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Context Doesn’t Really Help Josh Donaldson’s Case

Yasmani Grandal and Josh Donaldson argue, with Nick Mahrley in between them.
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

In the fifth inning of Saturday’s game, White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal got in the face of Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson. Umpire Nick Mahrley separated the two as the benches cleared, and eventually White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson had to be held back by his teammates. With all of the players wearing camo caps, it looked like the world’s largest dispute in a Bass Pro Shops parking lot.

What had Donaldson done to piss off the White Sox? Well, context is important: Donaldson has a history of pissing off the White Sox. Last season, he homered off Lucas Giolito and made a reference to pitchers using gunk; after the game the two players met in a parking lot. In 2018, he was annoyed that first base coach Daryl Boston would use a whistle to celebrate important plays. But this time around, Donaldson said that in the first inning he called Anderson “Jackie,” referencing a 2019 Sports Illustrated article in which the shortstop gave a quote about how he felt like Jackie Robinson:

“I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson,” he says. “That’s huge to say. But it’s cool, man, because he changed the game, and I feel like I’m getting to a point to where I need to change the game.”

When Stephanie Apstein’s article was published, Anderson was drawing attention for his willingness to openly enjoy his achievements, like hitting a home run, and still be punished for it, at a time when MLB’s advertising campaign was “Let the Kids Play.” Apstein also referenced the shrinking number of black players in pro baseball. Donaldson clearly had retained the quote better than the rest of the article.

That’s a guy who has the sense that he might be in trouble. Donaldson said that since 2019, he would joke with Anderson by calling him “Jackie” in reference to this quote. He didn’t know why the shortstop had a problem with it now. “If something has changed from that—my meaning of that is not any term trying to be racist,” Donaldson said. He said he called Anderson “Jackie” this time to try and defuse any tension from a May 13 game, in which Donaldson applied a rough tag on Anderson at third base:

Donaldson may have solved his own mystery: That was probably what changed. Or maybe Anderson never liked the joke to begin with, because when he was asked about it after the game, he called it a “disrespectful comment.”

“Basically, he was trying to call me Jackie Robinson,” Anderson said. “Like, ‘What’s up, Jackie?’ I don’t play like that. I don’t really play at all. I wasn’t really going to bother nobody today, but he made the comment and, you know, it was disrespectful and I don’t think it was called for. It was unnecessary.”

It appeared to be a unifying moment for the White Sox. “I just thought [Donaldson’s comment] was a low blow, and I want to make sure I got my team’s back,” Grandal said, calling it “unacceptable” and also indicating that he remembered what Donaldson had said to Giolito last season. Chicago manager Tony La Russa said Donaldson “made a racist comment,” and declined to elaborate. MLB said it would investigate, but I wouldn’t put much faith that the league would find a satisfying resolution to this.

All the publicly available context shows that the only person who enjoys this running joke is Josh Donaldson. If even the former Tea Party fan thinks what Donaldson said was racist, well, it doesn’t help his case. The White Sox and Yankees play a doubleheader today; it’ll be the last time they face each other in the regular season. Donaldson said he was open to meeting with Anderson to talk about what he said. I don’t know if that would fully resolve the issue here, but it might prevent some fastballs from ending up in some ribcages.