Mookie Betts reported for work at Oracle Park on Wednesday with plans to lead off and play right field for the Dodgers. Then he began having conversations with family members. They texted back and forth about the other professional athletes protesting racial injustice and police brutality after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis. He thought about his role as one of the most prominent Black figures in the major leagues. He changed his mind.
“In my shoes,” Betts said, “I couldn’t play.”
Betts said he would’ve supported his teammates proceeding to hold the second of their three-game series against their divisional rivals. He said he would’ve been on the dugout steps cheering them on. But once they heard Betts, their best player and already a clubhouse leader in his short time as a Dodger, had decided to sit out, they held discussions as a team about showing solidarity and protesting.
Eventually, in conjunction with the Giants, a decision was made: We’re not playing. The game was then officially postponed. The clubs will make up the game Thursday with a doubleheader at 1:05 p.m. Both games are scheduled for seven innings each.
“Mookie was great about saying, ‘If you guys want to play, I support that,’” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “But we made a collective group decision to not play tonight, to let our voices be heard for standing up for what we believe is right. That’s what it comes down to.”
Kershaw was supposed to start Wednesday night. Instead, at the time of the game’s scheduled 6:45 p.m. first pitch, he was flanked by Betts, manager Dave Roberts and closer Kenley Jansen in front of a webcam. The four represented the Dodgers in explaining their decision to protest and not play.
“Black athletes right now to make a stand and choose not to play tonight is one thing,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But Black people been fighting this fight for centuries. And for the white brothers to come in and support the Black men in this game, it's much more powerful.”
The Dodgers-Giants game was the third major league game postponed out of protest Wednesday. The Milwaukee Brewers, who play their games 35 miles from Kenosha, initiated the protests in baseball. They voted not to play their game against the Cincinnati Reds and the Reds agreed. Later, the Seattle Mariners voted to take the field against the San Diego Padres and the Padres didn’t object.
A few Black players around the league decided not to play on their own as their teams proceeded with their scheduled games. Former Dodger and current Colorado Rockies player Matt Kemp, Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler were among the players who sat out.
The baseball players and teams followed the NBA’s lead. The Milwaukee Bucks were the first to refuse to play Wednesday when they didn’t take the floor for their scheduled Game 5 of the playoff's first round against the Orlando Magic. Soon after, the NBA announced all three of its games scheduled for Wednesday were postponed.
The strikes arose after a video captured a police officer shooting Blake, 29, seven times in the back Sunday as he entered a car with his three children inside. Blake survived, but his lawyer Tuesday announced he was paralyzed and remained in intensive care.
“It’s not a political issue,” Roberts said. “I understand there is an election coming up. But this is a human being issue. We all need to be treated the same way. A Black man being shot seven times in the back, we need to be better. That just can’t happen.”
In San Francisco, the Dodgers and Giants took the field Wednesday for pregame warmups with plans to play. But players on both sides walked off just before 4 p.m., according to local reports, after members of the Giants brass met on the field with Giants reliever Tony Watson, the club’s union representative. The teams then discussed whether to play in their clubhouses.
At 5:17 p.m., the Dodgers released a lineup with Betts playing right field and leading off. But that was a logistical measure. Betts had decided he wasn’t playing. Roberts and third base coach George Lombard had also opted to sit out with support from ownership. Soon, the rest of the club, two days before MLB celebrates its rescheduled Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, joined them.
“I was already tight with everybody in the clubhouse, but now that I know that everybody has my back even more than I already thought, [it] means a lot,” Betts said. “I'll always remember this day. I'll always remember this team just having my back.”