Could a White House visit divide the Red Sox? Team brass says no
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The world champion Red Sox’ visit to the White House, scheduled for May 9 after the team plays a series in Baltimore, projects to be an awkward affair as we continue to get feedback regarding who plans to go and who plans to skip the event.
In November, days after the Sox won the World Series, manager Alex Cora initially said he would go to the White House with the team. Cora backed away from that pledge when he came to Boston in late January. Saturday morning here, the manager said he’s still undecided.
An unfortunate byproduct of winning a championship in any professional sport is the inevitable controversy around the traditional visit to the White House, this being Donald Trump’s White House.
The Globe’s Peter Abraham has polled 22 players regarding their intentions:
Players who plan to attend (12): Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brock Holt, Brian Johnson, Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, Blake Swihart, Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Sandy Leon.
Players who said they would probably attend (one): Rick Porcello.
Players who said they would not attend (four): Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Hector Velazquez.
Players who said they are undecided (five): Eduardo Nunez, Xander Bogaerts, David Price, Christian Vazquez, Eduardo Rodriguez (two of these players off the record said they were not going).
Here’s the unfortunate and awkward math: Twelve of the 13 players who have pledged to visit the president are white. Including manager Cora, all 11 of the nos and undecideds are persons of color.
I ran the Globe’s unofficial poll numbers past Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy here on Saturday morning and asked him if management is worried about the awkwardness of white Red Sox players pledging to go to Washington while persons of color might not be making the trip.
“Of course,’’ answered Kennedy. “It’s a difficult issue, but we wanted to stay consistent with making this opportunity available to the players. This is for them. It’s not about ownership or the front office. It’s about the players and giving them the ability to be recognized for a World Series championship. We’ve done it regardless of administrations or specific politicians. We’ve done it three times now. Twice under [George W.] Bush, once under [Barack] Obama, and we really need to be above politics here and allow our players this opportunity if they want. We’ve been consistent all along. It’s not a mandatory trip, but we see it as an honor and we’re going to give the players who want to go an opportunity to go.
“We don’t have a final RSVP list. This is the first chance people have to be together and talk about it. We’ve extended the invitation to the players and we’ll get a final RSVP list.’’
Does Kennedy have any concern that this could split the famously cohesive team?
“I don’t think so,’’ he said. “I think this is a really tight group, demonstrated by what they achieved together last year. I certainly hope not.’’
Same for Cora.
“No,’’ said Cora. “This week all the talk has been about getting ready and repeating. The work ethic is there. We don’t talk about [the White House trip] in the clubhouse. [Sox management] made it clear that it’s optional. Whoever wants to go, goes. And whoever doesn’t want to go, get on a plane and go to Boston. We don’t even talk about it.’’
Cora is from Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory that has strained relations with President Trump. The Sox manager did not attend the Houston Astros’ trip to the White House in the spring of 2018 (Cora was already managing the Red Sox at the time). He disputed the notion that he’s under pressure from back home to skip the Washington event.
“In my case, I’ve got my reasons to be undecided,’’ said Cora. “So, whatever. Everybody has their reasons. That’s the beauty of this clubhouse. We respect everybody’s opinions and everybody’s beliefs. For me, it’s not a big deal.’’
Does Kennedy worry that the Sox are putting their manager in an awkward spot regarding his decision to attend?
“No,’’ he said. “I think that Alex will make his decision and we will respect whatever decision he makes.’’
Asked if he believed the Washington trip might be a distraction to the 2019 Red Sox, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said, “None at all. Whatever they want to do. It’s an easy one for us, too, there. We’re playing Baltimore on the 8th [of May]. There’s a plane going back for whomever doesn’t want to go, and whoever wants to stay, on the 9th, we’ve got a plane for them.’’
Visits to the White House by championship teams have been controversial since President Trump took office. The president rescinded an invitation to the Philadelphia Eagles when many players said they did not plan to attend after the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in February 2018. When quarterback Tom Brady abruptly pulled out of the Patriots’ visit to the White House in the spring of 2017, President Trump made no mention of Brady’s contributions during the ceremony on the South Lawn. The outspoken Golden State Warriors were not invited to the White House after winning the 2018 NBA title.
This is the America we live in today. And in their time of triumph, not even the feel-good Red Sox are spared.