White House ceremony honoring Red Sox was awkward from the start
The White House Thursday morning sent out a scheduled post on its website stating, “President Trump Welcomes the 2018 World Series Champions The Boston Red Socks to the White House.’’
I am not making this up.
In a time-honored and now-controversial tradition, a portion of the Sox gathered at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Thursday and heard laudatory remarks delivered by President Donald Trump. The president spoke for nine minutes (my favorite moment came when he asked Steve Pearce how his season was going), called upon Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, and Sox owner John Henry to make remarks, then thanked everybody and gave the Socks entourage a tour of the Lincoln bedroom.
As was the case when the Super Bowl champion Patriots visited in 2017 (absent hero Tom Brady was never mentioned), only team personnel who were in attendance were cited by the president. This means we heard a lot about Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Pearce, but nothing about Alex Cora or Mookie Betts, who skipped the event. A casual observer might wonder how the 2018 Sox won 108 games without a manager or an MVP right fielder.
Come to think of it, it’s a good thing Pearce was named World Series MVP. It would have been tough for the president to deliver World Series play-by-play without naming David Price if Price had been awarded the MVP.
After the speech, Martinez presented Trump with a Red Sox No. 18 jersey (Pedro Martinez, Boston baseball’s only No. 45, must have been relieved), then the Marine Corps Band performed “Sweet Caroline” on the South Lawn. After the ceremony, the White House sent out a text of remarks in which the “World Cup champion” Red Sox were congratulated.
Aren’t we all glad this is over?
There was a time when this thing really was fun. I went with the Celtics in 1984 — the day after the seventh and deciding game of the NBA Finals. The exhausted Celtics made it from Boston Garden to the Rose Garden in less than 14 hours. Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Cedric Maxwell did not make the trip and hardly anybody noticed. Larry was probably hungover. Max later told me he was getting a marriage license. Chief was probably waiting for the FedEx guy.
Nobody knows and nobody cared. It had nothing to do with Ronald Reagan or any kind of racial divide.
It was still loosey-goosey in February 2008 when President George W. Bush noticed that Manny Ramirez was absent from the Sox contingent and joked that Manny’s grandmother must have died again.
That all changed in 2011 when Tim Thomas did not accompany his Bruins teammates to the Barack Obama White House and on his Facebook page wrote about “federal government . . . threatening the rights, liberties, and property of the people.’’
Thomas was slammed from crossbar to post. A Globe editorial scolded, “The only thing that Thomas’s protest accomplished was to show lack of respect for his team. The ceremony was a nonpolitical event, meant to honor the Bruins and their fans. Instead, Thomas made it about himself.’’
Fast-forward to 2019 and the buildup that accompanied Thursday’s White House trip.
This is the age of protest and politicization. For months we wondered and asked Sox players and Cora . . . who would go . . . who would opt out?
And we got answers. Betts was a no. Price was a no. Jackie Bradley Jr. Xander Bogaerts. Christian Vazquez. Eduardo Nunez. Eduardo Rodriguez. Sandy Leon. Hector Velazquez. Rafael Devers. Ten players. Ten persons of color. Ten nos.
The players who made it to the White House Thursday were all white, except for Martinez, who is of Cuban heritage and grew up in South Florida. On the steps behind Trump, the 2018 Sox looked somewhat like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Boston’s third base coach, the Dominican-born Carlos Febles, stood out like Jackie Robinson on the 1947 Dodgers.
Back in February, when I asked Sox CEO Sam Kennedy if he was worried about the awkwardness of white players going to the White House while persons of color skipped the trip, Kennedy said, “Of course. It’s a difficult issue.”
And that’s the way it stayed every day leading up to Thursday. Nobody wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.
When the Sox were finishing their series in Baltimore Wednesday, the Washington Post sent a credentialed White House reporter to Camden Yards to take the temperature of the Boston clubhouse. The Sox granted him access before the game but barred him from the clubhouse postgame.
“I spent Wednesday interviewing Red Sox players ahead of their game against the Orioles in Baltimore,’’ David Nakamura of the Washington Post tweeted. “After the game, a Red Sox media official banned me from the clubhouse as other reporters entered and said there would be no more questions about the team’s White House visit.’’
“He is correct,’’ team vice president Kevin Gregg told the Globe. “Postgame access is for events that occur during the course of the game.’’
A regrettable choice by the hard-working, well-meaning Gregg.
Regrettable and awkward. Just like everything else about this Red Socks visit.