By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
For the second straight year, a team has snapped a long championship drought in a highly entertaining seven game World Series. In 2016, it was the Chicago Cubs snapping a 108-year losing streak. After a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers last Wednesday night, the Houston Astros claimed their first World Championship.
As highly competitive and entertaining as the series was, it wasn’t always pretty. I’m not talking about the bullpens both being beaten up or the fact that the two teams combined to allow a World Series 24 home runs.
First, it was Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch, who according to a TMZ report, got into a verbal altercation with Dodgers’ fans at the team hotel in Pasadena following a 3-1 Dodger win in game one. Hinch adamantly denied it and the Astros did not release a statement.
Then, it was Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s insensitive gesture and racial slur directed at Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish following his home run off the right-hander in game three. Gurriel was caught on camera pointing to his eyes in a “slanted” fashion and muttering “chinito,” a Spanish term that translates to “little Chinese boy.”
Whether done with malicious intent or done in the ecstasy of a career-defining moment, it was an ugly look for Gurriel and an ugly look for baseball, especially when Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred decided to wait until the 2018 season to suspend Gurriel. In the past, the MLB has not been afraid to suspend other players for racially insensitive remarks or other inappropriate language like the use of homophobic slurs. Earlier in 2017, it suspended Toronto outfielder Kevin Pillar for yelling a homophobic slur at an Atlanta Braves pitcher, so failing to administer the same punishment now because it’s the World Series was not good for the MLB.
Whether or not it was culturally appropriate in Cuba, where Gurriel is from, he was wrong to do it there in the dugout. The MLB was wrong to devalue the Asian community and specifically other Japanese baseball players, like Darvish, by not suspending him immediately.
Darvish failed to make it out of the second inning in game three. The same thing happened in game seven. Darvish’s success was not found on the mound against the Astros –– it was found in his words and response to this racial inequality displayed by both Gurriel and MLB.
Darvish, the offended, became the bigger man, the one to offer forgiveness. Darvish was a beacon of reconciliation to Gurriel and Houston, a city that prides itself on inclusiveness, but was the furthest thing from it that night. Darvish’s desire for reconciliation deserves to be acknowledged and praised.
According to an Oct. 28 Sports Illustrated story by Connor Grossman, Darvish initially had a bit harsher a tone regarding Gurriel’s gesture and how it impacts the entire Asian and Japanese community.
“Of course, Houston has Asian fans and Japanese fans,” Darvish said after the game. “When he’s acting like that he’s disrespecting all the people around the world. It’s not OK.”
As outrage ensued on Twitter and news breaking of a meeting with MLB commissioner Manfred on the horizon following the 5-3 Astros win, Darvish began to see the bigger picture. He understood Gurriel’s gesture was not acceptable and that Gurriel is not perfect. But he also realized that neither he or anyone else is perfect and that forgiveness and amends is the better approach to take moving forward.
“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,” Darvish said in a message posted to his Twitter account. “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 have no idea whether Darvish has ever been exposed to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, but if his response doesn’t encapsulate the truth that we are all sinful and that communion through reconciliation and forgiveness are what we ought to strive for, then I don’t know what does.
When the two squared off again in game seven, it would have been understandable that in a game where teams get back at each other by throwing at star players, for Darvish to throw at Gurriel. Instead, Darvish pitched to him like he would any other batter, allowing the Los Angeles crowd to share their voice through an array of boo’s and Gurriel to tip his batting helmet toward him in solidarity.
Whether genuine or done in guilt because he got caught, Gurriel’s game seven was a step in the right direction. But it would have been lost if Darvish hadn’t taken the first step in reconciliation.
As Houston celebrates, and rightfully so, don’t let Gurriel’s racial gesture get lost in the celebration. Instead remember how Darvish initiated reconciliation and forgiveness to Gurriel in a way that MLB did not and a way that honors baseball and the Imago dei in all of us.