Awkward activism: MLB’s uneven response to racial injustice

Sports

In a typically awkward way, Major League Baseball has been pulled into America’s discussion about racial injustice.

Some teams are playing. Some aren’t. Two teams walked off the field after the national anthem.

But across the sport, one theme became clear: Baseball shouldn’t avoid potentially difficult conversations and decisions regarding social issues. Though the process may be imperfect, there was agreement that coaches, players and teams should speak their mind.

“This is at the forefront now,” said Oakland infielder Tony Kemp, who is Black. “By sitting out tonight’s game, I feel like it’s just a small building block of what we want to see. These couple days are historic times in sports. One day our kids are going to look back and ask us what was going on and what did we do to help bring awareness to these issues in the world and we’re going to say, ‘One game we just decided not to play.’”

Oakland’s game at Texas was among seven that were postponed by Thursday evening, along with Philadelphia at Washington, Baltimore at Tampa Bay, Minnesota at Detroit, Colorado at Arizona and Boston at the Blue Jays in Buffalo, New York. Some games were played as scheduled.

The New York Mets and Miami Marlins jointly walked off the field after a moment of silence, draping a Black Lives Matter T-shirt across home plate as they chose not to start their scheduled game Thursday night.

The national anthem was played and all players and coaches stood.

Mets outfielder Dominic Smith — a Black man who wept Wednesday night while discussing the shooting by police of a Black man in Wisconsin over the weekend — then led New York onto the field. Players took their positions, then reserves and coaches filed out of both dugouts and stood silently for 42 seconds. The game was then postponed.

Without much apparent guidance from MLB, teams were left to make decisions for themselves. Some games were officially postponed a few hours before the scheduled start time. Others, like Colorado-Arizona, appeared to be on schedule until a few minutes before first pitch.

St. Louis Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty was frustrated there wasn’t a more unified response. Baseball has sometimes lagged behind its pro sports counterparts in addressing social issues.

“It’s tough because yesterday would have been the day for league-wide action, and it wasn’t able to happen league-wide yesterday,” Flaherty said. “Hopefully it could happen today, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be able to happen today.”

The decisions not to play Thursday night came a day after three MLB games were postponed in response to the shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake.

The Phillies met Thursday about 5½ hours ahead of the scheduled start of the game at Nationals Park. After 30 to 40 minutes of discussion, the players decided to not play.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi passed that along in a phone call to Nationals counterpart Dave Martinez, who said the Nationals would join their opponents in sitting out.

“We’re in this together — this fight for equality and social justice,” Girardi said. “In this world, I’ve always believed, there’s two things you can’t live without. It has nothing to do with food and water. It’s love and hope. And I don’t think we’re doing a good job in our country giving that to everyone and I think that needs to be the focus here.”

A statement from The Players Alliance, which consists of more than 100 current and former Black players, said current players will donate their salaries from Thursday and Friday in “supporting our efforts to combat racial inequality and aid the Black families and communities deeply affected in the wake of recent events.”

Baseball has dealt with a slow decline in the number of Black players for decades. In recent seasons, the percentage of Black players has hovered around 8%. For a sport that proudly recognizes Jackie Robinson — who broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers — the decline has been frustrating for some.

Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Friday. It’s normally on April 15 but was moved because of the COVID-19-altered schedule to Aug. 28, which is the anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963 and also the day in 1945 when Dodgers GM Branch Rickey met with Robinson to discuss breaking the color barrier.

“I think he would be amazed at the lack of progress in his eyes,” said Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain, who is Black. “I don’t know personally what he went through but I know the stories. I know for a fact it wasn’t easy for him to be in the situation he was in. He paved the way for guys like me to go out and play this game and be in this position today. I’ll always thank him for that.

“The fact we’re talking about this in 2020, I don’t see the progress in that. It’s almost like we’re going backwards.”

The three games postponed Wednesday — the Cincinnati Reds and Brewers in Milwaukee, Seattle Mariners and Padres in San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco — were being made up as part of doubleheaders Thursday.

Those baseball postponements came after the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks didn’t come out on the floor for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. NBA officials later announced that all three of the day’s scheduled playoff games had been postponed, and games scheduled Thursday also weren’t played.

MLS and WNBA games have also been postponed.

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AP Baseball Writers Janie McCauley and Stephen Hawkins, and AP Sports Writers Jay Cohen, Jake Seiner, Dave Campbell, John Marshall, Howard Fendrich, Steve Megargee and AP freelance writer Jerry Beach contributed to this report.

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