It’s one of the most well-known scenes in baseball history. It was May 13th, 1947, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Reds in Cincinnati. As the Dodgers took the field in the bottom of the first, Crosley Field fans screamed with malice. Their target was Brooklyn’s first baseman, Jackie Robinson.
Brooklyn’s shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, was from Kentucky, just across the Ohio River: for him, this was basically a hometown crowd. But standing at short, Reese didn’t like what he was hearing.
As the crowd continued its verbal assault on Robinson, Reese crossed the diamond. He put his arm around Robinson, and stood with him at first base. The crowd was stunned.
Unfortunately, the story may be apocryphal. But whether or not it happened, there’s a reason it lives on in baseball’s memory. It’s the ultimate moment of selflessness, of putting the team before the individual. Pee Wee Reese had a teammate who needed support. The 27,000 fans who berated Reese didn’t matter, nor did millions more across the country. Openly, defiantly, and proudly, Reese stood with his teammate for the world to see.
I thought of that day in 1947 as the Mets took the field to play the Marlins. After police shot Jacob Blake, a black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and a white supremacist murdered two protesters, several teams in multiple leagues had announced that they would strike in protest. The Mets and Marlins were playing, but the game seemed almost secondary.
The teams took the field, and the National Anthem played. Dominic Smith took a knee. And not one of his teammates joined him.
It is not easy to be Dominic Smith — a young black man — in America today. Take it from Smith himself. “For this to continually happen, it just shows the hate in people’s heart,” he said through tears after the game. “That just sucks. Being a Black man in America is not easy.” And on the day Smith took a knee — inevitably subjecting himself to torrents of abuse from fans who don’t know better, or don’t care — not one of his teammates joined him.
There’s no excuse. None. This goes far beyond political belief. Regardless of what any Met thinks about the police, you have your teammates’ back. That’s the first rule of team loyalty, from Reese and Robinson to Spartacus. Support your teammates. No ifs, ands, or buts.
It could have been that Smith’s choice took the Mets by surprise, and they didn’t have time to kneel together. Michael Conforto said as much after the game. “Conforto wishes he had been by Smith during the National Anthem today to support him outwardly, but Smith’s decision to kneel was made privately, at the last minute,” reported Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. But then Conforto ruined whatever goodwill he had built up.
He probably would not kneel with Smith even on another day, he said. And why not? “It’s what I’ve always done. I think it’s as simple as that.”
“It’s what I’ve always done.” That’s barely a reason to drink Pepsi. It’s definitely not a reason to refuse to support a teammate. It’s what you’ve always done? Respectfully, do something else.
Conforto, Tim Britton reports, says that while he won’t take a knee, “I will be there with him, and he knows that I support him.” But that’s not nearly enough. Proud, public support is what matters. Move the story of Reese and Robinson from the field to the clubhouse, and Reese’s gesture becomes a lot less meaningful.
Manager Luis Rojas said that the Mets “support every personal choice.” But Rojas said he wouldn’t kneel, because “that’s not my personal choice.”
That’s nonsense, and completely selfish. This isn’t a time for personal choice. Rojas is basically saying “I won’t support Smith, because I don’t want to.” Kneeling might make you uncomfortable. You might not want to do it. Do it anyway. Be a leader. Support your team.
Supporting Smith from the comfort of your own head is relatively easy. Taking a knee with him is a lot harder, especially if a player has friends or family who will be offended. Hell, maybe kneeling offends the player himself.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is supporting your teammates. And the only way to really support Smith right now is to kneel with him, so the whole world knows that the Mets have his back.
There’s one important caveat: Smith may not want his teammates to join him. If he asks them not to kneel, for whatever reason, they should do as he asks.
But if that doesn’t happen, then there’s no excuse. Personal opinions, family reservations, lingering uncertainties — all that be damned. Support your teammates. No matter what. If Smith decides to take a knee tomorrow, or ever again, the Mets need to kneel with him.