Jackie Robinson: Never take his name in vain

They’d never suspend a black player for poking fun at a white player for comparing himself to Babe Ruth.  Unless Major League Baseball plans to ban trash talk in general, what’s the difference here?

Last weekend, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox were enmeshed in a bases clearing incident over comments made between Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson and White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.  In the fifth inning of Saturday’s game, Mr. Donaldson approached the plate and was confronted by White Sox catcher Yasmin Grinaldi before he entered the batter’s box.  There is no audio of their exchange, but Mr. Grimaldi appeared to point towards Mr. Anderson as the verbal dispute began to escalate.  The umpire quickly interceded prior to any punches being thrown or even chests fully butted in the time-honored baseball manner.  Tensions, however, were high enough that both benches completely cleared and both Mr. Donaldson and Mr. Anderson had to be restrained by their teammates to prevent an outright brawl.  After the game, White Sox manager Tony La Russa claimed the incident was predicated by a “racist” comment from Mr. Donaldson.  “He made a racist comment, Donaldson, and that’s all I’m gonna say,” he said.  Mr. Anderson provided additional details a short while later, saying that Mr. Donaldson has called him “Jackie” several times in an apparent reference to baseball great and barrier shattering Jackie Robinson, which he considered “disrespectful.”  “He just made a disrespectful comment,” Mr. Anderson explained. “Basically was trying to call me Jackie Robinson, like ‘what’s up Jackie?’ I don’t play like that. I don’t really play at all. I wasn’t really gonna bother nobody today. But he made the comment, and it was disrespectful. I don’t think it was called for.”

There is, self-evidently, a huge gulf between disrespectfully taunting an opponent at a sporting event, what we might call trash-talking, a long-standing tradition if ever there was one, and being a racist.  So much so, that Mr. Donaldson immediately admitted to the taunt, saying “All right, so first inning, I called him ‘Jackie.’  [In] 2019, he came out with an interview said that he’s the new Jackie Robinson of baseball. He’s gonna bring back fun to the game. [In] 2019 when I played for Atlanta, we actually joked about that on the game.  I don’t know what’s changed — and I’ve said it to him in year’s past. Not in any manner than just joking around for the fact that he called himself Jackie Robinson. If something has changed from that, my meaning of that — has not any term trying to be racist by any fact of the matter. It was just off of an interview of what he called himself.”  He continued, “We are not trying to start any brawls or anything like that.  Obviously, he deemed it was disrespectful and look, if he did, I apologize because that’s not what I was trying to do by any matter.”  To be sure, Mr. Anderson did compare himself to Jackie Robinson in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2019.  At the time, he said “I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson.  That’s huge to say. But it’s cool, man, because he changed the game, and I feel like I’m getting to a point to where I need to change the game.”  Nor has Mr. Anderson ever been shy about expressing himself, having called the sport “boring” that same year along with criticisms of its unwritten rules.  Finally, it is worth noting that the two men were engaged in an incident a couple of weeks ago, after Mr. Anderson slid back into first base and Mr. Donaldson pushed him off the bag on May 13.  The two were separated by the third base umpire after exchanging words.

Major League Baseball quickly sprung into action after the recent incident, suspending Mr. Donaldson for one game and issuing an undisclosed fine, referring to the comments as “inappropriate” rather than racist in an obvious attempt to split pathetic hairs that don’t need splitting in the first place.  “MLB has completed the process of speaking to the individuals involved in this incident. There is no dispute over what was said on the field,” explained Michael Hill, Senior Vice President for On-field Operations.  “Regardless of Mr. Donaldson’s intent, the comment he directed toward Mr. Anderson was disrespectful and in poor judgment, particularly when viewed in the context of their prior interactions. In addition, Mr. Donaldson’s remark was a contributing factor in a bench-clearing incident between the teams, and warrants discipline.”  “Inappropriate” and “disrespectful” are, of course, a far cry from racist, which prompts an obvious question:  What precisely warrants discipline in this case?  Mr. Donaldson didn’t actually start a fight.  He threw no punches, even after being confronted forcefully by a player who wasn’t even involved in the original incident, but rather inserted himself into the situation.  At most, Mr. Donaldson teased or taunted another player by using his very own words.  Since when did that become inappropriate, disrespectful, poor judgment?

