MLB teams postpone games in wake of Jacob Blake shooting
The decision came Wednesday as the NBA also chose to postpone playoff games amid boycotts
By J.P. Hoornstra
Daily News, Los Angeles
SAN FRANCISCO — Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts awoke Wednesday expecting to play a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants. A national conversation was on his mind, too. After he arrived at Oracle Park, the conversation was on Betts’ phone.
Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by a white police officer in his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday. Protests ensued across the country. The Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play a playoff game Wednesday against the Orlando Magic. The Milwaukee Brewers opted against playing the Cincinnati Reds.
Betts, who is Black, was exchanging text messages with members of his family. By Wednesday afternoon, he had decided to sit out the game against the Giants.
Soon Betts was not alone. The Dodgers met for more than an hour in the visitors’ clubhouse in San Francisco. They listened to Betts’ reasons for sitting out. They exchanged ideas as a group. They talked to players on the Giants’ side.
By 6 p.m., less than an hour before the scheduled first pitch, it was official: the Dodgers weren’t playing. The game was being postponed. It was one of three games called off on a day of protest around Major League Baseball.
“Hopefully this is the first step to change,” Betts said.
The Brewers and Cincinnati Reds were the first to decide to postpone their game Wednesday. The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres followed. Several Black and white baseball players – including Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty – also made the individual choice to sit out their scheduled games.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, the son of a Black father and Japanese mother, said he would not have managed Wednesday’s game had it been played.
“To not play, allowing us to use our platform, to use our voices, and to let the world know, the country know, how sad, frustrated and angry we all are, that looking at the world, the way the country is right now, people are being treated this way – people of color,” Roberts said. “These conversations need to be had.”
The Dodgers and Giants will make up the game by playing a doubleheader — two seven-inning games — on Thursday beginning at 1 p.m.
“If Mookie plans on playing, I think we’re going to play,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said.
Kershaw was scheduled to start Wednesday’s game. After George Floyd was killed at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May, the former Most Valuable Player became an outspoken advocate for racial injustice.
Though he was the only White person on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday, Kershaw did not appear out of place standing beside Betts, Roberts and pitcher Kenley Jansen.
“More than anything, as a teammate of Mookie’s, as a member of this team with (Roberts) and George (Lombard, the Dodgers’ first base coach) and (strength and conditioning coach Travis Smith), as a White player on this team, how can we show support?” Kershaw asked. “We felt the best thing to do was support them by not playing.”
The game was scheduled to air nationally on ESPN. By sitting it out, the Dodgers made a visible statement. It was not their first.
All Dodger players wore a “Black Lives Matter” patch on their Opening Day jerseys, then auctioned them off with proceeds to benefit the California Funders for Boys & Men of Color Southern California: Our Kids, Our Future Fund. Betts knelt during the playing of the national anthem before the July 23 game at Dodger Stadium.
In July, Kershaw, Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling and Justin Turner joined leaders of the Brotherhood Crusade, the Children’s Defense Fund of California, the Community Coalition, and the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition in a listening session.
Roberts’ remarks Wednesday were his strongest yet on the issue of social justice.
“There’s no bigger issue right now,” he said. “It’s not a political issue. I understand there’s an election coming up, but this is a human being issue. We all need to be treated the same way. A Black man being shot seven times in the back … that just can’t happen.”
Roberts said he had the support of Dodgers chairman Mark Walter and the team’s front office if the game were played without him.
Lombard, the son of a Black father and White mother, might have chosen to continue his own form of protest by wearing black shoes in the first base coach’s box.
“We just need to get everybody’s attention,” Lombard said. “I don’t know if people know the right way to handle the situation, but the only way these issues are going to get solved is to talk about them, to find out why these things continue to happen.”
Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own Wednesday: “Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”
For Betts, what might have been a mournful occasion turned into a powerful team-bonding exercise. In July, he signed a 12-year contract worth $365 million – the longest and most lucrative deal in Dodger history. He was already destined to become the face of the franchise.
Wednesday, Betts added a powerful voice to a national conversation that has nothing to do with baseball.
“I was already tight with everyone in the clubhouse,” he said, “but now that I know everybody has my back more than I already thought means a lot. I’ll always remember this day and I’ll always remember this team having my back.”
©2020 the Daily News (Los Angeles)