It has been 70 years since Jackie Robinson broke through baseball’s color barrier and heroically weathered all the torment and abuse that came with being Major League Baseball’s first African-American player.
And all these years later — just 16 days after another uplifting anniversary celebration of Robinson’s world-changing contribution to baseball — Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is subjected to the same kinds of taunts from the stands at Fenway Park?
Sure, emotions were high Monday night. The game came just over a week after the series with the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park in which Manny Machado spiked Dustin Pedroia at second base and reliever Matt Barnes threw a sizzling fastball behind Machado’s head two days later. But just as we all agree that a pitcher cannot go there, you would think by now that we’d all recognize that there’s another place where none of us should go.
Jones told USA Today after Monday’s game that a fan threw a bag of peanuts at him and he was repeatedly called a word that no decent person uses anymore to insult and denigrate another human being.
Why? Because there was a hard slide/beanball controversy 400 miles away the series before? Because Jones spent Monday night frustrating fans with his terrific talent in center field? Because there are always a handful of jerks in just about any ballpark who get themselves liquored up and allow that filter that hides their real selves to stop functioning?
Or worse. Because there’s this original sin buried in our national consciousness that fights its way to the surface every time we fool ourselves into thinking that we have overcome the primal urge to separate ourselves from each other and impose some kind of sick dominion over people who don’t look, think or worship like us.
It wasn’t the first time Jones has been the target of fan abuse. In 2013, a fan threw a banana in the direction of Jones near the end of an interleague game between the Orioles and San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. In that case, the fan voluntarily came forward and apologized, claiming his display of frustration wasn’t intended to have racial overtones.
Maybe so, but ugly fans have been throwing bananas at black athletes for decades, and not just here in the United States. NHL winger Wayne Simmonds was the target of a similar incident during an exhibition game in London, Ontario, in 2011 and that repugnant practice — among others — has been commonplace in European professional soccer as long as athletes of different races have been playing there.
It was fairly obvious something was going on in the stands down the left-field line at Fenway Park. Jones could be seen on the television broadcast shouting in the direction of fans after making one of his spectacular defensive plays. After the game, manager Buck Showalter only hinted at what happened, saying that his team had to overcome a lot to win.
“It’s wet, cold, windy, people throwing peanut bags,” he said. “You name it.”
The crowd was hot, especially after Orioles starter Dylan Bundy hit Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts with a pitch in the sixth inning. But that’s no excuse because there is no excuse — ever — for that kind of behavior.
Jones handles it the way Robinson did so long ago. He answers with his performance. He answers every day with the work he does with inner-city kids in Baltimore and in his hometown of San Diego. He’s certainly not the first black athlete to deal with this sort of thing and, unfortunately, he will not be the last.
Boston, like most major American cities including Baltimore, has a checkered history when it comes to race, but this really isn’t about the where. It’s about the what.
The Red Sox publicly apologized to Jones on Tuesday morning and so did Boston mayor Marty Walsh, saying “We are better than this.”
Unfortunately, we are not.