MLB players finally step into the batters box against racial injustices

Let’s start with some numbers, just so everyone can understand the magnitude of what happened in baseball on Wednesday night.

One. That’s the number of Black players on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster – pitcher Devin Williams – following center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s decision to opt out earlier this season.

7.8. That’s the percentage of Black players who were on Opening Day rosters in all of Major League Baseball, according to USA Today.

17. That’s how old star Brewers reliever Josh Hader was when he sent out racist and other offensive tweets, the revelation of which left him humiliated and apologetic at the 2018 All-Star Game.

Hader is now 26, and was a leading voice for the Brewers as they decided to boycott their game to stand in solidarity with the Milwaukee Bucks in the fight against racism.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about since the day we got here,” Hader said. “It’s something we need to continue to talk about. It’s something that just can’t stay quiet. It’s nothing we can just put behind us. It’s something all of us have to continue to voice and bring light to this situation that we have.”

His teammate and MVP Christian Yelich gave a powerful speech during a press conference.

This wasn’t Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black-power salute on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. This wasn’t Colin Kaepernick taking a knee on an NFL sideline. And this wasn’t the largely Black NBA, which responded to the Milwaukee Bucks’ refusal to play Wednesday by canceling its three scheduled playoff games.

These were mostly White teams in a mostly White sport following NBA players’ lead and saying they, too, have had enough.

It was an unprecedented event for MLB players finally speaking up, and following in the foot steps of their fellow athletes. It was groundbreaking for the sport, and a sign that things inside the sport are starting to change.

Not every major-league team sat out Wednesday night. MLB did not issue a league-wide mandate. Part of me wishes they did, so it would be a unified decision. But then I realized it’s better this way.

The organic, player-driven uprising, starting with the Brewers and Reds, then continuing with the Mariners, Padres, Giants and Dodgers, added to the authenticity of the moment. The different choices made by other teams created a bit of a messy look. But protests, by their very nature, are rarely tidy and clean.

The Dodgers OF Mookie Betts made it clear he wasn’t going to play. He was then backed by that nights starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The rest of the team rallied behind him and decided as a team they would boycott the game.

The Cubs did not offer the same support to Heyward, who said he encouraged his teammates to play. The Cardinals played on without Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty, and the Rockies without Matt Kemp.

The players on those teams and other clubs who decided to move forward might grow uncomfortable in the days ahead when asked to explain their actions. Well, good. We’ve all been too comfortable for too long.

Players can disagree on whether to protest, or how to protest. But since the killing of George Floyd three months ago, the league, clubs and players have openly acknowledged systemic racism and taken steps to address it. It is what the sport of Jackie Robinson should be doing — not simply celebrating him as the player who broke the color barrier, but also following his activist lead.

Diversity often breeds understanding. Baseball, despite its low percentage of Black players, is relatively diverse, featuring players from 20 countries and territories who comprised nearly 30 percent of the Opening Day rosters.

By spending time with one another, the players learn about one another. And by listening to each other, at least some come to understand the pain Black players experience in their daily existence — and Latino players, too, in different ways.

Since the initial boycott of games on Wednesday, other teams have joined in. Conversations have been had, emotional press conferences given. Just view David Price or Jack Flaherty’s Twitter. Or even more impactful, watch this video of Mets player Dom Smith.

On Thursday night the New York Mets and Miami Marlins were scheduled to play a game at 7:10 pm. Instead the two teams took the field, all in their positions as if the game would start, but it didn’t. The two teams had a 42-second moment of silence, and then walked off.

The only thing that remained was a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over home plate.

After leaving the field the Mets addressed the media as a team, explaining that they stand “united” behind their teammate Dominic Smith.

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