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Nationals-Phillies game postponed amid growing sports protest movement

The Nationals and Phillies won't play Thursday night. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

When Joe Girardi called Dave Martinez around 2:15 p.m., the two managers were quickly in agreement: The Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies were not going to play baseball Thursday night.

Girardi, the Phillies’ manager, had just heard from his players that they had chosen not to play in protest of racial injustice and police brutality, joining a movement that has spread across sports. Martinez, the Nationals’ manager, was supposed to meet with his team in about two hours but began texting players that the game was off.

Similar sequences unfolded across the majors as four other games were postponed by Thursday evening. Martinez and Girardi sat side-by-side in Washington to discuss theirs. Soon after that, Nationals infielder Josh Harrison and Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins sat in the same chairs and detailed each clubs’ conversations. They all wanted to address reporters together.

“This is a humanitarian issue. We’re all human beings,” Martinez said as he grew emotional, speaking with the same thick throat and pauses that coated his comments Wednesday night. “When I got to go home at night and think about my grand kids and how they’re going to grow up and my kids and the rest of their lives growing up and then I think about the game, whether we win or lose and focus on what we do best, that hurts. It hurts a lot.

“We go through this day in and day out. I hear from the players, how they struggle knowing that we’re trying to do our best to go out there and play this game, but there’s things going on in this world that they can’t put aside. It’s time to speak up. That’s the message we’re trying to send out: We got to speak up.”

This came a day after the Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the court for an NBA playoff game following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Two more NBA playoff games Wednesday were later postponed. The protests reached MLB that night when the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds decided not to play. The Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants did the same. Then Thursday brought more clubs pausing to turn the spotlight toward persisting societal issues.

Shortly after the Phillies opted not to play, the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics followed. Then the Minnesota Twins voted not to play the Detroit Tigers. Then the Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox had decided not to play against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo. Like the Nationals and Phillies, the Red Sox and Blue Jays would later issued a joint statement on the postponement. The Colorado Rockies were next to take a pause, a move supported by their opponent, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After that, the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets and Miami Marlins all postponed their games. The Mets and Marlins took the field in New York, stood for a 42-second moment of silence and draped a “Black Lives Matter” shirt on home plate before walking off.

On Wednesday, after a loss to the Phillies, Martinez wanted to speak with his players before returning to the field. He told them to show up late Thursday to clear their heads before the team met. The Nationals will now travel to Boston on Thursday night. Martinez expects them to face the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Friday night, which is scheduled to include a celebration of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

“We talk about tomorrow being Jackie Robinson Day, you look at the movie, ‘42,’ portrayed that he had a teammate in Pee Wee Reese that stood up for him when times were tough,” said Harrison, who is Black, underscoring the importance of support from White players. “At the end of day it’s about humanity and respecting each other, and those are things that we tell our kids: Treat others how you want to be treated.”

“Yes, we play baseball and we love baseball,” Harrison continued. “But baseball doesn’t define us. Outside of baseball, we’re husbands, we’re sons, we’re brothers, we’re friends, and I can speak from personal experience, for a lot of people: You don’t want to put yourself in that position, but you fear for your family."

Earlier on Thursday, Reds reliever Amir Garrett told reporters a “weight was lifted off my shoulders” when Cincinnati didn’t play the Brewers. Garrett, who is Black, is among a handful of MLB players who have used their platforms to speak out against racial injustice this summer.

“We are not a functioning society. We are not there as a country,” Garrett said Thursday, echoing comments made by Nationals closer Sean Doolittle in early July, who was then speaking about restarting baseball during the novel coronavirus pandemic. “It will be hard for me to put my uniform back on today.”

Another one of those players, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, chose to sit out with teammate Dexter Fowler on Wednesday. Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward was a “healthy scratch” for a game in Detroit that day. Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp didn’t play, either, though his teammates still faced the Diamondbacks.

On Thursday afternoon, once the Nationals and Phillies were no longer preparing for a game, two matchups began in San Diego and St. Louis. And as his team came to bat in the bottom of the first inning, Flaherty blared a now-deleted message onto Twitter: “WE ARE THE ONLY SPORT PLAYING TODAY LET THAT SINK IN.” He followed up with another deleted tweet two minutes later: “NHL CANCELLED THEIR GAMES … putting our players in the position to force cancellation of our games isnt right.”

Martinez had expected the Nationals all to sit out if one player decided to. Then the Phillies did, sweeping Washington into action with them.

“We got to change. We got to change now,” Martinez said before circling back to the crux of his message. “It ain’t going to get better if these guys don’t speak up and we don’t speak up.”

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