Sports Baseball

Astros' Yuli Gurriel gets World Series reprieve for racist gesture aimed at Dodgers' Yu Darvish

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros gestures during the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game four of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros gestures during the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game four of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 28, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

HOUSTON - At the most intense time of the season and on baseball’s most visible platform, Yuri Gurriel and the Houston Astros eluded a bullet on Saturday.

But can Major League Baseball make the same claim?

The talented Astros first baseman was suspended five games for a racially insensitive gesture directed at Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish in the second inning of Game 3 here on Friday night.

The key for the Astros and potentially for the competitive balance of this World Series - the suspension won’t take affect until the start of the 2018 regular season.

While seen in some quarters as a weak stance by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who made the call some four hours before the first pitch of Saturday’s Game 4, his options were limited.

Had the commissioner opted to suspend Guriel for one game of the World Series, the Astros surely would have appealed, which could have delayed any ruling anyway. And at that point, things could have become complicated.

Ultimately, MLB decided to save the World Series in the short term and will worry about saving face going forward. 

"There is no question that it is a difficult decision as to when the right timing was," Manfred said in a press conference to announce the suspension. "I used my best judgment." 

The wisdom of that judgment, of course, will be up for debate. But in this particularly sensitive time in North American sports, Manfred was never going to win and there is already a noisy argument that he missed an opportunity to make an influential and progressive statement.

Ultimately, though, the suspension was reached swiftly and approved by all parties - the commissioner's office, both teams, both players and the all-important players’ union.

The incident in question took place moments after Gurriel smoked a home-run to left field. The 33-year-old Cuban-born rookie returned to the Astros dugout and TV cameras caught him making a gesture offensive and insulting to Asians.

Sure, Gurriel was in an emotionally charged state, having just hit the biggest home run of his career. And previously in the at-bat, he had been brushed back by a Darvish fastball. But all parties agree that it was uncalled for, even the player who weakly tried to claim that he didn’t understand the nature of his racist actions.

The social media reaction was swift and mostly punishing towards Gurriel, and immediately after the game he apologized profusely, saying that no disrespect was intended to Darvish or Japanese people in general.

Gurriel, the older brother of Blue Jays prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr., agreed to take sensitivity training and to learn from the regrettable incident.

“I understand the gravity of this type of thing and I have great remorse that it involved our team,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Yuli has great remorse and I appreciate that out of him.

“Knowing Yuli, knowing what he will do to convince everyone that this incident was not in his heart will be key.”

In making his ruling, Manfred said that banishing him for a World Series game would be “unfair to the other 24 players on the Astros roster,” which frankly is on the weak side.

While it’s unclear what went on behind closed doors, at least the parties got together to diffuse the situation as quickly and cleanly as possible. 

Gurriel apology? Check.

Darvish being appreciative of said apology and declaring he hopes something good will come out of the unsightly incident? Check.

The Astros accepting the suspension being delayed until next April? They couldn’t sign off on that condition quick enough. Gurriel, after all, has been one of the offensive stars for them this post-season, hitting .340 with 18 hits, tied for the most ever by a Cuban in the MLB playoffs.

And all involved agreed to move forward and getting on with the World Series. Many will find that an objectionable goal as well, but if Gurriel truly has and subsequently shows remorse, at least it’s a start. 

“I’m happy that (Manfred) dealt with it very swiftly,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “The way it was dealt with I support. I echo (Darvish’s) thoughts that we need to learn from this. It’s obviously not acceptable.

“Speaking for the players, the coaches, the Dodgers ... just really trying to get back to focusing on baseball. At this point, I think the focus should be on the games.”

Manfred had no chance in winning this so in a sense the path that he took at least had an upside. The five games are the most issued for a violation of MLB’s sexual and racial policies since Manfred took office three years ago.

And right or wrong, the commissioner and both teams opted to save the World Series from being a complete sideshow.

MANFRED'S REASONS

When making the call to defer the suspension of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made a list.

And when he got to four, he felt he had enough to justify the five game suspension (with pay) that begins at the start of next season. 

Those reasons are as follows:

* The five-game suspension will cost Gurriel more than $320,000 US in salary. A one-game playoff suspension would have cost nothing.

* In Manfred’s words, “I felt it was unfair to punish the other 22 players on the Astros roster. I wanted the burden of discipline to fall primarily on the wrongdoer.

* Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish told the commissioner he had “a desire to move forward. I felt moving the suspension to the start of the season would help in that regard.”

* Manfrad was concerned about the right of Gurriel to appeal the suspension. In deferring the punishment, the player agreed not to appeal.

rlongley@postmedia.com

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