White Sox Scorecard: Did the MLB Get the Donaldson Suspension Right?

On May 21, benches cleared, yet again, in a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.  Just eight days ago, on May 13, the benches cleared when Josh Donaldson pushed Tim Anderson off third base. Anderson came up pushing and shoving but the third base umpire immediately stepped in to defuse the situation, letting Donaldson know that he shoved Anderson off the base and the game continued. 

The good news is that Donaldson wanted to make it up to Anderson by bringing a little levity to the game on Saturday by calling him “Jackie”, referring to Jackie Robinson. Donaldson told mlb.com, “Today, I was just trying to defuse it, make light…Obviously, he deemed that it was disrespectful.  And look, if he did, I apologize. That is not what I was trying to do.”

Obviously, Anderson did. Donaldson made the comment in the second inning, had to be separated from Tim Anderson in the third inning, then Yasmani Grandal confronted Donaldson forcefully in the fifth to explode the situation into a bench clearing situation. You know its serious when those bullpen guys come a-running. MLB suspended Donaldson for one game and an undisclosed fine.

Donaldson claims that this banter about Jackie has been going on for years since Anderson made a comment in Sports Illustrated in 2019. Donaldson, then with the Braves, called him Jackie back then and it has been an inside joke ever since. “I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson,” said Anderson in the interview, “But it’s cool, man, because he changed the game and I feel like I’m getting to a point where I need to change the game.”

So, what does all this mean? First, Donaldson hasn’t really apologized. Commiserate with the times, an apology constitutes saying that you were wrong and you feel remorse.  Blaming it (especially a racist remark) on a misunderstanding or that you didn’t mean it that way or that it was a joke gone bad doesn’t constitute an apology.  Ownership must be taken.

White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who is typically confused, thought the situation was fairly straight forward.  Donaldson, “made a racist comment,” La Russa told MLB.com.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone stuck by his player. He told MLB.com, “Josh has been very forthcoming with the history and context of it, so I don’t believe there was any malicious intent in that regard.” But Boone hedged, “But this is, just in my opinion, somewhere he should not be going.” Now, we are getting somewhere.

Donaldson has one thing in his corner and that is the history of the conversation.  ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, talking on “First Take”, has a problem with the Donaldson suspension because Anderson has never refuted Donaldson’s claim that this has been going on for years. That would surely help understand the context. I have friends that go back multiple decades and sometimes we make jokes at each other’s expense. Jokes probably other people wouldn’t find funny.  If I didn’t think it was funny anymore, I would probably say, “I don’t think it is funny anymore.” I would not start a family clearing brawl.

In the end, Boone is probably right in that Donaldson showed poor judgement and should not have said anything close to a racist remark. Not even expose himself there.  When we hear that someone called Tim Anderson “Jackie”, it doesn’t smell right, it doesn’t seem right, it isn’t right.  As reported by CBS Sports, Aaron Judge did not like Donaldson’s remarks, “Joke or not, I just don’t think it was the right thing to do there.” Donaldson needs to suffer the consequences.

Does MLB’s discipline make sense? One game isn’t much and we don’t know how much the fine is.  MLB’s formal statement said that Donaldson comments were “disrespectful and in poor judgement…was a contributing factor in a bench-clearing incident between the teams and warrants discipline.”

There is something off with that statement. At best, Donaldson’s behavior was insensitive and at worst it was racist. You can call it disrespectful, but we are talking about a racist statement. We should be talking about disciplining because someone made a racist statement. Not because they showed poor judgement in making a racist statement. And not because the benches cleared. It is because racism reared its ugly head in Major League Baseball.

Grandal had an interesting remark to MLB.com, “This game went through a period of time where a lot of those comments were made, and I think we’re way past that.” It would be nice to know what time period he is referring to.  Grandal joined the league in 2012, so is he talking about the last 10 years or are we talking about when Jackie Robinson joined the league in 1947? Regardless, Grandal is correct. Though racism is alive and healthy in 2022, we are way, way, way past the point of accepting this type of behavior.

It would have been nice if the Yankees would have handled this on their own. Taken responsibility, suspended their player for multiple games, and made a statement that this type of language and behavior is unacceptable (like facial hair) in their ball club. In fact, we haven’t heard much from the front office or ownership at all.  The MLB stepped in swiftly, which was really great, but the one game doesn’t do it.  The suspension should have been something in the neighborhood of ten games, though I would probably throw a party if he got 20. 

If MLB had to rationalize it, Donaldson isn’t having some crazy impactful year for the Yankees, .238 average, 5 home runs, .764 OPS.  That shouldn’t matter, but if they were worried about impacting the Yankees competitively, it really wouldn’t have mattered this early in the year. MLB missed an opportunity to make a huge statement to fans and set a precedent for all sports. They swung and missed.

And let’s talk about the fans.  Just a couple of weeks after throwing garbage on opposing players, Yankees fans booed Anderson and chanted “Jackie”. Booing comes in a couple of forms.

·       Booing players because they have taken the role of villain like a WWE character.  Jose Altuve and the “Cheater” chant is rampant at White Sox ballpark as it is across the country.

·       Good natured booing against great players that do obscenely well against your team. JD Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout have destroyed the White Sox over the years.

Booing someone for being the target of a racist comment is curious. Repeating the racist comment is curiouser. If we give Josh Donaldson the benefit of the doubt that he made a mistake, it was very clear that Anderson and the White Sox players were offended after the fact.  Yankees fans (we know it wasn’t all Yankees fans) made no mistake, they knew exactly what they were saying.  These things stay with you.  I’ll always remember the beginning of the 2020 football season when the Kansas City fans booed during the racial equality moment of silence before the Chiefs game.

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  • Larry Goldman

    Larry spends his nights and days watching, researching, and writing about sports in Chicago and the national conversation.

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