Blue Jays united in decision to not play

August 28th, 2020

The Blue Jays and Red Sox agreed Thursday to postpone their scheduled game in Buffalo, joining players and clubs from around Major League Baseball in the ongoing protests against racial injustice and anti-Black violence following last Sunday's police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

Manager Charlie Montoyo asked his players to meet prior to the game to make a decision as a team, which they later brought to him. The Blue Jays were willing to play, but after hearing that Jackie Bradley Jr. and the Red Sox were not, they chose to support that and postpone.

Montoyo wanted this to be a decision driven by his players, but it’s also an issue that is personal for him as a Puerto Rican man.

“I’ve been a victim of racism,” Montoyo said. “I know some players have also been victims of racial discrimination. If a player wants to use his platform to make a statement about racial injustice, I fully support that.”

The conversations between players, staff and other members of the Blue Jays are something that the club has been working to encourage regularly, not just as a reactive measure, but as something they want to ingrain in their organization.

General manager Ross Atkins spoke Thursday of the need to improve the organization’s diversity, including their hiring practices and staffing. He’s also looking for ways to improve personally.

“What I've learned is that I don't think about it enough,” Atkins said. “I obviously think about it when things as tragic as what happened to Jacob Blake and his family [happen]. The protests that you see, the reaction to the protests. I can turn on the news, just like anyone else, regardless of what's going on in my professional or personal life and it's gut-wrenching. But if I absorb myself into my family and job, I can often times lose sight of that gut-wrenching feeling. And that's what I've learned. I can’t.”

These conversations grew stronger for the Blue Jays around Opening Day, when outfielder Anthony Alford took a knee during the national anthem and was joined by Cavan Biggio, who wanted to support someone he “considers a brother.” Alford drove some of those discussions himself and spoke eloquently on several occasions about not only the challenges he faces as a Black man, but the work and cooperation that must come next from all people.

Alford is now with the Pirates. Right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker will be the lone African American player on the Blue Jays' 25-man roster when he joins the club after Thursday’s trade, and his voice is a very important one in this league.

There is an eagerness within the Blue Jays clubhouse to take these conversations and advance them, turning awareness into action and effecting change. Alford’s influence will exist in that clubhouse long after his nameplate is taken down, especially on Rowdy Tellez, who recently detailed a two-and-a-half-hour phone conversation he had with Alford on Juneteenth, an annual holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

“You have to have that uncomfortable talk, and we had that uncomfortable talk and that tense talk in the clubhouse about the BLM movement and everything that’s going on,” Tellez said. “We, as a team, supported Alford day in and day out. That’s a guy I loved almost more than my own life. I would lay down my life for that man.”