clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Retired MLB stars shed light on the black experience in America

We are living in extraordinary times. These stories need to be heard... and listened to. And yes, there’s a difference.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Sara Sanchez

The protests that have happened in many cities in the United States of America following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer have exposed things that have been covered up in this country for too long.

I have been told I should remain silent on this topic, as it doesn’t relate to baseball. I won’t, and it does.

The relation to baseball is shown clearly in this remarkable discussion in The Athletic. Moderated by former Cub Doug Glanville and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, it included retired MLB players including another former Cub, LaTroy Hawkins, as well as Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Dontrelle Willis and Torii Hunter.

The players first discussed the differences in clubhouses they were parts of, and the fact that players need to be focused on winning games, and that creates a single purpose among ballplayers. It is, in fact, one of the things that can bridge racial or cultural divides. However, Rollins said:

Obviously, our white counterparts, they have a completely different view. They don’t have to grow up having that talk — and we all know what that talk is. They don’t have to get in a car, drive down the street knowing I didn’t do anything wrong, but this cop has been behind me for two blocks, something’s about to happen. They don’t have those fears. And every time something like this happens, as a player, you know exactly what is going on. When you get in the clubhouse, you do look at your counterparts, they’re going about their day as if nothing happened. And you’ve got three or four guys in the clubhouse looking at each other like, “Man. You see that? You know what that’s about. What can we do?” Then it’s four versus 21. It makes you a little uncomfortable.

I cannot pretend that I can understand what a black man in the United States of America has to go through every single day just because of the color of his skin. That is something that absolutely has to change. We are all human beings. It really is just that simple.

I was also taken by this, stated by Hunter:

When you talk about white privilege, I had someone tell me, “My parents had to work. And they got everything they got by working.” I said, “That ain’t white privilege! That’s not what we’re talking about!” We’re talking about, you can drive down the street and police get behind you and you ain’t even worried about it. You can tell your kid, “Have a good day!” I can’t say that. I say, “Hey, this happened, this happened and this happened.” So they won’t get killed.

It has to change. There’s no reason a law-abiding African-American man should have to fear for his life every single day because of the color of his skin. It happened to Hunter in his own house:

I went into my place, the alarm went off for a second and I cut it off. Maybe an hour later, I see cops at my door. I open my door and say, “Is everything OK?” And they said, “Freeze!” With the guns out. You know you’re coming to Torii Hunter’s house. You already know that!

The young guy had his gun down, but the older guy had his gun, and a vein popped out of his neck. I’m on one leg. He said, “Sit the f— down!” I said, “Hey man, this is my house, calm down.” And the young guy is looking at me like, “I think I know this guy.” The other guy still had the gun. And he says, “Is anybody else in the house?” I said, “No one else is in the house. This is my house.” I didn’t say nothing about baseball. And he walked me into the house with the gun in my back, to go upstairs to get my license. And when I showed him my license, the younger guy said, “I knew that was you.” And the guy said, “Who is he?” And he said, “He plays with the Angels.” Then this guy who had the gun on me says, “Oh, I’m an Angels fan. Can you leave me tickets?”

I mean... I can’t even post a proper response to that because it would be too profane. I can only repeat: That kind of thing has to stop. Now. Today. Immediately.

This has nothing to do with baseball, and yet it has everything to do with baseball, because baseball is a reflection of American society. Always has been, and presuming it picks up where it left off after all the crises we are living on a daily basis in 2020 end, always will. Personally, I am glad these interviews took place. They involve names you know well, men you cheered for, African-American men who, because of their athletic talent, have more money and a voice than other African-American men... and yet, they too live in fear for their lives every single day.

It has to stop. IT HAS TO STOP.

Many MLB teams, including the Cubs, issued statements in support of ending systemic racism in this country. Some of them addressed more of this issue than others. Bill Baer of Hardball Talk has kept a tracker of all the team tweets. Here’s how things stood as of early Wednesday morning:

The interview with the retired African-American MLB players is unlocked from The Athletic’s paywall and free to all. It is very much worth your time.

The very least any of us can do is listen. Think. Change your ways, if needed. Make the United States of America the shining beacon I have always believed it was. My ancestors, and probably yours, came to the USA to provide a better life for their families. Let’s all make this a better place, so that years from now we can say that 2020 was the beginning of something good for everyone. Baseball can be a part of it, to be sure, but it’s incumbent on all of us to do something very simple: Be kind to others. I’ve asked that as part of the Community Guidelines here. It’s not that difficult to do that in every part of life.

I’m far from the only sportswriter touching on this topic. Jon Greenberg and Patrick Mooney, Chicago writers at The Athletic, also did so. The Greenberg article contains links to others, and comments from Chicago athletes. Mooney’s covers the Cubs angle, including Tuesday’s protest march that began in front of Wrigley Field. Both articles are worth your time.

I ask that you please be kind and non-partisan in commenting on this topic.

And while baseball’s importance pales in significance to this issue, and baseball’s importance in American culture isn’t what it was years ago, I still believe, as I wrote Tuesday, that baseball could be a unifying force and help us heal. Players of all races and cultures get along in clubhouses for a single purpose.

Why can’t all of us?