HOUSTON — Shocking acts of civility, common sense, accountability and generosity have broken out at the World Series. Please, someone put a stop to this before it spreads.
On Saturday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros without pay for five games at the beginning of next season for making a racially insensitive gesture and yelling an anti-Asian insult at Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish during Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night. It is not expected that the players’ union will contest the discipline.
Gurriel’s immediate expression of remorse after the game, as well as a full apology and a desire to meet Darvish personally to apologize, may have helped the Astros first baseman avoid being suspended during this World Series.
Just as pertinent, Darvish, after saying that Gurriel’s acts were “disrespectful” to Asians around the world, wrote in a tweet that, “I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. . . . Let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”
What is the world coming to?
First, an apology for ugly acts that appears sincere and without strings attached. Then, generosity from the victim toward the man who has insulted him. And the next day, in a situation in which there probably is no perfect discipline, a punishment to which everyone involved appears to have agreed to agree.
Gurriel, who went 0 for 3 and grounded into a double play Saturday in the Astros’ 6-2 loss in Game 4, will have to live with whatever damage he has done to his reputation both by his acts and by his honesty in admitting to them. But his team will not be punished during the World Series. And the Dodgers, who had the family of Jackie Robinson involved in pregame ceremonies earlier this month, appear to agree with Darvish that this is a moment for education and conciliation, not outrage.
In this incident, the devil — but also the instant disgust, apparently followed by dignity and decency — truly is in the details. Let’s go through them.
The Cuban-born Gurriel was brushed back Friday night by a 93-mph fastball thrown in the second inning by Darvish, who is of Japanese-Iranian descent. Gurriel retaliated, as hitters have always tried to do, by hitting a homer on the next pitch.
When Gurriel returned to the Houston dugout, he did what countless hitters have done in such emotional competitive moments. He made a disparaging comment directed at the pitcher and added an insulting gesture.
If Gurriel had yelled that Darvish was a gutless cheap-shot artist and added the universal gesture for “choker” by grabbing his throat, then no big deal — just hardball. Maybe the Dodgers or Darvish see it and Gurriel or some Astro gets drilled.
But instead, in a split-second of self-destructive glee, Gurriel made the universal insulting gesture, seen all over the world for generations, of using his fingers to pull his eyes until they looked slanted. And he yelled “Chinito,” which translates as “little Chinese boy.”
At this point, because the moment was captured on video, American social media erupted with predictable racial vitriol, packed with anonymous insults that would make anything Gurriel did seem mild.
Then a remarkable thing happened. After the game, won by the Astros, Houston Manager A.J. Hinch praised the 33-year-old Gurriel for his slugging, a homer and double. But when asked about the racially charged incident, Hinch faced it immediately. “I am aware of it,” Hinch said. “He’s remorseful. He’s going to have a statement.”
Not just sorry but “remorseful,” a stronger choice of word.
Gurriel answered questions afterward at his locker. In one answer, he seemed to duck behind the excuse that he was simply telling teammates that he had had bad luck in the past against Asians. In the end, far from trying to gloss over what he had done, he volunteered that he had played for a year in Japan and knew that “Chinito” was an insult.
“In Cuba and in other places, we call all Asian people Chinese,” Gurriel said through team interpreter Alex Cintron. “But I played in Japan, and I know [that is] offensive, so I apologize for that.”
Gurriel did not say that his word had been misunderstood by dugout lip-readers or that it had been taken out of context or that he did not consider the term an insult. Gurriel had used a race-based disparaging word, and he simply said, “I apologize for that.” He did not excuse himself by citing the heat of the moment or the proximity of the previous fastball.
“I didn’t want to offend anybody,” Gurriel added. “I don’t want to offend him or anybody in Japan. I have a lot of respect. I played in Japan.”
Clearly, at least for a couple of seconds, Gurriel intended to offend Darvish, just as generations of hitters have yelled baseball’s magic twelve-letter word at pitchers after an apparent brushback, followed by a home run. But I will give Gurriel the benefit of the doubt that he really does respect people in Japan, is familiar with their culture and wishes he could stuff that “Chinito” back in his lungs, not simply because he was caught — on camera — but because he really feels shame.
Because Gurriel answered several similar questions, he did, at least in translation, appear to fall into the fashionable dodge of apologizing to anybody who was offended — the backhanded non-apology apology. But to me, these are the words that count: “Of course, I want to talk to him because I don’t have anything against him,” Gurriel said. “I want to apologize to him.”
That’s an apology-apology. No hairsplitting. No blame-ducking. But Gurriel also did not accuse himself of being a racist, either. In the direct way of many athletes, he stepped up, faced the hard moment and did his best to apologize.
As for the slant-eyed gesture, that requires as much interpretation as a raised middle finger. It means what it means. Those who deny it merely self-identify as sympathizers with those who use racially derogatory gestures, words and symbols. Thanks. That’s always useful information.
Darvish, the “victim” in current parlance, gave a distinguished account of his own character in his balanced but forgiving response.
Immediately after the game, Darvish said, through an interpreter: “Of course, Houston has Asian fans and Japanese fans. Acting like that is disrespectful to people around the world and the Houston organization.”
Later, in a tweet, Davish wrote, “No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he [did] today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, this is a giant step for mankind.”
Both my cynicism barometer and my irony meter just broke.
In recent times, American culture has become addicted to the adrenaline rush of outrage. Each day, we awake as a nation looking for something to disagree with and get angry about. We don’t even realize what is most obvious: This is sickness. If a family acted this way, it would destroy itself and maximize its own misery. Yet we not only excuse deliberate divisiveness in politics, we ignore it by the gross.
Perhaps we can look to a Cuban, in this country for less than two years, for an example of the ability to make both an ugly mistake and a direct apology.
And to someone of Japanese-Iranian descent who grew up in Osaka, Japan, and came to America only five years ago, to hear a voice that says we should “count on everyone’s big love” and “put our effort into learning rather than to accuse.”
MLB’s ability to impose discipline quickly was helped by Hinch’s appropriate response. Balanced against that, Darvish’s broad-minded response laid the ground for discipline that, MLB hopes, was proportional to the act.
If only, on larger scales, our opportunities for minimizing our divisions could be handled as well as Gurriel and Darvish handled theirs. Gurriel acknowledged that he shamed his own decency and will have to live with the consequences. That’s hard to do. Darvish saw an ancient ugliness raise its head again but chose to view it as a moment for education and understanding. That’s mighty tough, too.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.
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