MLB's racial justice efforts
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MLB’s racial justice efforts from Opening Night were . . . interesting


Until pretty recently, MLB’s racial justice efforts were, to put it kindly, modest.

They promoted the living heck out of Jackie Robinson, but many critics — including this one — have found those efforts to be a bit too self-congratulatory over the years. In some cases those efforts served to whitewash Robinson’s legacy and MLB’s role in keeping the game segregated for so long. The efforts, however well-intentioned, have resulted in less-than-stellar history lessons and have been almost completely toothless in terms of affecting social change or even starting conversations about it.

Baseball has also, in recent years, made numerous efforts to promote the game in urban areas, reaching out to Black kids who once played the game in great numbers but do so no longer. These efforts, however, like MLB’s efforts to recruit minorities for jobs within the game, have proved mostly fruitless. The number of U.S.-born Black players in the game remains at historic lows in the integrated era and the game still seems to have no idea how to make its very white, very male front offices look more like America.

The aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, however, and Major League Baseball being the first professional sport to debut after pandemic delays, has put the spotlight on MLB’s racial justice efforts in a new way. The league, its teams, and its players are now making efforts to take a more active role in supporting racial justice. Those efforts have been interesting to see.

Recently several Dodgers players, including NL MVP Cody Bellinger and three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, spoke out about racial injustice in a video message. It was well-received. We also talked a good deal recently about San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler and several players kneeling during the national anthem before an exhibition game. The Red Sox, meanwhile, placed a giant “Black Lives Matter” sign on the outside of Fenway Park. I was curious to see how all of that’d be followed up once the actual season began and, last night, we got our first look.

First, in Washington, where the Yankees took on the Nationals. You may have seen photos of everyone on both the Yankees and Nationals kneeling before last night’s game. Photos like these:

MLB's racial justice efforts
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
MLB's racial justice efforts
(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

They weren’t kneeling during the National Anthem, though. They kneeled as a video clip featuring a speech by Morgan Freeman about racial inequality played. As soon as the Anthem started, they all stood. Which, not surprisingly, has led to a worst-of-both-worlds response from fans and commentators.

I won’t reproduce the comments here because most of them are pretty vile — a quick search will allow you to find them — but tons and tons of people who saw these photos or videos of the players kneeling have taken to social media in outrage, vowing to never support the Yankees, the Nationals, or MLB again because how dare the players kneel?! Most of them don’t seem to realize, however, that the players didn’t actually kneel for the anthem. At the same time, there is a pretty healthy contingent of people criticizing the Yankees and Nationals for failing to show the guts to actually kneel, Kaepernick-style, during the Anthem itself.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the same Morgan Freeman video played and the Dodgers and the Giants likewise kneeled as it played. Once the Anthem began, seven or eight Giants — including Kapler — remained kneeling. For the Dodgers, though, only one guy remained on the ground: Mookie Betts. Third in from the right:

MLB's racial justice efforts
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

His teammates, Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger, put their hands on his shoulders:

(Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

That too has been criticized from multiple directions, with some saying that Bellinger and Muncy were themselves disrespectful for supporting Betts and others saying that they did not go far enough. That their gesture was opportunistic, even, done only because they knew the cameras were on them. Again, damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.

For my part, I’m not going to get into the business of judging anyone’s efforts when it comes to all of this. Indeed, one can quickly tie oneself in knots when claiming that this symbolic gesture is enough or that symbolic gesture was not enough. You do that and, pretty quickly, you turn such gestures into litmus tests that are detached from their very purpose. The idea isn’t to keep a scorecard of who is kneeling and who isn’t. In this case it’s about racial justice and the commitment of people and of institutions to fight for it. If, say, Cody Bellinger or Aaron Judge or Stephen Strasburg or anyone else thinks that’s something they can speak to and does so intelligently and compassionately, I kind of don’t care if they kneel or not. Indeed, given the highly conformist culture of MLB, demanding that everyone kneel would probably be counterproductive eventually, in that guys would simply be treating it as an excuse not to have to think about the underlying issues. Just as we don’t want Major League Baseball treating its history with Jackie Robinson as a “get out of being accused of being racist free” card, I don’t think we want players treating kneeling during the anthem as a free pass either. We want them to fight racism, not to insulate themselves from being accused of perpetuating racism.

Still, I’m not going to give MLB’s racial justice efforts from last night particularly high marks. It was well-intentioned and, on its own terms, the Morgan Freeman video was well done, but it strikes me as if the league, looking to insulate itself from criticism over players kneeling, attempted to create something of a safe space in which, they hoped, they would get the good optic of having players take a knee while not catching hell for them kneeling during the Anthem. As we noted, however, that sort of backfired. They’re getting the worst of both worlds from that this morning. It’s the sort of thing one should expect when one engages in half-measures. I dunno. I presume they’ll figure out how to deal with that eventually.

Of course, it’s possible to simply do things plainly and clearly and not worry at all about potential blowback and how to game it. That’s the tack the Tampa Bay Rays’ social media folks took this morning:

MLB: the racists and haters and knuckle-draggers are going to slam even the slightest nod you offer toward racial justice, even if you try to make it as anodyne as possible. In light of that, why not say things clearly and plainly? It’s way easier to do that. And it’s pretty damn clarifying.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”


Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.


Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.


Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.