Dave Roberts understands the limits of what sports can do at a time like this in America, and as important as baseball felt in the aftermath of Sept. 11 in 2001, he thinks baseball can matter as much as it ever has if and when the players return to the field.
“Of course I want to play,” he said. “I was a player, and a coach. Now I’m a manager. I love our team, I love our game.”
But in a country badly wounded by the coronavirus and unemployment and now the racial divide that seems as wide as it ever has in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, as demonstrations from coast to coast have continued through this weekend, Roberts honestly believes that baseball can help. Not heal. Just help.
Roberts is the son of an African American father, a Marine. His mother is of Japanese descent. Roberts was born in Okinawa and was a Marine brat as a kid until the family finally settled in San Diego. He has never finished out of first place as manager of the Dodgers since taking over prior to the 2016 season. He helped win the Red Sox a World Series in 2004 with one of the most famous stolen bases in baseball history.
He is also one of the brightest and most decent men in the sport, a person of color and mixed heritage who is someone to listen to about his sport and about race at this time in the country for which his father served as a U.S. Marine.
We had talked the other day about what he is seeing on his television set, in Los Angeles and everywhere, what we’re all seeing. But when we had finished, he called back with a postscript.
“We can’t let this moment pass,” he said. “Good has to come out of this. We have to talk about these things, and by that I mean really talk. But it has to be a different kind of conversation this time when African Americans want to be heard more than ever. I understand that white Americans need to be heard, too. They just need to do more of the listening. Less talking this time and more listening.”
He’s right. The more I’ve gotten to know him over the years, especially since he became manager of the Dodgers, he’s right about a lot of things, not just baseball.
“The kind of conversation that we as a country need to have about justice and race,” Roberts said, “I want baseball to get the chance, at least from sports, to help lead a conversation like that.”
There have been voices throughout the sport who have spoken up and spoken out about what happened to George Floyd, and what has happened in the streets of America since. I spoke to 86-year-old Henry Aaron a few days ago and wrote about what he is seeing, after the American life he’s led. Scott Merkin wrote about his conversation with Lucas Giolito of the White Sox over the weekend.
Here is just part of what Giolito, who is white, said:
“I really do believe in this era of social media, people with platforms even making a statement where it’s like, ‘Hey, I didn’t know about this. I’m learning. I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to be a part of this, be a part of a positive change,’ that speaks volumes. When people with platforms speak out, there will be eyes on it.”
Here is a talented young pitcher effectively saying what Dave Roberts said, about the need for people to listen. Here again is Roberts, a baseball voice very much worth listening to as he waits for baseball the way the rest of us do:
“I know there are a lot of hard conversations going on, and there should be. I see people trying to educate themselves. But even as we are trying to be better as a country, there’s a group refusing to acknowledge what’s been going on in the country for decades, and centuries. This is about more than not being a racist. This is about being anti-racism.
“My dad talks about Civil Rights and the '60s. Being the only black man in his battalion and in his high school. Have we made strides? Of course we have. But we need to do more. And more than anything, we need to give our children direction. And ask their generation to do a better job than ours has.”
That conversation that Dave Roberts wants baseball to be a part of? He needs to be a big part of it. He can be one doing more talking than listening.