MLB must reform protocol addressing discrimination

After its bungling of the racist action made by Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel toward Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, Major League Baseball should codify its policy regarding discriminatory slurs and gestures.

During Game 3 of the World Series, after hitting a 3-run homer off Darvish, the camera caught Gurriel making a motion to stretch his eyes and to mouth the word “chinito”—meaning “little Chinese boy” in Spanish. 

These moves, directed toward Darvish—a Japanese player—were roundly labeled as racially insensitive at best, and the MLB suspended Gurriel for five games. When Darvish pitched again in Game 6, Gurriel tipped his hat toward Darvish and the issue seemed to be settled. 

Despite that appearance, the terms of the deal drew ire from many. Instead of suspending Gurriel immediately during the postseason, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred decided that his suspension would not start until next year during the first five games of the season. 

This move has caused some outcry from Asian-Americans, as they believe the deal is too lenient, according to the Los Angeles Times

Immediately postponing a player during the postseason is not without precedent. In 2015 the MLB suspended Dodger second baseman Chase Utley during the National League Division Series for a slide that broke the Official Baseball Rules. 

Similarly, players who test positive for performance enhancing drugs are suspended for a certain number of games postseason or not, per a 2014 rule change discussed in a March 28, according to The New York Times

There are similar precedence for suspending a player for using discriminatory language or gestures. In May 2017, Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar was suspended for two games, after he shouted a gay slur at Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte. 

Another incident in August resulted in Oakland Athletics outfielder Matt Joyce facing a two-game suspension after he directed a comment about being gay at a spectator. 

In the light of these two responses, Manfred made the wrong decision. Postponing suspension indicates to the other teams and the viewers that discrimination is bad, but not that bad. In order to right this wrong, the MLB should revise the Official Baseball Rules to include a clause about discriminatory language. 

The rules, which currently have a section regarding unsportsmanlike behavior, should explicitly lay out what happens to a player who uses behavior deemed discriminatory. This addendum could involve a tiered punishment system wherein minor infractions receive lesser punishment compared to major infractions, or it could lay out the same punishment for every intolerant incident involving a player.

The MLB, like most American institutions, carries a heavy history of explicit and implicit discrimination. Manfred and the MLB can use the poorly made decision in this case to move forward with formal rules for cases of discrimination. To do so would likely discourage future players from prejudice outbursts and also protect the MLB leadership from the public outcry after mismanaged cases like this one. 

The Astros won the World Series after an exceptional season, reinvigorating a still-recovering Houston. Their win is certainly deserved after a suspenseful series, but it will always have an asterisk for some who saw Gurriel’s postponed suspension as too merciful.u