Back when Josh Donaldson attempted to get under Lucas Giolito’s skin (and succeeded) last season by loudly accusing the pitcher of benefiting from the “sticky stuff” that Major League Baseball began closely monitoring, I suggested that the White Sox’s best move was not responding. It’s not like Donaldson runs his mouth because he’s a good-faith actor who wants to enhance his understanding of the world through vigorous participation in the marketplace of ideas. He’s just a dingus who takes any reaction as validation.
Unfortunately, ignoring Donaldson is not always an option. For instance, if Tim Anderson already had to brush off a dirty play by Donaldson a week earlier, he might not be up for absorbing further jackassery, like Donaldson undercutting his place in the game by calling him “Jackie” on multiple occasions during the White Sox’s 7-5 loss to the Yankees on Saturday.
So Anderson dealt with it directly on the field by making his displeasure known in real time, and in plain sight.
And Yasmani Grandal made his displeasure about his teammate’s displeasure known, in a way that resulted in benches clearing, but no violence or ejections.
Immediate public reaction is the way it has to be dealt with, because otherwise you get into territory like Giolito discovered, where Donaldson can spin himself as the hero in a parking-lot encounter that may or may not have happened. Sunlight is the best disinfectant here, because Donaldson up and admitted to what Anderson said he did.
“So, first inning, I called him ‘Jackie.’ Let me give you a little context of that. In 2019, he said in an interview that he’s the new Jackie Robinson of baseball and he’s gonna bring back fun for the game, right? So, in 2019, when I played for Atlanta, we actually joked about that in the game. I don’t know what’s changed, and I’ve said it to him in years past — not in any manner, just joking around with the fact that he called himself Jackie Robinson. So, if something has changed from that … my meaning of that is not in any term trying to be racist, by any fact of the matter. It was just off an interview. That’s what he called himself, and we said that before and we joked about it. He laughed, whatever.”
I actually find it believable that Donaldson would clumsily cite a three-year-old article to jab at a player, because it’s well within his personality type to have an opposition-research file, or to hammer one joke over and over and over again.
What I don’t find believable is that Donaldson had any interest in “defusing the situation” with Anderson, because Donaldson’s entire history is one around creating tension — usually with opponents, but Liam Hendriks makes it sound like teammates also have to deal with it. By Donaldson’s own account, he should’ve known that an attempt at a joke would land poorly.
So it wasn’t a joke, at least in the sense where all parties involved are supposed to find it funny. And if Donaldson needs the public to consider a greater context, well, his entire public persona suggests an intent to wound.
It’s understandable why Anderson and Grandal would stop short of labeling Donaldson’s comment “racist,” because the general discourse has proven time and time again that it has no interest in maintaining the distinction between an action and an actor. A suggestion that a comment is racist turns into a full-blown debate about whether a person is racist, and that creates a whole new burden of proof for which Anderson or Grandal had never had interest in building a case.
They’re better off letting Donaldson publicly have to account for his words himself, because if his best argument is “why-can-he-call-himself-[x]-and-I-can’t?”, he ends up showing his own whole ass, and the follow-up stories only have to tell us whether he’s beyond help.