CHICAGO — When the Yankees traded for Josh Donaldson, they knew they were getting more than just a veteran presence.
As his former manager in Toronto, John Gibbons, put it this spring: “He’ll irritate other players and the other teams,” Gibbons said. “He’s emotional and wears it on his sleeve. He’s intense and plays to win.”
That has been on display at different times this season and it was again on Friday night, when Donaldson and the White Sox’s Tim Anderson briefly went at it following a play at third base.
Donaldson had tried to tag Anderson as he dove back to the bag after catcher Jose Trevino tried to pick the White Sox star off. It was an awkward play, and Donaldson appeared to push Anderson off the base, resulting in Anderson shoving Donaldson off him and the two exchanging words.
By the time some coaches and players had made their way out of the dugouts and relievers had come out of the bullpens, the situation had calmed and Donaldson and Anderson seemed to make peace — with the help of third base umpire Chris Guccione.
Despite the lack of an actual brawl breaking out — and Donaldson and several teammates insisting it was “a baseball play” and nothing dirty — it was another reminder of what Donaldson brings with him:
And it’s not just intensity. He also brings a history — like the history he has with the White Sox.
While still with the Twins last season, Donaldson didn’t just take on current teammate Gerrit Cole about MLB’s crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances.
After hitting a home run against the White Sox’s Lucas Giolito last June — just as the ban was going into effect — Donaldson reportedly yelled “It’s not sticky anymore.”
That led to Giolito saying of Donaldson: “He’s a [bleeping] pest. That’s kind of a classless move. If you’re going to talk s–t, talk to my face. Don’t go across home plate and do all that. Just come to me.”
Giolito was scheduled to pitch against Donaldson and the Yankees on Sunday, but he was placed on the COVID-19 list Friday and will miss that start.
That fire that teammates appreciate and opponents tend to hate is more effective when it’s backed up by solid play on the field.
After a rough start to the season, the 36-year-old Donaldson is also producing.
He entered Saturday having homered in consecutive games, and his hot streak stretches back 17 games.
In that stretch, Donaldson is 16-for-57 (.281) with five doubles, three homers, 10 RBIs, 11 walks and he has been hit by two pitches.
The result is an OPS that has gone from .538 to .765 and a Yankees team that has won 17 of 19 and entered Saturday 24-8 for the first time since 1998.
As Gibbons said when the Yankees traded for Donaldson, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt in the deal that sent Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to the Twins, Donaldson would have fit in on those dynasty-era Yankees teams.
“It was a great move by the Yankees,” said Gibbons, who managed the Blue Jays from 2004-08 and then from 2013-18. “The old Yankees had an edge to them with guys like [Paul] O’Neill. You need more than great players to win. Sometimes, you need some volatility.”