Yu Darvish

Lessons learned when a Cuban insults a Japanese in America?: Phillip Morris

Yu Darvish of the Houston Astros is a guy worth watching on the mound and on Twitter.(Tony Gutierrez)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A number of professional athletes have recently used their elevated social media platforms to make unapologetic protest statements. It’s their prerogative. Some of the athletes are worth listening.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish is one such player. Amidst the growing catalog of grievances and calculated outrage, Darvish emerged as a Twitter statesman over the weekend. He tweeted a statement Saturday, hours after he was taunted by Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel during Game 3 of the World Series.

Darvish’s statement was crafted in response to Gurriel, a Cuban, who celebrated his home run off the pitcher by mocking Darvish’s Japanese heritage by stretching the skin around his eyes after he rounded the bases. The gesture was juvenile at best. Some considered it racist.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred instantly recognized the childish affront. He wisely moved to assure MLB and baseball fans around the world that there is no room for blatant intolerance in baseball. Those days are long gone thanks to the courage of men like Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Henry Aaron, and countless others.

Manfred suspended Gurriel for the first five games of the 2018 baseball season. By starting the suspension next season, Manfred found a way to pinch Gurriel without unfairly penalizing his teammates who as of Tuesday night were still in pursuit of a World Series title.

However, it is Darvish, a right-handed pitcher from Osaka, Japan, who has emerged as a bit of a Twitter Solomon. At a time when many professional American athletes search for the balance between social activism and their jobs as entertainers, Darvish issued a statement worth reflection:

“No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he (Gurriel) had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, this 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’m counting on everyone’s big love.”

The words are uplifting. He took the highroad. How often do you hear an athlete speak in these terms?

There’s perhaps some irony in the fact that a Japanese player has issued such an eloquent call for unity. Many revered deceased American baseball players served or fought in World War II against the Japanese. Their numbers include Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Cleveland’s own Bob Feller and Larry Doby.

These men knew well the horrors of the war and the nature of the enemy they faced in the Pacific Theater and elsewhere. It would have been fascinating, more likely nerve-wracking, to see how these great soldier-players would have matched up against the trickle of Japanese talent that began to surface in MLB in the 1960s. These men had all likely retired before 1964, when Masanori Muyrakami became the first Japanese man to play in the major leagues.

Now, 53 years later, dozens of Japanese players have enhanced the game of Major League Baseball, helping to sustain it as America’s favorite pastime and one of the world’s most celebrated sports brands.

Darvish’s words of unity are encouraging. With Veteran’s Day just around the corner, his exhortation to “stay positive” and to reject anger is a mantra that America now desperately needs to hear and heed. What better time is there to begin a national reflection on enduring values that unite us?

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