PHOENIX — Andrew McCutchen has relished these past few days in the Philadelphia Phillies' clubhouse, having difficult, important conversations with his teammates about racial injustice.
As a Black man in a sport in which most of the players are white or Hispanic, he doesn't feel it's a burden to lead such discussions. He was just glad that on Jackie Robinson Day, they are conversations everyone was willing to have — even if the answers aren't always clear.
"People want to know what's next, want to know the answers," McCutchen said. "It's OK to not have the answers, it's OK to not know what's next. What's not OK is not caring what's next."
Major League Baseball observed a Jackie Robinson Day like no other Friday, with teams celebrating a man who broke the sport's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. More than 70 years later, the racial reckoning continued.
Ten baseball games were postponed over the previous two days as some teams joined other leagues including the NBA, WNBA and Major League Soccer in protesting social injustice.
For Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, the timing was serendipitous.
"I did find it almost crazy and kind of great, after everything that went down yesterday in baseball and in sports and with our organization as well, that we come right back here today and wear No. 42 and we go out there and celebrate Jackie Robinson and everything that he's done for our game, and really, for the nation," Baldelli said.
Jackie Robinson Day is usually on April 15, the anniversary of his milestone, but the celebration was moved to Aug. 28 this season, which didn't start until late July because of the coronavirus pandemic. The rescheduled date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the March on Washington in 1963 and also the day in 1945 when Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey met with Robinson to discuss breaking the color barrier.
Teams across the league celebrated the day in various ways. As usual, players, managers, coaches, umpires and other on-field personnel wore Robinson's No. 42.
In Boston, players from both teams lined up along the baselines before the game and the Red Sox played a clip of Robinson speaking in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964. During a recording of the national anthem by Ruth Pointer, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. — the only Black player on the Red Sox — knelt, as did Alex Verdugo next to him.
"I think (Robinson) would want us to talk about change," said Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Kemp, who is Black. "Coming up in the Dodgers organization and the name Jackie Robinson, it just meant so much more. I wore the jersey that Jackie Robinson wore back in the day. To be around guys like Don Newcombe and Maury Wills, some of the legends that were with the Dodgers, you get to hear stories about things that people have never heard."
According to a recently published study on diversity in baseball, only 7.5% of rosters consisted of Black players on opening day this year, the lowest percentage in the game since the study began in 1991.
New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone broke down in tears during a media briefing and left the room when he was asked about his two Black adopted sons Friday. He returned a few minutes later, still shaken.
"I would just say, I know I'm talking to a lot of people out there, it's a hard, heavy year, and a heartbreaking year in so many ways," Boone said. "For my family, too. But I think that's the case for a lot of people of all different backgrounds and races.
"My prayer is just that we can continue to, even though we're going through some dark times, at the end of this, we're better for it. That's my continued prayer."
Boone was emotional throughout the briefing, saying he had spent the previous hour talking to his players about protests in recent days. New York was off Thursday and has not opted out of any games.
Boone and San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler also said they will donate their Friday salary to The Players Alliance, a group of more than 100 current and former Black major leaguers working to combat racial injustice. The Players Alliance made a video tribute on social media thanking Robinson that included past and present Black MLB players such as Mookie Betts, Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter, Ryan Howard and David Price.
Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, who is Black, was one the players who also donated his Friday salary to The Players Alliance.
"I feel like this past week, things have definitely escalated, people have talked and done what they can try to do to push that needle forward," Bell said.
MLB announced Friday that its partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation would extend through 2023. It includes $3.5 million to support the foundation's Scholarship Program, the Jackie Robinson Museum and the annual JRF ROBIE Awards.
The decision by several teams not to play Wednesday and Thursday night were in response to the shooting by police of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, a Black man, on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. MLB let teams decide whether they would play or not. Some games were postponed, while others went on.
The New York Mets and Miami Marlins jointly walked off the field after a moment of silence, draping a Black Lives Matter T-shirt across home plate as they chose not to start their scheduled game Thursday night.
Mets outfielder Dominic Smith, a 25-year-old Black man, hit the go-ahead home run in his first game since tearfully pleading for help combating racial inequality, helping his team beat the crosstown Yankees 6-4 in the opener of a doubleheader Friday.
"With what he's lived in the last two days emotionally, and what we lived, too, supporting him as well, it was pretty special for sure," Mets manager Luis Rojas said.
Baseball's recent postponements came after the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks didn't come out on the floor for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. NBA games scheduled for Thursday and Friday were also postponed, with the league set to return to competition Saturday.