A lot has transpired since our last news update as MLB teams — along with many among sports including the NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLS, NFL and even women’s tennis — “boycotted” their games on Wednesday and Thursday in an act of solidarity against the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wis., law enforcement. The past couple of days have been somber ones as we reflect on the problems plaguing our society and how best to move forward.
The Tigers ended up playing on Wednesday night as the postponement dominoes began to fall, resulting in a surprising series win over the Chicago Cubs to take their second series in a row after a brutal nine-game skid. Ordinarily, this would be the main topic of interest, but we are not living in ordinary times.
Tigers played but were not tone-deaf
Although the Tigers took the field on Wednesday night after the Milwaukee Bucks had already declared that they would not play in their playoff game, the team was not deaf to the din that echoed around the sports world, as well as the country as a whole. Manager Ron Gardenhire offered this explanation for why the team played ball.
“Our players decided we’re going to play together as a unit here, with an understanding of what’s going on in this world, in this country, that we got to fix these things. We’re all a part of it, and we all got each other’s backs in here, and we did talk about that part of it in the clubhouse. Tough day. It’s really hard.”
Shortstop Niko Goodrum, who has earned himself a reputation reminiscent of Curtis Granderson with his class and dignity, spoke up after the game with a message from his perspective as a Black man in America.
“Before I come to the field, I have to leave my house. I’m a human being just like everyone else, and I have to make it to the field. Those are things that we shouldn’t have to worry about. Going to the field, is something gonna happen? Or if I get pulled over, is something gonna happen? I shouldn’t have to fear that when I get up in the morning. Things have to change, and it’s bigger than sports.”
His words are a stark reminder of what many in this nation deal with on a daily basis due to inequities that exist in our society, and it is important that we listen to those who live through it. His teammate Cameron Maybin, who is a representative for The Player’s Alliance — a association consisting of over 100 current and former Black professional baseball players — added on to what Goodrum had to offer with his words the following day.
“We all want to play. What gets misconstrued is (the idea) that guys don’t want to play. We want to play, but it’s bigger than us. That’s what gets lost in it. This is about the future, our children. I’ve got two young Black sons who I continue to have very hard conversations with. There are a lot of conversations (with players), a lot of concerns, a lot of questions about what MLB would do. We’re just trying to be unified as a group. Not only from a Black player standpoint, but from a player standpoint. We’re all brothers. This is a fraternity, like Anthony Rizzo and myself talked about it last night. I appreciate very much the support from so many guys.”
One person who may not get as much credit as he deserves is Gardenhire, who has said and done all of the right things over the past several months as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained strength. As a 62-year-old white man who was raised in Okmulgee, Okla., and the son of an Army veteran, the grizzled veteran skipper comes from a very different world than most of his players, yet he has managed to demonstrate a sense of empathy rarely seen from older baseball folks. He credits this personal growth to simply opening his ears, as he describes in his own words how he connects with his team.
“Mostly learning through my players and talking with them about what goes on in their lives and all those things, and what goes on on TV. I used to live in Minnesota for a long time, and the event that happened there was terrible. You finally have to kind of open your eyes to what’s really going on in this world. Some of us have failed to do that. I pay attention because I’m with these young men all the time.
After all of this, the Tigers agreed to postpone its series-opening game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night in recognition of these current events, which will be made up on Friday as part of a doubleheader. Gardenhire offered another quote to sum up the team’s sentiment.
“Honestly it was so emotional in there, I don’t know if we could’ve played baseball.”
Front office would support a ‘boycott’
Not only is the team receiving support from its coaching staff, but the front office also has its players’ back. In an official statement issued late Thursday, the team brass released the following.
“The Detroit Tigers fully respect the decision of our players and coaches to not take the field. We stand behind them and appreciate the sincerity of the process and their conversations. This decision comes as we think of all those who are victims of injustice and inequality. We join others from across sports to reflect, unify and channel our energy towards a cause that should be vital to all: equality.”
Gardenhire, whose quotes have littered this links post thus far, finished off with a strong message as well.
“This country really needs to step up and take care of our people, all of our people.
“We stand unified as a group.”
Avila: ‘The world needs a lot more love’
Working our way up the team’s hierarchy, we finally arrive at General Manager Al Avila, who also had some sage words for the press on Thursday afternoon in regards to his players’ reaction to the recent events.
“You gotta figure that as an athlete, we all have to make a stand in however we feel we best make our statement. If our athletes feel that’s the best place to make their statement, that’s the way they want to do it, then that’s fine and we’ll support it. Everyone has to make their decision on how to combat racism or any injustice, to tell you the truth.”
“If an athlete feels this is the way I’m going to make my statement, then we will support that. For me, the world needs a lot more love. I would say any kind of protest or meeting, anything that you take away violence is a key for me. Obviously it’s a nonviolent way to make a statement.”
Tork in ‘20?
So enough of all the gloom, here is a story that might get the fanbase amped up. When asked if 2020 top draft pick Spencer Torkelson could make an appearance in the bigs this year, Avila chuckled and responded, “Torkelson, bringing him up this year? Well, that would be ...” He did not finish his statement, but he also did not say, “no”. So... you’re telling us there’s a chance?
Tigers listening at trade deadline
Nobody needs to be reminded that 2020 has been a weird year fraught with uncertainty and the unknown, and with MLB’s trade deadline looming around the corner, the market for players is no different. Nonetheless, Avila says that he is listening to offers, but the risk might not be worth the reward.
“It sounds like a lot of teams are in the same situation. Obviously there are some teams that are looking for pitching, as always. But in saying that it’s really hard to gauge how much a team is willing to give in this short period of time. Right now it’s really uncertain.”
While it seems highly unlikely that the Tigers pull the trigger on a trade this season, if the right offer is made the team will hopefully look to capitalize. Otherwise, do not expect much activity in Detroit or the league as a whole as August 31 gets closer.
Zero positive COVID-19 tests reported among players
New COVID-19 test data from MLB and MLBPA pic.twitter.com/CKQSj7r0vN— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) August 28, 2020
Around the horn
Baseball Prospectus asks, “Are sports a reward for a well-functioning society?” FanGraphs takes a look at Yandy Díaz and the Groundball Revolution. Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s latest embarrassment could be the beginning of his end. Middle-aged pitchers like Clayton Kershaw are prospering in the shortened season. Mets and Marlins walk off the field after a 42-second moment of silence honoring Jackie Robinson. COVID-19 complicates the trade deadline for everyone–including MLB’s travel directors. Five things MLB can do right now to confront systemic racism.