A black-and-white banner partially eclipsed the Green Monster Wednesday night.
Black Lives Matter-inspired protestors unfurled a “Racism Is as American as Baseball” sign. After a minute of free advertising on a wall reserved for expensive advertising, security escorted the activists out of the park.
The message said more about the messengers than it did about baseball. Three people, two women and a man appearing as pale as Dustin Pedroia in midwinter, held the sign. Below, 18 guys looking like a United Colors of Benneton commercial competed in a made-in-America export wildly popular in Latin America, Asia, and points beyond. Men of color composed six of nine players in the Red Sox batting order and three of nine in the Athletics batting order. In other words, minorities made up half the guys coming to the plate. Whites constituted 100 percent of the virtue-signaling trio announcing their social-justice bona fides live on television.
The crowd naturally booed. Fans want sports. They get politics.
The incident serves as a microcosm for what ails athletics. From Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to ESPN talking head Jemele Hill denouncing Donald Trump as a “white supremacist,” sports increasingly plays as the favored means by which political zealots hijack a captive audience. As half-empty NFL stadiums and declining ratings for ESPN demonstrate, spectators prefer to watch something else.
The Boston Red Sox can blame themselves for the non sequitur distraction in left field. As Boston’s players enjoy a three-game lead in the American League East, Boston’s owners remain preoccupied with changing the name of the short section of Jersey Street along the third-base line named for former owner Thomas Yawkey. Generous with players and with local charities, Yawkey nevertheless experiences a posthumous reputational decline. He owned the ignominious distinction of signing an African American player after every other owner did. So, the current Red Sox owner, John Henry, who also owns the Boston Globe, crusades to erase his predecessor’s name from landmarks around the city, particularly outside of his park.
Ironically, the most famous memorial to Yawkey sits, if cryptically, clearly below the “Racism Is as American as Baseball” banner. Yawkey’s initials, as well as those of his late wife, appear in morse code on the Green Monster scoreboard. Like Peskey’s pole, the lone red seat in the bleachers, or the wall itself, those dashes and dots remain one of those quirky aspects of Fenway Park that give it such charm. Henry wishes to lecture others about the dishonor of honoring Yawkey as he honors Yawkey in the park he controls.
If you want to abolish memorials to a politically incorrect baseball man, begin at home (or, in this case, about 340 feet from home). And if you want to lecture a ballpark about racism, bring a black person with you the next time.