HOUSTON – As there is no reasonable way to fully take the baseball out of a young man’s decision to publicly mock another’s ethnicity from a World Series dugout, there is but one outlier in Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to stay Yuli Gurriel’s suspension until the 2018 season, and that is Manfred’s reluctance to punish “the other 24” Houston Astros.
Gurriel, whose squinting gesture was intended to deride Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, apologized again Saturday, moments after Manfred revealed Gurriel would serve five games without salary at the beginning of next season. Gurriel also is expected to partake in sensitivity training in the offseason and apologize privately to Darvish, with whom he shares an agent.
Gurriel chose the World Series as his venue. He chose to celebrate a meaningful home run with his teammates in a defamatory manner, wearing the uniform they wore, sharing the same moment as they. He sat upon the game’s largest stage and – regardless of his intentions – messed up. He expressed remorse. Then, he was, in some small way, forgiven by the man he offended. In effect, he then gave himself over to the consequences of those few seconds in his life he presumably regrets.
One could argue for a stiff punishment for the awfulness of Gurriel’s actions, along with the slur he appeared to utter, and the importance of establishing – re-establishing – that the sport, those in it, and those who watch and finance it will not abide such behavior. One also could argue for leniency, given it would seem Gurriel, the 33-year-old Cuban, has been sufficiently apologetic and has agreed to undergo counseling. People tend to screw up. The best of us believe in growth, in redemption, in the folly of piling on. The world moves fast, and sometimes with amazing vengeance, and there is no perfect. Perhaps Gurriel already had learned the value of acceptance, of simple kindness.
Manfred, a thoughtful and intelligent man, seemed sufficiently dismayed to have watched the Gurriel incident play out in his World Series, first in the dugout and then across all media platforms. (He has been firm in his discipline for similar actions in the past, no matter the time of season.) After consulting with the players’ union and with Gurriel and Darvish, Manfred came upon the reasonable decision a suspension was required. In his statement Saturday, he said Gurriel’s behavior had “no place in our game,” and that “no excuse or explanation” could justify it.
Again, Gurriel chose his setting. And it is in that setting Gurriel should have served his penalty. A suspension was warranted, in Manfred’s view. Therefore, Gurriel should not have been eligible for Game 4, at the very least.
Gurriel could have been fined as well, if the league was firm in its belief there should be financial implications. The league could have heard his appeal immediately, had Gurriel opted to challenge the suspension, and allowed Gurriel to play in the meantime, if there were a meantime, knowing it had acted with its best intentions.
A player is responsible to the “other 24” in all ways. Some are small. Some, not. The bigger the day, the later in October, the larger the audience, the greater the responsibility. As a teammate. As a person. Or, certainly, the greater the consequences in the event of failure.
“I felt it was unfair to punish the other 24 players on the Astros roster,” Manfred said. “I wanted the burden of the discipline to fall primarily on the wrongdoer.”
The burden is shared. And it should have started Saturday.
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