The Phillies reported Friday afternoon to Citizens Bank Park, where No. 42 jerseys waited in the clubhouse as part of the league’s annual Jackie Robinson Day.
A night earlier, the team postponed their game in Washington as a protest over last Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wisc.
They returned Friday to the ballpark, to continue a 60-game season, and to honor Robinson by playing with his number on their backs. Perhaps they honored him a day before.
Robinson is remembered best for breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947, but he was also a political activist. He joined Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, spoke out against anti-semitism and police brutality, was on the board of directors of the NAACP, supported the Black Panthers, and donated to the SCLC. Robinson was more than baseball’s first Black player.
“A lot of times it kind of stops there. Sometimes, you feel like that’s all you know,” said Andrew McCutchen, who was a leading voice to postpone Thursday’s game. “Even though it has been talked about and they talk about Jackie Robinson the man as he was and where he came from and the college he attended and being a four-sport athlete. You hear all of those things. But you don’t hear the other side a whole lot. What he did outside of the game.”
The Phillies met Thursday afternoon as a team and voted to not play the final game of a three-game series in Washington. The experience, McCutchen said, was moving. He was emotional in the meeting as he shared his feelings about playing.
A day earlier, the NBA paused its postseason after the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the floor for their game against Orlando in protest. The NHL postponed its playoff games scheduled for Thursday and Friday when the players collectively decided to sit out.
Baseball left the decision up to the players to decide to play or protest.
“I pride myself on being able to have these conversations and to realize that me being a Black man in America, understanding that I have my own personal stories, my own experiences,” McCutchen said. “I’m able to share those with people who are around me, who quite frankly don’t know my story. They don’t know where I came from. They don’t know how I came up. They don’t know my interactions. But to have these conversations and let them know that even I - Andrew McCutchen - have had experiences. And then for them to realize that this is a problem and there are things we need to do to be able to change and address it.”
So instead of playing, the Phillies decided to raise awareness by staying away from the ballpark. McCutchen, Roman Quinn, and Reggie McClain - the team’s three Black players - donated their salaries from Thursday and Friday to the Players’ Alliance, a collective of Black major-leaguers, to “support efforts to combat racial inequality and aid the Black families and communities deeply affected in the wake of recent events.”
“You can’t satisfy the world. I’m not here personally to satisfy the world,” McCutchen said. “I’m just trying to do what’s right. It’s not about being right, it’s about doing what’s right. It’s OK to not always have the answers. People want to know what’s next. People want to know the answers. It’s OK to not have the answers. It’s OK to not know what’s next. But what’s not OK, is not caring what’s next. Overall, the way I look at it is we did something that was important.”
The Phillies agreed to return Friday. They protested, raised awareness, and continued their season with No. 42 on their backs. And it’s worth wondering what Robinson would have thought of the team’s decision to not play.