“I don’t think it matters what I believe, only what I do.”
-Chadwick Boseman, as Jackie Robinson in 42.
In a normal year, Jackie Robinson day comes in April. April 15, to be exact, is the date chosen by former baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to celebrate the man who broke the sport’s color barrier on that very day back in 1947. Since 2004, all 30 MLB teams have honored Robinson by wearing his number 42 on their players’ backs for one day, usually accompanied by various celebrations in stadiums all over the country.
But of course—say it with me!—this has been no normal year.
This April, there was no baseball. But instead of canceling the event, which serves as a critical yearly reminder of how far the sport has progressed from its ugly, segregated roots, the league found an alternative solution. Jackie Robinson Day 2020 took place on Aug. 28, the 65-year anniversary of the day Robinson was told by Branch Rickey that he would be signed with the Dodgers. And as it turned out, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
On this week’s MLB Roundup, the focus is on the historic player-driven protests going on around the league in response to the recent shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin, which prompted a string of postponements spilling into Jackie Robinson Day on Friday. The players, it would seem, are finally following No. 42’s example by taking action for their beliefs.
But what happens next?
Leaving the Field
For the second time in six months, the sports world was thrown into a state of confusion this week. While protests grew in size around the nation following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last Sunday—and in truth, the decades’ worth of similar incidents whose tacit acceptance has festered into a surge of activism in the sports world and beyond this summer—the tide of activism finally reached the baseball diamond on Wednesday.
It started in Milwaukee, where the Brewers opted to follow the example of their neighboring Bucks in the NBA by calling off that night’s game against the Reds. The Dodgers and Mariners followed suit. In New York, Mets outfielder Dominic Smith took a knee during the national anthem. After the game, he spoke to a few media members about how the news has affecting him as a Black man in a sport which is predominantly occupied in America by white and Latino players.
“It was a long day for me. I kind of wasn’t there mentally… I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care. For this to just continually happen, it just shows just the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks. Being a Black man in America is not easy.”
No less than 18 hours later, Smith’s frustrations were ironically confirmed when video leaked of Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen talking to someone in the clubhouse about a suggestion from Commissioner Rob Manfred that instead of postponing Thursday’s game, teams should simply leave the field for an hour then come back.
Van Wagenen can be heard saying, “He just doesn’t get it.”
Here's video of Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen discussing a plan in which he says MLB wanted the Mets to take the field, leave it and return an hour later. Van Wagenen is critical of the idea and commissioner Rob Manfred, saying: "He just doesn’t get it." (Video via @NickCocco18) pic.twitter.com/46Z9neVkJt
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 27, 2020
Van Wagenen apologized shortly after, and clarified that it was actually Mets COO Jeff Wilpon who made the suggestion, not Manfred. But the damage was done for Manfred, whose leadership has been strongly criticized before.
As expected, the Mets-Marlins game that night was not played, but the Mets did take the field long enough to enact a silent protest in solidarity with Smith, their teammate, and the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. They stood for 42 seconds, a tribute to Robinson.
The Mets and Marlins took the field, had a 42-second moment of silence, and then walked off.
The only thing left on the field: a Black Lives Matter shirt.pic.twitter.com/JyckWkGQai
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) August 27, 2020
It was touching moment of unity for both teams, albeit one whose message was somewhat overshadowed by the front office confusion that preceded it. Six other games were also called off that night, and on Friday, the A’s and Astros staged a similar protest, leaving a Black Lives Matter Shirt over the plate alongside “42” jerseys from each team.
Whatever the outcome of these protests, it was heartening to see the outpouring of support for players like Smith, who was visibly shaken on Wednesday. The Mets may be a hot mess of a franchise, but they had their brother’s back when it counted. I have no doubt that if Jackie Robinson were alive today, it’s a moment he would have been proud of.
Oh, and by the way: when the Mets returned to the field on Friday, 65 years to the day since baseball was changed forever, it was Smith who delivered the go-ahead home run to beat the Yankees.
Because, baseball. Was there ever any doubt?
