President Trump welcomed the Boston Red Sox to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a mostly jovial ceremony that did not reference the controversy preceding the team’s trip.
The World Series winners were without several prominent faces during their visit to Washington. Manager Alex Cora, a native of Puerto Rico, decided not to attend because of Trump’s stance toward aid for the island since it was devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Maria. At least nine players also had planned to skip the trip, including Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Hector Velazquez, Xander Bogaerts, Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, Eduardo Nunez and David Price.
Under a light drizzle, Trump walked out onto the South Lawn of the White House flanked by Boston players Chris Sale and J.D. Martinez.
In a brief speech, Trump praised the Red Sox team for their victory and largely steered clear of politics.
“Each Red Sox player is a shining example of excellence living out an American sporting tradition. And it goes back many generations,” Trump said. “We want to congratulate you all on your spectacular victory.”
Trump didn’t reference the missing players, instead congratulating “all of the coaches and players of the Red Sox” on their “incredible victory” over the Los Angeles Dodgers last fall.
“Frankly, they were unstoppable,” Trump said. “I watched.”
Sale and Martinez made brief remarks, with Sale calling the trip “a very high honor” and “something we appreciate very highly.” Martinez called the trip a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Other than congratulating himself for rebuilding the military, Trump didn’t veer into any of the thorny political topics that often capture his attention even during routine White House ceremonies.
After the event, Trump took the group on a tour of the Lincoln bedroom and other parts of the White House residence.
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said after the tour that he was “appreciative” that Trump took time to show the players around and not concerned that many minority players opted not to come.
“We don’t see it as a racial divide,” he said. “It was not a mandatory invitation. Those people who wanted to come were invited to join. I think to the extent we can we think that baseball’s apolitical and today is neither a red day or a blue day.”
He said that he had spoken to Cora about his decision not to come and respected that decision.
Werner praised Trump for the tour of the White House, which he called “one of the great museums” of the world. Trump used the Lincoln bedroom visit to talk about the history of the Civil War.
“The president is a pretty good raconteur of history,” he said.
The day started off with a gaffe, with the White House website’s schedule noting “President Trump Welcomes the 2018 World Series Champions The Boston Red Socks to the White House.”
By early morning, the White House had remedied the mistake, but it wasn’t the only one of the day.
Those planning to attend (or presumed to be attending) included roughly 20 white players. Family members joined them, and Martinez’s father, Julio, was thrilled with the chance to visit the White House, telling WEEI, “I even bought a new suit. It will really hit me on Thursday.”
Julio Martinez’s father arrived in the United States in 1961 and Julio followed a year later, according to the site. “I wish my father were alive to see this,” said Julio Martinez, who has visited Washington but never gotten closer to the White House than the sidewalk, according to WEEI. “Oh my gosh, it’s amazing. It’s amazing I can go there. I came from Cuba in 1962, so it’s been a long road. I get to do it because of him. It’s going to be an unbelievable moment.”
Vazquez, who is from Puerto Rico, explained that his decision to stay away was “personal. Everybody has personal opinions. I don’t like to talk about those thoughts.”
Mitch Moreland and Heath Hembree, on the other hand, planned to attend. “Everybody’s got their choice. We respect each other,” Moreland told The Post’s David Nakamura earlier in the week. “I was born in America and I’m probably going to be buried here, so I’m excited about the opportunity.” For Hembree, “it didn’t matter who was in the White House. If I have an opportunity to go to the White House and meet the president, I’m going to go. Nobody tried to persuade me. They have their reasons why not to go.”
Team management left the decision whether to attend up to individuals, but the racial breakdown had been impossible to ignore even as the Red Sox sought to downplay the split. On Wednesday night, Nakamura reported, a media official for the team shut down questions about the White House visit and banned him from the clubhouse as other reporters entered after the game against the Orioles in Baltimore.
“People are talking about, ‘What’s going to happen in the clubhouse? It’s going to be divided,'” Manager Alex Cora told WEEI (via Boston.com) Wednesday in Baltimore, where the Red Sox were playing the Orioles. “That’s not the case. That’s not the case . . . We’re in a good place. There’s some guys that are going home tonight and some guys are going back home tomorrow night. That’s the way we’re going to do it.”
“I have the pulse of what’s going on in the clubhouse,” Cora told WEEI on Wednesday. “Obviously, you don’t read everything, you don’t hear everything, but you have an idea what’s going on. I talk to certain guys in the clubhouse, ‘Hey. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, we decided that this is the way we’re going to do it. The organization gave us the chance to decide if we go, if we don’t go. I think we’re doing the right thing. Nobody has to be ashamed or pressured not to go or to go.’ Everything is fine, to be honest with you.”
Cora stressed that he didn’t want to make the visit about Puerto Rico. In a rally Wednesday night in Panama City, Fla, the president repeated his assertion that the United States had given $91 billion in aid to the island, a claim that The Washington Post Fact Checker has given three Pinocchios for being untruthful.
With his team at .500, five games back of the AL East-leading Rays, Cora said he prefers not to play politics, declining to use Thursday’s event to raise his concerns. Cora pointed out Sunday that he has spoken out about the plight of Puerto Ricans in the past and added that he doesn’t “feel comfortable in the White House.”
“[Thursday] is a celebration of the Red Sox,” Cora said Wednesday. “It’s not, ‘Let’s make a deal for Puerto Rico,’ you know what I mean?”
The Red Sox won, 2-1, in 12 innings Wednesday, further proof for Cora that his team will not be divided by its White House visit.
“Those kids went out there and they played their heart out. We know who we are in the clubhouse,” Cora said after the win. “We know a lot of people doubt that. But like last year, we cancel the noise, we show up every day, and we play.
"There’s a group that’s going home, and there’s a group going to the White House. And on Friday, we get back — get back to playing baseball.”
Red Sox players stopped by Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Thursday before heading to the White House. Trump said he was planning on taking the team to the Lincoln Bedroom after the ceremony.
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