The Mets and the Miami Marlins chose not to play on Thursday, joining 12 other Major League Baseball teams in sitting out in response to the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis.
But before that decision was formalized, Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen was captured on video delivering a searing critique of Commissioner Rob Manfred that he later retracted in a written apology.
“At the leadership level, he doesn’t get it,” Van Wagenen said of Manfred, in a video feed the Mets use for Zoom news conferences that appeared to have been accidentally broadcast online. “He just doesn’t get it.”
Van Wagenen was speaking with two unidentified people, both out of the video frame, about a proposal for the Mets and the Marlins to stage a walkout at the scheduled game time, then return and start play an hour later. In a statement, Van Wagenen said that he thought it was Manfred’s plan, but that it had actually come from his boss, the chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.
He said Wilpon had called Manfred to tell him that the players had voted not to play, and the two had discussed the difficulty of rescheduling the game, since the teams are not scheduled to meet again this season. Wilpon proposed the delayed start, which irritated Van Wagenen.
In a news conference later, Van Wagenen said he had not been part of the conversation between Manfred and Wilpon and had misunderstood the context.
“In talking with both the commissioner and with Jeff in the aftermath of my video coming out, I recognized that there was brainstorming about suggestions, and it wasn’t Rob and his leadership that was requiring or suggesting or mandating anything by any stretch of the imagination,” Van Wagenen said. “I’ve apologized to him publicly, I’ve apologized to him over the phone, and I recognize that it was a disrespectful move to his office and to him. It was an emotional day, and I want to support the players.”
Van Wagenen said he held himself “personally responsible” for the comments about Manfred, who released his own statement saying he had not tried to stop players from demonstrating or suggested different ways to protest.
“Over the past two days, players on a number of Clubs have decided not to play games,” he said in the statement. “I have said both publicly and privately that I respect those decisions and support the need to address social injustice. I have not attempted in any way to prevent players from expressing themselves by not playing, nor have I suggested any alternative form of protest to any Club personnel or any player. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.”
The Mets’ chief executive, Fred Wilpon, then issued a statement praising Manfred, while Jeff Wilpon, his son, gave one confirming Van Wagenen’s account. Jeff Wilpon also harshly criticized Van Wagenen while misspelling his first name in the statement.
“Brody’s misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable,” it said.
As it turned out, the Mets’ starters took the field at game time as the other players on both teams stood silently in foul territory for 42 seconds; 42 was the number worn by Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The players then retreated to their clubhouses, leaving behind a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt over home plate.
The Mets had played on Wednesday, as other teams were debating whether to do so. Outfielder Dom Smith, who is Black, knelt during the national anthem before that game and later gave a gripping, emotional news conference.
“The first thing that needs to happen is these tough conversations,” Smith said, flanked by three teammates, after Thursday’s game was called off. “The fact that these guys supported my decision, and our decision as a team, these are the tough conversations we have to have.”
Three major league games were called off on Wednesday, and seven more on Thursday — including every night game that was not part of a doubleheader — because of players refusing to take the field. The possibility that the Mets’ game would be an exception, even with a delayed start, seemed off-key to Van Wagenen, according to his comments in the video.
“You know what would be super powerful — three of us here, can’t leave this room — you know what would be really great, if you just have ’em all take the field, then they leave the field and then they come back and play at 8:10,” Van Wagenen said, describing the idea he thought had come from Manfred. “And I was like, ‘What?’”
An unidentified person then asked Van Wagenen: “Who said that?”
Van Wagenen replied that it was Manfred, “And with Jeff, scheduling’s going to be a nightmare, and there’s so much at stake. And I said: ‘Jeff, that’s not happening.’”
The unidentified person said, “They’re not dealing with reality,” to which Van Wagenen responded: “They’re not playing. But that’s Rob’s instinct — exactly what I’m talking about — at the leadership level he doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.” He added that the Mets were waiting to coordinate their plans with the Marlins, and that Wilpon was waiting to hear about the decision.
The Mets do have scheduling issues. They had four consecutive postponements from Aug. 20 through Aug. 23 after a player and a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus, and had been scheduled to play nine games in a six-day span, including a doubleheader with Miami on Tuesday and two against the Yankees this weekend.
On Thursday, though, the players decided that the mundane problem of their schedule could wait.
“I’m very proud of them, just fully support what they did out there, to use the baseball platform to voice their opinion for this topic,” Mets Manager Luis Rojas said. “We all feel strong that we’re very much against racism and injustice and we want this to stop right now.”
For his part, Van Wagenen said he regretted that his comments about Manfred had distracted from the day’s more meaningful message.
“This conversation is about recognizing the pain and the anguish that Black people are experiencing every day in this country,” he said. “The fact that I put myself and this organization into the conversation in a way that takes away from the real point, I’m disappointed in myself.”