As the status of the game was being changed to postponed, the Mets released a statement from General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen in which he apologized for having made “disrespectful comments” about MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Approximately an hour and a half before the players took the field, Van Wagenen was apparently captured inadvertently — he was heard telling an unseen pair of staffers that his comments were not to “leave this room” — on a live stream in which he indicated that while his players wanted to boycott the game, Manfred was trying to convince them to leave the field for an hour and then return to play.
Van Wagenen appeared to say that he told Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, “These guys are not playing.” He then said: “But that’s Rob’s instinct. That leadership level, he doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.”
Since Wednesday, players across baseball and other sports have been refusing to participate in games and, in the NFL’s case, practices, to send a message about their unhappiness with the state of race relations in the United States in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake. The postponement of several games Thursday brought into question whether the Mets and Marlins would play, and Van Wagenen’s comments only created more confusion.
At the appointed start time, the Mets were led onto the field by two African American players, Dominic Smith and Billy Hamilton. Smith knelt during the national anthem before a game Wednesday and told reporters in emotional comments that night, “Just with everything that’s going on in the world, I just decided to take a little notice, and for the world to take a step back and really just see what’s going on.”
On Thursday, Smith and other players stood during the anthem before the starters took their positions in the field. At that point, reserve players and coaches came out of the dugouts and everyone removed their hats as they stood silently for 42 seconds in honor of Jackie Robinson, who wore No. 42 as he broke baseball’s color barrier.
After the moment of silence, both sides walked off the field, leaving only a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt at home plate.
Mets outfielder Michael Conforto said Thursday that the players decided at a team meeting that afternoon that they would not play. He added that everyone in the organization was “definitely united in this decision, 100 percent.”
Conforto said that Smith’s comments the night before “really touched all of us in the clubhouse. … All the players who stand up for this, the racial injustice, we stand behind them and that’s what you saw tonight.”
Van Wagenen’s statement also said: “My frustration with the Commissioner was wrong and unfounded. I apologize to the Commissioner for my disrespectful comments and poor judgment in inaccurately describing the contents of his private conversation with Jeff Wilpon.”
Van Wagenen clarified that Wilpon, the son of Mets owner Fred Wilpon, called Manfred to “notify him that our players voted not to play” and to discuss “the challenges of rescheduling the game.”
As MLB tries to fit a truncated 60-game schedule into a compressed timeline in a race to an expanded postseason amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, both the Mets and the Marlins have had games postponed because of positive tests. The teams played a doubleheader Tuesday to make up one of those games, but they are not scheduled to play again this season outside of trying to squeeze in a potential makeup date for the game that was called off Thursday.
“Jeff proposed an idea of playing the game an hour later,” Van Wagenen said. “I misunderstood that this was the Commissioner’s idea. …
“The players had already made their decision so I felt the suggestion was not helpful.”
Manfred subsequently issued a statement in which he denied making any attempt to “prevent players from expressing themselves by not playing.” He also denied suggesting “any alternative form of protest to any Club personnel or any player.”
“Over the past two days, players on a number of Clubs have decided not to play games,” Manfred stated. “I have said both publicly and privately that I respect those decisions and support the need to address social justice.”
Later on Thursday, it was the turn of the Wilpons, both father and son, to release statements. They each left little doubt about their unhappiness with Van Wagenen, whose first name they both misspelled. “Brody’s misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable,” Jeff Wilpon’s statement read.
Claiming that he suggested “playing the game later because of scheduling issues,” not Manfred, Jeff Wilpon added, “We fully respect out payers and the Marlins players decision and appreciate the sincerity of all those who wish to draw attention to social injustices and racial inequalities that must be addressed.”
Fred Wilpon, who has put his team up for sale, said he was “stressed and disappointed” to learn that Van Wagenen “made disrespectful and inaccurate comments about our Commissioner, a long-time close friend of mine.”
“I hold Rob in the highest regard and in no way are Brody’s remarks reflective of my views or the organization’s,” Fred Wilpon added. … “I apologize for any harm this incident has caused Rob.”