Time and time again, the relationship between player and manager forces the manager to mindlessly defend their player, sticking up for their guy no matter what the situation may be.
Whether someone on the other side pimps a home run, or an umpire rings someone on their team up on a pitch well off the plate, the manager’s job is to stand up for their own.
But when it came to Josh Donaldson’s misguided taunt of White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, a Black player whom Donaldson referred to as “Jackie,” it was refreshing to see Yankees manager Aaron Boone go with his heart over his managerial duties.
“When I first heard the name Jackie, I was really taken aback,” Boone said on Sunday. “Frankly, I was upset about it myself.”
Boone went on to say that even if there was some previous relationship between the players, which Donaldson believed made the comment more of a playful joke, he does not think that something his white third baseman should say to a Black person.
From a human perspective, that’s a fairly easy statement to make. Not making racially driven jokes about people is a pretty easy thing to get on board with. But so often in the past, managers across Major League Baseball have let the name on the front of their jersey dictate their decisions. If the person under fire is on their team, the manager will often lean on empty statements about needing more information or reviewing things internally, even if it’s clear as day that their guy screwed up.
That’s not what Boone did at all. While he acknowledged that the context of the situation is important – Anderson said he felt like “today’s Jackie Robinson” in a 2019 interview and Donaldson told reporters that he called Anderson the name before in jest without it being an issue – Boone also drew a pretty hard line, by MLB manager standards, against Donaldson’s comments. In saying that he wants the notorious agitator to “rein it in” and “read the room,” Boone went about as close to denouncing his own player as a manager can.
Boone and his wife Laura have two Black children, Jeanel and Sergot, whom they adopted from Haiti. During the 2020 season, in the wake of Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisc., Boone broke down in a press conference when discussing how hard and heavy that year had been.
“A heartbreaking year in so many ways,” Boone said on Aug. 28, 2020, five days after Blake was shot. He briefly got up and left that press conference to compose himself emotionally before returning.
“I think that’s the case for a lot of people of all different backgrounds and races. My prayer is that we continue – even though we’re going through some dark times – [so] that at the end of this, we’re better. That’s my continued prayer. “
An incident like the one Donaldson created is a pretty direct opposition to Boone’s wishes. While Donaldson is adamant that he invoked Jackie Robinson’s name as part of a wink-wink joke with Anderson, the fact of the matter is that Anderson did not appreciate it. Or, as David Cone put it during Sunday’s broadcast, “If Tim Anderson felt disrespected, that’s good enough for me.”
In situations where someone from a historically oppressed group voices an issue with someone from outside that group’s treatment of them, particularly on issues of race, it’s rarely a good idea to side with the outsider. Instead, as many marginalized people have been saying for years (including Giancarlo Stanton on the same day of Boone’s teary-eyed plea for improvement), it’s of paramount importance to simply listen.
Boone got that right over the weekend. While he did not go as far as fully planting his flag on the White Sox’s side, Boone did say that Donaldson should not have gone there and hopes that the first-year Yankee understands the significance of what he said. That is more than many managers likely would have said, and Boone deserves some kudos for separating his pinstripe loyalty from real life issues that transcend the baseball diamond.
It’s not about scoring “woke points” or trying to publicly posture in a way that makes you look like a good person. It’s about doing the right thing and acknowledging when someone is upset about the way they were treated because of the color of the skin.
Aaron Boone seems to understand that. Josh Donaldson – who said he apologized if Anderson deemed it disrespectful, not “I apologize for saying something out of bounds” – could benefit from taking a page out of his skipper’s book.