Heating up the Stove
In another scheduling quirk for 2020, the trade deadline is tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET. And that means it’s officially HOT STOVE SZN! While most of the baseball world has been distracted by the happenings on the field this week, the GMs of the league have been wheeling and dealing to improve their rosters.
At the season’s outset, some questioned how intense this year’s deadline would be. In a normal year, the Aug. 1 trade deadline market is driven by sellers trying to unload over-performing players, especially those in the last year of their contract; but with only a month left before the playoffs, the value of these “rentals” is greatly diminished. However, the flip side is that with the expanded playoffs, more than three-quarters of the league are suddenly contenders to reach the postseason. As of Sunday, 24 of 30 teams are currently within 3.5 games of a playoff spot.
The early moves this week have suggested a growing field of buyers. The Padres acquired former St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal from the Royals, along with one time all-star and gold glove first baseman Mitch Moreland from the Red Sox. The Orioles dealt pitchers Mychal Givens and Tommy Milone to the Rockies and Braves, respectively. The A’s got 2B Tommy LaStella from the Angels, and the Cubs snagged IF Jose Martinez from Tampa Bay.
As the clock winds down to Monday afternoon, the biggest names to keep an eye on are Cleveland SP Mike Clevinger, Angels SP Dylan Bundy, D-Backs closer Archie Bradley, Rangers slugger Joey Gallo and starter Lance Lynn. Clevinger is the biggest prize, although the asking price for the hard-throwing righthander is reportedly “ridiculous.”
Reds Update: Holding Steady
The brief work stoppage this week turned out to be a boon for the Reds, who used the off day on Wednesday to spark a three-game winning streak, winning both ends of the makeup doubleheader in Milwaukee and then taking 2 of 4 from the Cubs this weekend. Their record stands at 14-18, 1.5 games behind the second-place Cardinals and just one game away from the last wild card spot.
The rotation continues to be a strength, as they received strong outings this week from Sonny Gray, Wade Miley and Tyler Mahle. In the bullpen, Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims have been bright spots, with respective ERAs of 2.45 and 0.69 in a combined 24 innings pitched.
It’s unclear how aggressive the Reds will be at the deadline, but reports indicate that they will not be selling. The club’s only trade so far was to get rid of reliever Cody Reed earlier this week. If they do make any moves, expect similarly low profile deals aimed at improving the relief core, or possibly acquiring another outfield bat to help fill in for Nick Senzel’s injury.
Highlight of the Week: GIO-LITO!
With apologies to this throw by Victor Robles, the HotW belongs to this masterful performance by 26-year-old White Sox righty Lucas Giolito, the first no-hitter of the 2020 season. In only 101 pitches, Giolito absolutely emasculated the Pirates lineup on Tuesday, striking out 13 batters and surrendering just one walk—the fewest pitches thrown with that many K’s in a no-hitter ever, according to FanGraphs’ Devan Fink.
You can see the complete highlights above (including the spectacular catch by Adam Engel to seal the game), but if you’re pressed for time, try this incredible sequence of changeups that struck out Josh Bell in the 7th:
Lucas Giolito, Unfair 3 Pitch Sequence (all changeups).
A debatting…and sword. ??
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 26, 2020
Yeah, that about sums it up.
- White Sox OF Eloy Jimenez narrowly avoided a trip to the IL this week after twisting his ankle… while celebrating the no-hitter. That’s gotta sting.
- Astros SP Zack Greinke threw an eephus pitch at 54 miles per hour. It was a strike, right down the heart of the plate.
- Marlins utility man Jon Berti stole three bags in one inning on Tuesday, and nearly fell down coming home!
- The incomparable Miguel Cabrera, after registering his 2,000th hit in a Tigers uniform Sunday, gave a curtain call to the imaginary fans.
- COMING: Yankees IF D.J. LeMahieu – activated after two weeks on the IL with a sprained thumb. Without him, the Yankees had lost their last seven games.
- GOING: Giants OF Hunter Pence – designated for assignment after hitting .096 in 56 plate appearances this season. The 37-year-old has likely reached the end of the road. A four-time all-star and two-time World Series champ with the Giants, Pence will surely appear on a few hall of fame ballots before it’s all said and done.