WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday honored the Boston Red Sox at the White House for their 2018 World Series title, praising the team as “unstoppable” in its record-breaking season.
“Through every pitch, inning, game and series, the 2018 Red Sox never gave up and never backed down. You always played like champions,” Trump said in a ceremony on the South Lawn, flanked by players, coaches, and team officials in suits and ties. “I want to congratulate you all on your spectacular victory.”
It was the fourth time in 15 years the Red Sox were celebrated at the White House after a historic championship drought that stretched back to the Woodrow Wilson administration. But unlike after the 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series wins, everyone on the team wasn’t honored by this presidential invite.
Trump’s push for a border wall with Mexico, his disparaging comments about Hispanics, his condemnation of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial disparities, and his administration’s much-criticized response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico led to some high-profile no-shows Thursday.
Nearly all the team’s black and Hispanic players skipped the event, including Mookie Betts, David Price, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. The most notable absentee was manager Alex Cora, who was born in Puerto Rico and said this week that it would be “pretty tough” to celebrate at the White House while so many people continue to suffer on the island.
The controversy wasn’t mentioned during the event, which featured a Marine band playing “Dirty Water” as most team players walked down the stairs from the White House’s South Portico in a light rain to the cheers of a couple hundred fans. A few minutes later, Trump walked out with players Chris Sale and J.D. Martinez.
As he usually does when he honors sports champions, Trump lauded their achievements (“frankly, they were unstoppable”), described some of the season’s most dramatic moments, and joked with the players (“you ever see such good looking people behind me?”). The events are rare light and mostly politics-free public interludes in the Trump presidency.
Sale, Martinez, and Red Sox owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, spoke briefly and Martinez presented Trump with a team jersey.
”Thank you Mr. President, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be honored today here at the White House, and I know celebrating a Red Sox victory is tough for you given that you’re a Yankee fan and all,” Martinez said.
Trump was raised in New York City and said he’d be “neutral” after fans cheered his reference Thursday to the Red Sox’ defeat of the Yankees in last year’s playoffs.
The manager or head coach often is a focus for Trump when he hosts sports teams. But he said nothing about Cora, whose absence along with the other players highlighted how the traditional trip to the White House by sports champions, for decades an island of bipartisanship in Washington, has become politicized in recent years.
“Major League Baseball is pushing for more and more inclusion and you have a White House that in many respects has derived its power as a monument to division,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. “You’ve created sort of this dynamic where it’s somewhat irreconcilable for some people” to attend.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner downplayed the absences.
“We don’t see it as a racial divide,” he said. The visit was “not a mandatory invitation” and the team left the choice to attend up to each team member, Werner said.
“I’ve talked to Alex about it . . . and I certainly understand his decision not to come and I respect it,” Werner said.
He declared that the day was “neither a red day or a blue day” and the team was honored to be invited. Werner lauded Trump for giving the team a tour of the White House’s Lincoln bedroom.
“We think to a great degree possible, people watch sports as a way to get away from their daily problems and to us this was a great tribute to what was a great championship team,” Werner said.
The day got off to an awkward start when the White House live video schedule and YouTube channel promoted a visit from the “Boston Red Socks.” The error was fixed shortly after news organizations began pointing it out. Later in the day, an e-mail sent by the White House declared them the “World Cup Series” champions.
Trump and “team leadership” participated in a private photo-op in the Oval Office before the public event. The Red Sox on Thursday also visited soldiers who are recovering from injuries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The team visited the hospital in conjunction with its three other White House visits following recent championships.