The Oakland A’s and Houston Astros stood, everyone in uniform wearing a No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson, for 42 seconds of silence at Minute Maid Park before the first pitch Friday.
At the plate was a Black Lives Matter T-shirt flanked by a No. 42 jersey from each team in each batter’s box.
There would be no first pitch. After the 42-second moment of silence, both teams acknowledged the other, then went to their respective clubhouses. They will play a doubleheader Saturday, a pair of seven-inning games.
The Astros, who were off Wednesday for weather issues having to do with Hurricane Laura, didn’t have the chance to make their case about a protest either then or on Thursday, a scheduled off-day for Houston.
The Astros approached the A’s about doing what the A’s did in Texas on Thursday—declining to play as a protest at a time when social justice and systemic racism are front and center on the American conscience in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.
The Astros starters actually took the field before the scheduled first pitch with Lance McCullers on the mound. All of the Athletics and the rest of the Astros stood in lines on the third base and first base sides of the field, standing there for 42 seconds, then leaving.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said he talked with Astros skipper Dusty Baker last night about the possibility. At the time, it wasn’t clear what day the Astros would choose, but Melvin made it clear to Baker that the A’s would completely respect Houston’s decision.
"This is their place; they came to us and explained it," Melvin said. "It made perfect sense, and it's pretty powerful. With the jerseys and the T-shirt , it certainly gets everyone's attention."
He said the 42 seconds honoring of Robinson, who wore 42 during his career with the Dodgers, "adds to the emotion."
"It's another day of silent protest," Melvin said. "We did the same thing the night before. I think everybody in baseball was very compassionate about this and understanding."
Talking Thursday, Melvin said the idea of what was being protested needed to carry on past the one game.
He said the Astros’ decision was “exactly” the point he’d been making.
“We talked about it again a little bit as a team today, as well,” Melvin said. “This isn't something that needs to pause. It needs to continually move.”
Talking earlier in the day, A’s second baseman Tony Kemp, who was one of the driving forces in the A’s decision to stage a one-game protest Thursday, said that these kinds of protests would fall into line with Robinson’s activism.
It was Robinson, who broke the baseball color barrier in 1947, who used the final public appearance of his life at Game 2 of the A’s-Cincinnati Reds to say he would love for his legacy be a Black Major League manager. Robinson died nine days later. Two years later, Oakland-born Frank Robinson broke the managerial color barrier in Cleveland.
Kemp sees it as another link in a chain of activism that goes back to No. 42.
“Like I told the guys, I said, 'We’re all activists, whether you like it or not,’” Kemp said. “That’s making a stance. I was on Twitter, and I saw Jackie Robinson’s daughter saying that he would be proud to see what we’ve been doing. And that’s what it’s all about, being able to give people hope that these issues can end and we can be better as a nation.”
Kemp has a long history with Jackie Robinson, although he was born 19 years after Robinson died. When he was in sixth grade, Kemp had a school project—report on a person of importance.
He chose to tell the Jackie Robinson story, taking his travel league baseball uniform and using duct tape on the back to put Robinson’s name on his jersey, honoring the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
So Friday night, when he and the rest of Major League Baseball uniformed personnel put on Robinson’s No. 42 as baseball honors Robinson, even knowing that he wouldn’t be playing, was deeply personal for Kemp.
“This runs back to when I was 12 years old,” Kemp said Friday on a video conference call. "I realized in my class project how big and how monumental Jackie Robinson meant to the game of baseball and what he did and even what he played through. So, every time I put on that 42 or hear the name Jackie Robinson. It gives me chills.
“It gives me a certain feeling in my heart that I really can’t explain, because I wouldn’t be able to play this game that I love without him.”
For one night, he didn’t play; none of the A’s or Astros did. They’ll get back to baseball Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (PT).
Mike Fiers, who started and won Wednesday’s game in Texas, said the decision Thursday to forgo playing made him appreciate once again that he’s surrounded by players who can hold open conversations on difficult topics and reach unanimity.
“It was a group decision, and that’s why we made it,” Fiers said. “If everyone wasn’t in on it, I don’t think it would have been made. I had a great conversation. There are definitely topics that are touchy and not comfortable, but we talked about it like men and came to the conclusion of not playing.”
Fiers singled out three of the team’s Black players, Kemp, Marcus Semien and Khris Davis, who have kept the conversation moving.
“I don’t think every team has the guys to talk to like we have with Marcus and Tony and KD,” he said. “I think that’s why we’re so close, that we’re very multicultural here and we have some many backgrounds and guys who are willing to talk.
“I’m sure Marcus and Tony and KD really loved that part of it that other guys would talk and kind of express what they felt. It does get tough at times, but these guys know how to handle it.”
Kemp said he will be joining Semien and other A’s players in donating the salary he would have received from both Thursday and Friday’s games to The Players Alliance, a group of Black current and former Major League players who have made it their mission to make baseball more diverse.
“Once they get the funds tighter, we’re going to figure out communities that we want to target to put the money toward,” Kemp said. “I’m feeling most of it will be donated to Oakland.”
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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