Last night, according to Adam Jones, the Orioles center fielder was treated to a night of racist insults and someone throwing something at him while manning his position in Boston. He told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, “A disrespectful fan threw a bag of peanuts at me. I was called the N-word a handful of times tonight. Thanks. Pretty awesome.” This behavior is, of course, inexcusable.
Not that that hasn’t stopped some people from trying to find excuses. Excuses like Jones is lying. Like Jones maybe deserves it. Like it’s the price of doing business.
All of that is, forgive me, the rankest of bullshit.
Baseball is, or at least was, America’s game. And that means all Americans. Black, white, red, brown, purple, and yellow. That Adam Jones had to put up with that behavior last night is a blight on the Red Sox and their fans. But that’s not the worst part, according to CC Sabathia:
Sabathia said it's talked about among black major leaguers: "we know. There's 62 of us. We all know. When you go to Boston, expect it."— Erik Boland (@eboland11) May 2, 2017
That they, and other African-American players, have had to endure racist taunts before and the problem wasn’t sufficiently addressed is not just a black eye for Boston, but for all of Major League Baseball. Teams are responsible for the environment they create at a ballpark. But if a team won’t address these problems on their own, it’s on the league for allowing a problem to fester.
Not that Boston is unique. We know that, in any given city, fans can get out of hand at the ballpark. It’s an atmosphere, with copious alcohol, excitement, and the anonymity of a crowd, that invites bad behavior as members of the crowd grow increasingly emboldened and feel invulnerable. No, Boston is not alone. It could have happened anywhere from St. Louis to Minneapolis to San Diego because bad people live everywhere. And it only takes one to feel free enough to yell a racial epithet at the top of their lungs to do damage.
While Boston, and other cities, and Baseball have failed before, the issue now is what they will do next. It’s not enough to kick fans out of the ballpark. As Jones notes, “You suspend them from the stadium, what does that mean? It’s a slap on the wrist.” And he’s right, especially because it seems like it would be exceptionally easy for a “banned” fan to find his (and it’s almost always his) way back into the park in the future. While Jones’s solution (to fine the perpetrators several thousand dollars) doesn’t seem workable, there is something that is.
Baseball needs to make clubs responsible for the environments they create. Sure, every now and again someone is going to behave badly. So what matters is the response to that. If it becomes a repeated problem, if a team can’t make its ballpark reliably free of racist invective, if a team can’t make its home safe for players, there should be consequences.
Maybe it’s the loss of draft choices or amateur free agent money. Or maybe it’s a fine that reaches into seven figures. But the Commissioner, if he’s serious about this, needs to give clubs a reason to give a damn about the atmosphere at their ballpark beyond good public relations. And give the fans a reason to police themselves, since apparently “doing the right thing” is off the table. Until Rob Manfred turns up the heat on clubs who allow racism and bad behavior to fester in the stands, teams will live with it, and baseball will continue to fail to protect its own.