Putting this another way, does anyone truly believe MLB would issue a suspension and a fine if a white player referred to themselves as a modern day Babe Ruth and got a little flack from it from another player?  If not, what is the difference here?  Players taunt and tease each other all the time, as do the fans for that matter.  It’s part of getting in your opponent’s head, and unless MLB is now insisting all such interactions are subject to discipline, it’s difficult to conclude the situation would be the same if the races of the players were reversed or both players were white.  In other words, Mr. Donaldson is being penalized because of his race.  I understand that this may seem like a bold claim, but consider how quickly the progressive media moved to depict some obvious teasing as a truly racially motivated incident, turning the mere mention of Jackie Robinson into a slur and tying an isolated incident into an indictment of the sport and American history.  The Nation chimed in with “When ‘Jackie Robinson’ Is Used as a Racial Slur,” claiming that what “happened at Yankee Stadium is not about one incident.  It’s about how Major League Baseball chooses to remember Robinson’s legacy.”  They begin by bemoaning, “The top news in Major League Baseball is not the ‘cardiac kid’ Baltimore Orioles—three walk-off wins in four days!—or the dominant New York Mets. Instead, it’s an incident at Yankee Stadium, which is a microcosm of everything that baseball does wrong,” before quickly casting Mr. Anderson as a victim of racism in general, apparently at the hands of a league run by former Klansmen.  A league which pays him an average salary of over $4,000,000 per year as part of a 6 year $25 million deal with the Chicago White Sox.

Regardless, he remains “one of the most prominent of the dwindling number of Black MLB players from the United States” and therefore requires protection from himself and others. This wasn’t just “good-old fashioned trash talking,” you see.  “Tim Anderson didn’t see it that way. His teammates didn’t see it that way. His team’s manager, Tony La Russa, didn’t see it that way. Even Yankees manager Aaron Boone” claimed he wouldn’t have said it were he on the field.  Altogether, this reveals “just how clearly a line was crossed,” but what line?  When was it drawn?  How did anyone even know it was there?  If you can’t tease a fellow player with their own words, what can you do?  Imagine this was a young popstar who claimed to be the next Michael Jackson, only to flop after their first album.  Would that be acceptable?  How about a boxer who compared himself to Mohamed Ali and then promptly got knocked out?  Are these new lines now as well? If so, who decides and how do we know?

Of course, the real story here is that Tim Anderson can’t take a joke, even one of his own making.  The subtextual story is that the only sane people left in the room appear to be the Yankees fans themselves, who promptly taunted Mr. Anderson which cheers of “Jackie” and boos at the next game.  This is New York baseball after all.  If you are going to come into our house and make a stink about a minor incident, you’re going to hear it.  Of course, the media responded by turning it into yet another racial incident.  Sports Columnist David Steele wrote “It’s ‘Boy Remember Your Place Night’ at the ballpark in the Bronx,” as if a highly paid and successful athlete couldn’t possibly stand up to a little ribbing from opposing fans.  For the record, Mr. Anderson had three hits including a three run home run, prompting The Nation to claim he succeeded “in the face of a racist tidal wave by opposing fans.”  Ultimately, they conclude racism remains rampant in the league, a regular hostile work environment that pays millions a year.  “We’ve seen this in contemporary managerial hires, executive positions, and the way the sport watched passively as the numbers of Black players from the United States waned. We even see it in Tony LaRussa’s vague praise of Anderson as having had a great game ‘under those circumstances.’ What circumstances? When did racism become the weather?”

In my humble opinion, this is a bizarre way to describe an incredibly diverse, multiracial sport that welcomes players from a wide range of cultures and ethnicities, not to mention countries around the world, and pays them all highly for their services and skills.  It’s (almost) only in baseball where Latino and Asian players stand side by side with American whites and blacks, competing together as teammates and opponents for the coveted World Series Championship.  Compare baseball’s diversity to basketball or football, and there is none.  Baseball fields players from far more countries with far more diverse backgrounds than either, and yet is still racist because players can’t take a joke and American blacks are increasingly choosing another sport.  For that matter, what is the NBA doing to recruit whites or Latinos? When was the last time you heard anyone bemoaning the racial makeup of basketball and how they have to do more to get Asians on the court? This is the state of racism in America today.  If you’re white, watch what you say because you will be treated differently regardless of the content of your character.

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