David J. Phillip/Assoicated press
HOUSTON — Weak.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred dropped the hammer on Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel on Saturday.
The velvet hammer.
Manfred suspended Gurriel for five games for making a racial gesture and slur delivered in the direction of Dodger pitcher Yu Darvish during Game 3 on Friday night, but the baseball boss wimped out by not hitting Gurriel where it hurts and sitting his butt during the World Series. No doubt the commish knew the union would fight it and . . . well, you know how that goes.
Instead, Gurriel has agreed to serve his five games without a grievance at the beginning of the 2018 season.
Manfred stated “there is no place in our game’’ for Gurriel’s stunt, but fell short of making the powerful statement of punishing him during the Fall Classic. It was sort of like when the Red Sox admitted to stealing signs with electronic devices and Manfred slapped them on their wristwatches and said, “Next time, you’re really in trouble!’’
The episode exposed the rarely seen ugly underbelly of professional sports.
Gurriel, leading off the second inning against Darvish in Game 3, smacked a homer into the left field seats. When he got back to the dugout, the 33-year-old “rookie” was mobbed by his teammates. They hugged him and messed with his troll doll hair as Fox TV cameras relayed the images across America.
When Gurriel finally sat on the bench, he rested his back against the dugout wall, then raised his hands to the side of his eyes and pulled the skin back to make his eyes look slanted while saying, “chinito,’’ which is slang for “little Chinese boy.’’
Darvish is of Japanese and Iranian descent. Gurriel played 62 games for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2014, defected from Cuba after the 2015 season, and signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Astros in July 2016.
In the old days, Gurriel’s racist gesture would probably have stayed in the dugout. Few would have even known about it. Curt Schilling could have called Darvish a liar and said nothing ever happened because there’s no proof.
But these are not the old days. There are cameras everywhere, especially when you hit a home run in the World Series. There are no longer any fleeting “Hey, did that just happen?’’ moments on live television. Fans watching at home can rewind the video and replay the scene. Then they can screenshot it, or record it on their own and send it out on Twitter.
Gurriel’s gesture went viral over the final eight innings of Houston’s 5-3 win and by the time reporters got downstairs after the game a lot of people wanted to ask about it.
Dodger manager Dave Roberts, who is Japanese-American, said he was unaware of the gesture. Houston manager A.J. Hinch had been made aware and said Gurriel was “remorseful.’’
In an effort to get to the bottom of the matter, Los Angeles Times baseball reporter Dylan Hernandez, a former Globe intern who speaks Japanese and Spanish (Hernandez’s mother is Japanese, his father was born in El Salvador), spoke with Gurriel in Spanish and listened to a tape of Darvish speaking in Japanese.
“In no moment did I intend to make an offensive gesture toward them,’’ said Gurriel (in Spanish). “On the contrary, I’ve always had a lot of respect for them. What happened was that I was commenting how I hadn’t had much luck with Darvish. I said I thought maybe they saw me as they see themselves and I wanted to see if they would throw me a pitch [fastball] like that.’’
OK, what about “chinito’’?
“It’s because in Cuba and in various place you don’t say Japanese, you call all Asians ‘chinitos’ . . . I was in Japan and I know they are offended by that.
“I’ve never had anything against Darvish. On the contrary, he’s always been one of the best pitchers . . . If he was offended, I ask for his forgiveness. That wasn’t my intention.’’
Saturday afternoon, after his suspension was levied and before the Dodgers tied the Series with a 6-2 win, Gurriel issued a statement that read, in part, “I made an offensive gesture that was indefensible.”
Speaking in Japanese Friday, Darvish said, “I saw it, but for me personally, it doesn’t really bother me . . . As citizens of the world, if we can learn from this and take a step forward, I think this could be a good thing.’’
Manfred was pleased with Darvish’s generous response and satisfied that Gurriel regretted his actions, but added, “There needs to be disciplinary consequences to make clear that Major League Baseball is an institution that will not tolerate behavior of this type.’’
Swell. But the stronger message would have been to punish Gurriel on the spot.
Alas, we all know how that goes. This is not the NFL where the commissioner can do anything he wants. This is not the NBA where Draymond Green misses a critical game in the Finals because of his misbehavior.
Manfred is a lawyer above all else and he knew he wouldn’t win this. And so the two-day dust-up serves only to taint a good World Series for a few hours and demonstrate once again prolific power of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
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