Major League Baseball players everywhere wore No. 42 on Friday to honor Jackie Robinson, a fitting tribute during a historic week in baseball in which teams across the league joined protests calling for racial equality.
“I think we making Jackie proud today,” the Mariners’ Dee Gordon said in a Zoom call Friday afternoon.
Gordon, one of 11 Black players on the Mariners’ 40-player roster, spoke at length about the experience of Black players in baseball, about the conversations being had inside the Mariners’ clubhouse, and about his involvement in the Players Alliance, a group organized by Black players this summer calling for equality in the game.
“We’re trying to save being Black in baseball,” Gordon said of the Players Alliance. “We need people that we can relate to. … For years we’ve come in here and we haven’t been able to come in here and say anything. Anything we said would be taken out of context and conclusions being drawn, and then the next thing you know you’re out of the game. We can’t have that.”
The Players Alliance includes more than 100 current and former Black players. Those players said they will donate their salaries from Thursday and Friday to racial-justice issues.
Over the past decade, MLB has celebrated Jackie Robinson Day every April 15. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and this abbreviated season, Robinson’s tribute was moved to Aug. 28.
Gordon says it’s special for him to wear No. 42 every year but especially now. The Mariners on Wednesday, in a unanimous vote of players, were one of the first major league teams to refuse to play in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
“We’re wearing (Robinson’s) jersey today, on a day where we did something that never happened,” Gordon said. “Did I want to stop baseball? I love baseball. But it’s a privilege. I think everybody needs to understand that; they can’t be one foot in, one foot out. It’s a privilege for the players, but not a privilege for this part. That’s not (right). That’s not equality. That’s a problem.
“So I think he’ll be happy today, to know we stood up, know we weren’t trying to hurt nobody; we weren’t trying to hurt the game. We just gotta do something.”
Gordon, Kyle Seager and Marco Gonzales are the three players on the Mariners’ leadership council, and they helped steer the conversation Wednesday that led to the team’s decision to sit out that night’s game in San Diego.
“We just had a real talk (about) what’s going on. But the difference is, we haven’t had this platform in baseball,” Gordon said. “With the limited numbers (of Black players), we’ve always been told, ‘Do the right thing; stay out (of) the way; get your money; take care of your people.’ But now we have a little bit more of — we have to say something now. It’s like, we can’t not say anything now. That’s what we’re doing.”
One of the few veterans on MLB’s youngest team, Gordon says he’s had a number of conversations with the Mariners’ young Black players about activism in recent weeks. Kyle Lewis, J.P. Crawford, Shed Long, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn — all Black — are among the young players around whom the Mariners have staked their massive rebuilding plans.
Gordon has urged them to use their voice and their platforms to speak out against racial injustice. But he said there also must be a balance for Black ballplayers in what they say; he fears if they say too much, there could be repercussions for them within the game.
“I can’t let them go too far either,” he said. “I have to protect their career. Because if I protect their career, then that protects their family, and then that family does the right thing for another family, and then we can continue to go on.
“But if I just let them go out there and just go too far — we haven’t gotten any change yet. I can’t let them go too far. What if they’re not in baseball the next year because of things they (said) now?”
On Friday night, before their game in Anaheim, California, Gordon and the Mariners’ six other active Black players stood in a line in shallow center field during the national anthem and locked arms, joined by several players from the Angels.
“The message is that we’re tired,” Gordon said before the game. “I think we just told you this (after George Floyd’s death) and have been telling you every day forever. It’s time for the world to open their eyes and see that we’re tired. We’re tired of our people being killed, we’re tired of being nervous if we’re next or if our family members are next.
“I think that’s pretty simple. No one is trying to be above anyone or retaliate for anything that has happened over the years. We’re just tired. We’re tired of mothers grieving about their sons or daughters getting hurt by unnecessary things. That’s pretty much it.”
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Adam Jude to Anaheim, California, for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.