if he hits me in the neck right there? What if he hits me in the eye? You saw Stanton a couple years ago—he got hit in the face. The ball crushed his face. It doesn’t take much in order to break these bones in your face. And Phil Hughes didn’t throw the ball at my face. But it only takes an eighth of an inch off your release point in order for the ball to go somewhere else.”
More than anything, Donaldson doesn’t understand why the Twins dugout criticized his hustle to first base Saturday afternoon, which began the entire series of events.
“The fact of the matter is, you don’t talk to me. You don’t comment on how I’m playing during a game—if it’s good, bad, or whatever,” Donaldson said. “It’s not your business how I play the game. I’m not on your team. I play for the Toronto Blue Jays. If somebody has a problem with the way I’m playing, Gibby is going to say something to me or my teammates are going to say something to me. And then I’ll clean that up. I’ll take that. But I don’t need somebody from the other bench saying something to me.
“And for what? For what? What are we doing? They’re picking a fight from the bench, and then I’m the one that’s out there dodging baseballs.”