Rays-Orioles game postponed to draw attention to systemic racism

The decision was finalized around the time the game was to start; two hours earlier, both managers said their teams planned to play.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino runs back into the clubhouse after a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles was cancelled Thursday at Tropicana Field.
Rays catcher Mike Zunino runs back into the clubhouse after a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles was cancelled Thursday at Tropicana Field. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Aug. 27, 2020|Updated Aug. 28, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were planning to play Thursday night’s game against the Orioles right up until they were told they weren’t.

They agreed to play after extensive internal discussions among players and staff about the latest issues involving social injustice and the impact on the sports world.

They said so publicly when manager Kevin Cash spoke to reporters a little more than two hours before first pitch, and player representative Tyler Glasnow followed.

And they showed as much when catcher Mike Zunino and scheduled starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough headed onto the Tropicana Field turf shortly after 6 p.m. to start warming up for the 6:40 game.

But then the Orioles decided they no longer wanted to play.

What had seemed earlier like a consensus to move ahead with the game really wasn’t. As the Orioles players talked further during batting practice and then in another team meeting afterward, they decided they did not want to take the field. That a planned several-minute pause for reflection after the second inning was not enough of a statement. That they preferred to join other teams around the majors and the sports world in sitting out a game to make a bigger point about social injustice and systemic racism.

They relayed word to the Rays, who agreed to stand behind them.

What had started to seem obvious as Zunino jogged off the field; equipment in both dugouts was packed up; and Dan Moeller’s grounds crew picked up the bases, wiped off the chalk lines and covered the plate; became official at 6:43 p.m., three minutes after Yarbrough was scheduled to throw the first pitch.

“You have to respect the decision of everyone around the league,” Glasnow said shortly afterward. “It is what it is. We came in (from pregame work), found out the game got canceled. Haven’t had a lot of time to talk to a bunch of people, obviously. It’s been happening around the league, so I think some people were expecting it a little bit, but you kind of have to go forward right now.”

The Orioles shared their thoughts on Twitter.

“After continued reflection and further dialogue, Orioles players have decided to not play tonight’s game against the Rays as they join athletes around the country in expressing solidarity with victims of social injustice and systemic racism.”

On a baseball level, the postponement causes a slight inconvenience. The game likely will be made up as part of a doubleheader in Baltimore, with the Rays the home team, during what already is a four-game series Sept. 17-20 — the second-to-last weekend of the season.

But obviously there is a broader benefit, with the hope the decision draws attention to the latest issues and gets people to reflect on events unfolding nationwide, most recently the shooting of a Black man by police in Kenosha, Wis.

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“The intent was we were going to have an opportunity at some point during the game to have a moment of reflection,” Cash said. “This is obviously more than a moment.

“We see what’s taken place around the league. There’s a lot of people that are hurt right now for fair and good reasons. And if this is a chance that we can reflect as an industry, as a society, and it makes us better for it that the right decision was made.”

First base coach Ozzie Timmons, the only Black person among the Rays’ uniformed personnel, said he can only hope there is a benefit.

“You don’t know,” he said. “You can’t get a feel if it’s going to help or not. We’ll see later on down the road if something can come about, if it does affect anything. The cancellations show that there are people sticking together.”

Glasnow said players can use their forum as athletes to bring attention to causes.

“Obviously, the world is much more important than just sports,” he said. “And I think just by the example where everything can just get shut down for social injustice, I think it means a lot.”

The issue spread to baseball on Wednesday, when the Milwaukee Brewers, inspired by and in support of the decision by the NBA’s Bucks to not take the court for a playoff game, postponed their game with the Reds. Two other major-league games were not played.

That spurred conversations that carried over to Thursday. Though the Rays have no Black players on their current active roster, they have several staff members, including Timmons, massage therapist Ray Allen and longtime clubhouse staffer Torian Sands.

Glasnow would not share specifics from the clubhouse discussions but said there was a consensus to go ahead and play. Had the Rays and Orioles played, they would have been somewhat of outliers, as six other games were postponed.

“It’s each team’s personal choice,” Glasnow said. “In our organization, anyway, guys who’ve been directly affected by what’s going on like systematic racism and everything like that, I think just talking to them firsthand and, like, what do you want to do, what are your experiences, how do you feel, just having kind of an open dialogue. And I think from them voicing like, I think it’s a good idea to play. I think that’s kind of what we’ve decided to do.”

Timmons said he was fine with the decision.

“I was ready to play,” he said. “I was looking to put my Black Lives Matter sticker back on my jersey and continue to wear my black wrist band to show support. … We talked about it as a team that we were ready to play, then the Orioles came up with their decision not to play and we understood and agreed with them.”

In a statement announcing the postponement, the Rays said they “stand firmly with all those fighting for social justice and to end systemic racism."

Cash said he they want to help.

“Hopefully, this is a time for us to reflect on what’s taken place and just recognize that ... we can do better, we need to do better, and we’ll look forward to doing that in the future,” he said.