Editorial: Unwritten rules and racism

  • Fans give a standing ovation as Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones comes to bat during the first inning of Tuesday night's game in Boston. AP

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

It’s been a rough week at Fenway Park. The Orioles are in town, and there has been bad blood between Boston and Baltimore since April 21, when Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was injured following a hard slide by Oriole third baseman Manny Machado. Under the “Retribution” chapter of the “Unwritten Rules of Baseball,” Red Sox pitchers were obligated to throw 95-mph fastballs at Machado as punishment for overzealous baserunning. So Eduardo Rodriguez threw at him but missed. And then Matt Barnes threw at his head, but the ball went behind him. On Tuesday night, Chris Sale joined the ranks of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight and threw behind Machado again. It seems important to mention here that these are adults we’re talking about.

In the midst of all this, a fan or fans at Fenway hurled racial slurs and a bag of peanuts at Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones on Monday night. On Tuesday, some of the more evolved members of Red Sox Nation tried to make amends by giving Jones a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate. We doubt that sheepish applause will do much to erode America’s deeply entrenched systemic racism, but the fans no doubt meant well.

As a darkly comic sideshow to all of this, a slew of sports reporters reacted to the racist taunts as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Racism? In America? In a baseball stadium where testosterone, alcohol, passion and ignorance frequently mix together for an idiot cocktail? And then they demanded that the Boston Red Sox do something about it, as if racism is a new strain of the plague and some intoxicated moron at Fenway was Patient Zero.

Commenters on these stories have spent hours arguing about what city has the most racist fans, as if that matters even a little bit. When people are sharing stories about blatant racism they witnessed in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc., it shouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots: America – every city and every state – has a race problem and has for the entirety of its existence. The evidence just happens to be a little more obvious at sporting events and certain kinds of political rallies, and in cities like Boston where long-running racial tension is never far below the surface. The problem doesn’t belong to one particular city, franchise or fan base; it is east and west, left and right, front and back, past and future.

It’s great that Adam Jones spoke up, and it’s nice that fans did what little they could to say sorry. It would be even better if racism was just a Fenway Park problem, because then you could just mothball the place. But racism, like baseball, is as American as apple pie.

The Boston Red Sox can boot fans who use racial slurs, and they absolutely should, but that still amounts to treating the symptom rather than the disease. Nothing will really change inside Fenway until everything changes outside of it. We were reminded on Monday night just how slow progress has been. 

While we don’t believe Major League Baseball will be able to end racism in America any time soon, there is something it should do about beanball wars before it’s too late. Somebody is going to get seriously injured or killed on the field, and when that happens the league will have to explain how a gladiator code misapplied to a children’s game cost an athlete his life. To avert tragedy, the penalty for purposely throwing at an opposing player should be so steep that it becomes uneconomical to follow baseball’s most dangerous and stupid unwritten rule.