Asian American groups were critical of Major League Baseball’s decision to allow Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel to continue play in the World Series after making a racist gesture during Friday’s game in Houston, rather than suspending him immediately.
After hitting a home run off Los Angeles Dodgers Yu Darvish, who is from Japan, Gurriel was caught on camera pulling his eyes into slits. He later acknowledged using the Spanish word chinito (little Chinese), which can be a demeaning term for Asians.
Some observers expressed surprise that Gurriel, who is from Cuba, would display such insensitivity after playing in Japan for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in 2014.
Quoting Gurriel as saying, “I didn’t mean to do anything offensive,” actor Daniel Dae Kim tweeted, “Yes, because we all know that doing this to an Asian is a universal sign of respect.”
In a statement on Monday, the Los Angeles-based Japanese American National Museum said: “The museum appreciates that Major League Baseball responded swiftly and publicly with punitive action. However, we believe that allowing Gurriel to continue to play in the World Series, rather than making his suspension immediate, does not send a strong enough message about the unacceptable nature of his actions. While this incident will serve as an opportunity to further important discussions about race and racism in our country, Gurriel’s actions must not be construed as anything other than reprehensible.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Saturday afternoon that Gurriel will be suspended for the first five games of the 2018 season for the gesture, but will not miss any time in the World Series.
In a statement on Saturday, Gurriel said, “During last night’s game, I made an offensive gesture that is indefensible. I sincerely apologize to everyone that I offended with my actions. I deeply regret it. I would particularly like to apologize to Yu Darvish, a pitcher that I admire and respect. I would also like to apologize to the Dodgers organization, the Astros, Major League Baseball and to all fans across the game.”
Darvish, who is of Iranian and Japanese descent, took the high road, tweeting, “No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everybody’s big love.”
The incident appeared to have no impact on Gurriel’s popularity with the home crowd, as he received standing ovations the next day during the pre-game introduction and while stepping up to the plate for his first at-bat of the evening at Minute Maid Park. It remains to be seen what kind of reception he will get at Dodger Stadium when Game 6 gets under way on Tuesday.
The Japanese American Citizens League said in a statement on Saturday, “Mr. Gurriel has apologized, which is welcomed. However, that does not change the fact this has been seen by millions of television viewers around the world. Ignorance cannot be used as an excuse as by its very nature racism is always based in ignorance. If the intent was not to offend, the gesture should never have been made.
“Major League Baseball has established a precedent for punishments in similar situations. Earlier this season, a player shouting homophobic slurs from the bench was suspended one game and we feel a similar punishment is required here. Fans have been given lifelong bans from ballparks for their use of racist slurs towards players and other fans. Should players not be held to the same standards as its fans?
“Commissioner Manfred must consider the millions of children watching the fall classic, and particularly those who are Asian American and even today are subject to displays of racism such as this from their classmates. The impact of seeing this done by a Major League Baseball player, whom many may see as a role model, can be devastating for a five year old tee-ball player.“
After Manfred announced his decision, the JACL responded: “JACL applauds the swiftness and degree of punishment as well as the unanimity of Major League Baseball, Commissioner Manfred, both World Series teams’ leadership, and the Major League Baseball Players Association in their condemnation of Yuli Gurriel’s actions Friday night. The severity of a five-game suspension does convey a recognition of the blatant racism and the impact of Mr. Gurriel’s behavior; however, a concession has been made.
“By postponing the suspension until next year, MLB also makes it clear that the game of baseball, and the World Series itself, are more important than applying its disciplinary action immediately. We recognize there are concerns for the other players who may never have another chance to play in a World Series, but again, this is a choice of priorities by MLB in delaying application of punishment.
“JACL calls upon Major League Baseball to utilize this extended time until the implementation of the punishment next season to reflect upon the role it has in enabling harmful stereotypes, whether in the words and actions of its players, or in the imagery of its teams and mascots.”
In a joint statement, Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Los Angeles, Asian Americans Advancing Justice–AAJC, Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Chicago, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta also expressed concern about the delayed punishment:
“As Asian American civil rights organizations, we were shocked to see the slanted-eye gesture that Houston Astro Yuli Gurriel directed at Los Angeles Dodger Yu Darvish during the World Series on Friday night. Although Darvish found Gurriel’s actions offensive, Darvish’s response to this incident was gracious and urged unity. But when Gurriel pulled back his eyes, he disrespected not only Darvish but millions of Asian Americans, for whom that is perhaps the most commonly experienced racist gesture. Ironically, Gurriel and Darvish represent teams from two of the most diverse cities in the country, both with significant Asian American populations.
“Because the slanted-eye gesture is often dismissed as merely childish or ignorant, our four Advancing Justice organizations welcome Major League Baseball’s swift decision to suspend Gurriel and to order him to attend sensitivity training in the off-season. Racism in sports is not always seriously addressed, so we appreciate that the MLB responded quickly and unequivocally to this racist gesture. Without meaningful consequences and accountability, such discriminatory behavior — whether it is targeting Asians, African Americans, women, or other groups — will persist.
“However, we are also concerned that in deferring the suspension into the next season, Gurriel and the Astros suffer no immediate consequences. We believe this sends an unfortunate mixed message to Asians and Asian Americans that while it is wrong to ridicule us, it is not so wrong as to merit immediate punishment. In addition to the five-game suspension in 2018 and the off-season sensitivity training, we believe that Gurriel should have been disciplined immediately in the form of a significant fine or even a one-game World Series suspension.
“Major League Baseball, with its racially diverse audience and global roster, has a significant platform to address issues of racial diversity and inclusiveness. MLB’s response to Gurriel’s gesture and slur indicate a willingness to show leadership on such issues, and we encourage the MLB and Houston Astros to reach out to our organizations because we know the history of discrimination against Asian Americans and we welcome the opportunity to educate the players and the league about issues of racial sensitivity, particularly involving Asians and Asian Americans.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke had a similar response: “A racist gesture made by the Houston Astros’ Yuli Gurriel toward the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish on Friday night called for somebody in power to swing for the fences.
“Instead, baseball bunted.
“After a nation witnessed Gurriel tugging on the corners of his eyes while using an ethnic slur about Darvish, Commissioner Rob Manfred needed to make a powerful statement Saturday that included an immediate suspension.
“Instead, he offered words backed by weakness.”