New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson incited a benches-clearing spat during the fifth inning of Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox after catcher Yasmani Grandal confronted him following comments he made toward shortstop Tim Anderson earlier in the contest. Donaldson later confirmed that he had referred to Anderson as "Jackie," a reference to Jackie Robinson, who integrated Major League Baseball in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Anderson and White Sox manager Tony La Russa further objected to Donaldson's allusion to Robinson after the game, with La Russa labeling it as a "racist comment." Newsday's Laura Albanese has since reported that MLB is "concerned" about Donaldson's comment and intends to investigate.
Donaldson, for his part, claimed that calling Anderson "Jackie" was an inside joke between the two that stems from a comment Anderson made during a 2019 interview. A Yankees spokesperson subsequently claimed Donaldson has called Anderson "Jackie" in the past.
Below, we've attempted to provide more context to the Jackie Robinson reference, as well as to explain why Anderson and the White Sox were upset, and why there could be additional fallout over the coming days.
Anderson referenced Robinson in 2019 interview
According to Donaldson, he took to calling Anderson "Jackie" as a rib after Anderson invoked Robinson during an interview he did with Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein in May 2019. Here's the full excerpt from that interview:
"I kind of feel like today's Jackie Robinson," he says. "That's huge to say. But it's cool, man, because he changed the game, and I feel like I'm getting to a point to where I need to change the game."
It should be noted that Anderson's quote came in the middle of an article where the main topic at hand was the isolation he feels as a Black man playing a sport that is predominantly played, managed, and governed by white men. According to ESPN's 2017 MLB race and gender report card, white players comprise 57.5 percent of MLB rosters as opposed to 7.7 percent for African-American or Afro-Canadian players. Also all 30 club owners are white and all but two current general managers -- Kim Ng (Asian-American) and Al Avila (Cuban) -- are also white.
The article offers numerous examples, ranging from Anderson being suspended as many games as a pitcher who intentionally hit him with a pitch because he responded by insulting the pitcher with a term that has different meanings depending on who is saying it, to Anderson having to cover an injury of his with a band-aid designed to blend in with a white skin tone.
Even without the context the article provides to Anderson's comment, it's not hard to understand why he -- or any other Black player -- would object to a white player calling them "Jackie," especially in a heated moment.
After all, Robinson's greater place in history was defined by racists keeping Black players out of MLB. Robinson himself experienced immense racism and isolation that often gets overlooked or intentionally excluded so as to soften the harshness of the life he lived and the reality he endured during and after his career with the Dodgers.
By Donaldson's own admission, he said "What's up, Jackie?" to Anderson in an attempt to "diffuse the situation" without Anderson having said anything first to elicit such a response. Donaldson also claimed that Anderson had in the past "tried to get in my face and say a couple of words to me," suggesting that the two were not on the friendliest of terms entering Saturday's game.
“I called him Jackie. He came out with an interview that says he’s the new Jackie Robinson… We’ve actually joked about that. I’ve said it to him in years past, not in any manor than just joking around.”-Josh Donaldson on his altercation with Tim Anderson pic.twitter.com/BJE1NqfP19— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) May 21, 2022
Donaldson said he was unsure if Anderson would allow him to apologize or explain his comments to him, but that he would be open to doing so. He did offer the following comment through the media: "Obviously, he deemed it disrespectful. And look, if he did, I apologize."
MLB to investigate
As noted in the introduction, Newsday's Laura Albanese reported that MLB will investigate Donaldson's comment. Given that Donaldson freely admitted to calling Anderson "Jackie," the league's investigation may be short in duration.
MLB has suspended players in the past for using racial or homophobic slurs. Donaldson did not cross that line in a technical sense, but the league could still suspend him for inciting a benches-clearing incident regardless.