It’s safe to say people expected a little heat between the Red Sox and the Orioles at Fenway Park this week, considering the doings of two weekends ago. But I’m not sure what happened during Monday night’s skirmish—which the Orioles won, 5-2—was quite what they had in mind.
That was then: Matt Barnes throwing a fastball toward Manny Machado’s head, two days after Machado inadvertently spiked Dustin Pedroia on a hard slide into second base. This was Monday night: Fans taunting the Orioles’ Adam Jones racially during the game, whether it was verbal (in most cases) or physical (one miscreant throwing a bag of peanuts toward him).
“A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me,’’ said Jones, one of the most articulate men in the game and one of 62 African-American players on major league rosters this season, to reporters after the game. “I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.
“It’s different,’’ Jones continued. “Very unfortunate. I heard there was 59 or 60 ejections tonight in the ballpark. It is what it is, right. I just go out and play baseball. It’s unfortunate that people need to resort to those type of epithets to degrade another human being. I’m trying to make a living for myself and for my family. It’s unfortunate. The best thing about myself is that I continue to move on, and still play the game hard. Let people be who they are. Let them show their true colors.”
The peanut thrower was thrown out of Fenway Park post haste. The Red Sox confirmed at least half the amount of stadium ejections on which Jones speculated. Jones wasn’t exactly put off by the ejections, however many they were, but he suggested more drastic measures were in order once the taunters were identified firmly.
“What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand. Something that really hurts somebody,” the outfielder said. “Make them pay in full. And if they don’t, take it out of their check. That’s how you hurt somebody. You suspend them from the stadium, what does that mean? It’s a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he’s done.
“At the end of the day, when you throw an object onto the field of play, the player has no idea what it is,” he continued. “What if something hit me right in the eye and I can’t play baseball anymore. Then what? I just wear it? No. Things like that need to be handled a little more properly, in my opinion.”
I don’t blame Jones one lick for feeling that way. And it must have been even more painful for him when considering two thirds of the Red Sox’s starting outfield (Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr.) are black. As Big League Stew‘s Mike Oz observed dryly, “The same fans that would call Adam Jones the N-word would probably cheer for a Betts homer.
“What does that tell us? They’re either incredibly hypocritical and lack a stunning amount of self-awareness,” Oz continued. “Or they’re the type of people who quickly resort to name-calling and racist taunts instead of witty banter — which makes for a horrible heckler.”
The most enlightened thinker on race issues may think it’s somewhat extreme to fine a racist five figures merely for shooting his or her ugly mouth off, but Monday night’s tauntings weren’t the first time Jones experienced it in Fenway Park, merely the worst. Imagine how Red Sox Betts, Bradley, pitcher David Price, and outfielder Chris Young, also African-American, must feel about that.
Baseball has enough to think about with the dwindling volume of black players taking up the game in the first place—when the sport celebrated Jackie Robinson last month, it was pained to note that only 7.73 percent of active major league players this season are black.
Last year, during the uproar over the NFL’s Colin Kapaernick’s protest against the national anthem, Jones observed baseball as a “white man’s game”—meaning the sport isn’t as good as it made itself in the postwar past in reaching to and fostering black youth toward the game. Baseball has an astonishing Latino presence by comparison, but its efforts now toward black American youth bear the paradox of improving and frustration.
“During its most integrated, baseball has never known quite what to do with its black players, or any players, for that matter,” wrote Howard Bryant, himself African-American, last summer. “The game is rooted in its anachronisms. Even its coded language—play the game the right way—repels the stylish flairs of a modern player, kids raised in a time of selfies and TV highlights.
“Unlike football and basketball, which have better adapted to the people who play, making it more attractive to younger players, baseball forces its strict, traditional culture on kids born in the 1990s and 2000s,” Bryant continued, remembering how Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr., in his youthful years, “took batting practice with his hat on backward, and the old guard treated it as if he had sworn in church.”
A little over a decade ago, an African-American Met named Lastings Milledge celebrated his first major league home run by high-fiving Shea Stadium fans celebrating it with him as he re-emerged from the dugout to take the field. After that game, Milledge was greeted with a sign tacked to his locker: KNOW YOUR PLACE, ROOK. Milledge was broiled and basted by his own manager and enough of the national sports press.
High-fiving fans congratulating him turned out to be only half as offensive as Milledge’s appearance the following season on a nasty rap recording with relentlessly profane language. For assorted reasons including injuries, Milledge never quite lived up to his potential from there. He was last seen playing in Japan and, this season, with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers.
A grotesquely profane rap record is one thing. But for a game whose observers often berate for being somewhat less than fan friendly, it looked a lot of ridiculous to berate a young player—African-American or otherwise—for doing nothing worse than acknowledging fans who chose to cheer him for a career first.
I wonder if the idiots in Fenway Park noticed that the Orioles did something else right Monday night. They didn’t wait until the end of this series to let the Red Sox know that one of their pitchers trying to decapitate Machado at the next-to-last-minute of the set in Baltimore two weekends back wasn’t kosher. Orioles starter Dylan Bundy caught Betts on the left thigh with a pitch his first time up, and that was that.
“You’d have to ask him,” Betts told the Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo after the game. “It is what it is. He hit me and I just took my base.”
Jones and his fellow Orioles also went on to perform some highlight reel-worthy defense before and after Mr. Peanut was thrown out of the park, seven such plays, while the Red Sox channeled their inner 1962 Mets and committed four errors.
Meanwhile, Machado exacted a little measure of his own revenge for his near-decapitation in Baltimore, taking his sweet time rounding the bases when Boston starter Rick Porcello threw him a hanging slider and he hung it well past the seats atop the Green Monster in the sixth.
Red Sox president Sam Kennedy apologised formally to Jones and the Orioles for the Fenway racists. “No player should have an object thrown at him on the playing field, nor be subjected to any kind of racism at Fenway Park,” Kennedy’s statement said.
It was a sorry doing for baseball, for the Red Sox, and for Boston, whose racial history is described most charitably as testy. (The Red Sox, as even their most die-hard fans lament, were baseball’s last major league team to admit a black player to the parent club.)
I wonder if the Fenway racists Monday night were aware that Jones, in addition to being a five-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner, was the Orioles’ nominee last year for an award—won ultimately by Curtis Granderson of the Mets, himself black—that recognised the player “who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.”
The award is the Roberto Clemente Award.