Take a second and go over the list of the biggest villains in White Sox history.
These are the guys who were division rivals, came up with big hits, dashed postseason dreams, started benches-clearing incidents – or were just unlucky enough to have played for the Cubs. Fans can surely rattle off plenty of names.
Of those guys, though, how many are truly villainous?
Josh Donaldson can now top the list of biggest all-time villains, guys who will get mercilessly booed whenever they come to the South Side.
But what Donaldson did to deserve that spot is no ordinary part of baseball, no typical part of the fun of cheering for a team and loathing its opponents.
This is serious business that, to quote Yasmani Grandal, is “unacceptable.”
Donaldson called Tim Anderson “Jackie” during Saturday’s White Sox loss to the Yankees in New York City. The “he said, she said” aspect of a series of contentious on-field moments Grandal predicted would follow didn’t even have to come into play, with Donaldson fessing right up. The name, an obvious, direct reference to Jackie Robinson, according to Donaldson, was supposedly part of some running joke between the two All-Star infielders.
Anderson and the White Sox didn’t find it so funny, though, with Tony La Russa calling Donaldson’s comment “racist” and Anderson and Grandal – whose words with Donaldson sparked a benches-clearing incident – agreeing in their comments to reporters after the game.
As Donaldson explained to reporters, indeed, Anderson has compared himself, in a nuanced way, to Robinson – baseball’s greatest hero – in the past. He did tell Sports Illustrated, after his bat flip heard ‘round the world in 2019, that he is trying to serve as a Robinson-type figure when it comes to bringing fun to the game. He has commented in the past about the immense amount of inspiration he takes from Robinson and the way he has tried to model his game off that of the man who famously broke baseball’s color barrier in the 1940s.
But Donaldson can’t declare this is a reference to Anderson’s personal history while ignoring his own. And it’s the pile up of Donaldson’s run-ins with the White Sox, and others, that makes him and the use of that name for Anderson look clueless at best and malicious at worst.
You’ll remember that Donaldson homered off Lucas Giolito in a game last June, making a reference as he crossed home plate to the sport’s sticky-stuff ban and accusing Giolito of no longer being as effective because he could not cheat. Giolito responded by calling Donaldson “classless” and “a fucking pest” after the game. Upon hearing this, Donaldson claimed, he confronted Giolito in the parking lot at Guaranteed Rate Field, supposedly fulfilling the pitcher’s request for Donaldson to “talk shit to my face.”
White Sox players said the confrontation didn’t happen.
Well, a confrontation, of sorts, that definitely did happen was Donaldson and Anderson getting into it a bit just last weekend, during the White Sox’ series with the Yankees on the South Side. This one didn’t seem all that outrageous, but trying to slide back into third base, Anderson found his face in Donaldson’s knee and was none too pleased about it.
Fast forward to Saturday, where Donaldson unleashed that “Jackie” joke of his in the first inning. The next time he came to the plate, Grandal got in his ear and the benches cleared, Anderson restrained by a pair of teammates. Anderson fielded a ground ball later in the game, with Donaldson running from first to second, and seemingly made a point to take the ball to the bag himself, rather than flip it to Leury García for a more routine-looking double play.
In other words, it doesn’t take someone with a master’s degree in psychology to realize that maybe Donaldson’s joke didn’t land. That maybe it hasn’t been landing.
Donaldson threw in an apology-in-case-he-was-offended during his postgame answer to reporters. But Donaldson has a well documented history of not being anyone’s favorite person. There are tales of him rubbing his own teammates the wrong way at previous stops in his career, one 2017 profile citing that his personality “turned many teammates into enemies”. Heck, Liam Hendriks told me in an interview last summer that he’s not a Donaldson fan.
“Playing with Donaldson,” he said, “I am not a Donaldson fan. On the field, one of the greatest. You want him on the team behind you. But I saw behind the curtain too much, and I’m not a fan.”
Now, obviously being the kind of person who turns teammates to enemies and the kind of person who compiles pages of data to accuse other players of cheating does not come anywhere close to making someone a racist.
But even giving Donaldson the benefit of the doubt in that department – taking him at his word that his intent in calling Anderson, a Black player, “Jackie” was not racially motivated – it’s incredibly stupid. It’s extraordinarily difficult, if not downright impossible, to be a professional baseball player and not know the racial connotations that come with calling a Black player, even someone who has compared themselves to Robinson in the past, “Jackie.”
And that is what is unacceptable, as Grandal explained to reporters postgame.
Indeed that time is long past, in both baseball and society at large, and it sadly requires people like Anderson, Grandal and La Russa to continue to point that out. Major League Baseball would be wise to join them. Because whether the intent is there or not, it is a sign of refusing to consider the feelings, experiences, situations and existence of others when opening your mouth.
Donaldson’s little joke is actually a complete lack of empathy, or at the very least a complete lack of awareness. That past descriptions of Donaldson paint him as someone who would not care about such things only worsens his standing in this specific moment.
Major League Baseball should take a long, hard look in the mirror if this blows over and Anderson, not Donaldson, is the only one of the pair with a suspension on the books for using racially charged language. Yes, it was Anderson who was suspended after the 2019 incident with the Royals for what he said to Brad Keller.
That was a puzzler then, Anderson accurately pointing out that the league office could have benefitted from having someone who could have explained the cultural context that accompanied Anderson using the word he did. Since, Anderson’s been suspended for additional reactions – whether accidentally making contact with an umpire during a benches-clearing incident last year in Detroit, or hoisting his middle finger toward fans in Cleveland.
Anyone bother to ask what he was reacting to?
Saturday, Anderson had to be restrained by José Abreu and Gavin Sheets when the benches cleared. After the game, he was restrained in his comments.
More restrained than his manager, at least.
La Russa was the one who was questioned for comments he made prior to his second stint with the White Sox, his opinions on Colin Kaepernick leading plenty to wonder how he’d relate to Anderson, the face of the franchise and one of the few Black players on the team and in the league.
La Russa, of course, has passed that test with flying colors, and his relationship with Anderson has been the opposite of what worriers predicted it might have been. Anderson has praised the South Side skipper repeatedly for letting him be himself, while La Russa has compared his shortstop to the best people he’s been around in his career, calling him “special” at every turn.
Saturday, La Russa was sticking up for his player. It also happened to be the right thing to do.
Donaldson’s proven himself quite adept at opening his mouth. It’s time he opened his ears, too. Not only to receive what should come next, a call from Major League Baseball, but also to hear what his supposed inside joke meant to the person he thought he was sharing it with.
Until then, he’ll have earned his White Sox villain status for something far more serious, far more villainous, than punching A.J. Pierzynski or hitting as many home runs as Ryan Raburn.