They couldn’t play.
Not the team considered the heir to Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Not 24 hours before the whole sport actually celebrates Jackie Robinson Day. Not 24 hours after their most prominent African-American player elevated the discussion around police brutality toward minorities with raw words and painful tears.
The Mets couldn’t play Thursday night — and they didn’t.
How they got there was, in part, classically Mets, as they were humiliated by not having control over their own internal feed in the Citi Field press conference room, leading to their own GM’s embarrassment.
But they also had a few moments of poignancy. Seven night games were scheduled — which were not attached to doubleheaders that were created so the teams who protested and didn’t play on Wednesday, played twice on Thursday. Six of the games were postponed while a will-they-or-won’t-they aura loomed over the Marlins and Mets.
Both teams dressed in their game uniforms. Both stood by the dugout railings. The Mets took the field led by their two African-American players, Smith and Billy Hamilton. Miami’s Lewis Brinson stepped in the batter’s box (the Marlins wanted the symbolism of an African-Ameican player up). A Black Lives Matter T-shirt was placed on home plate. Michael Wacha never even threw a warm-up pitch. Instead, the players removed their caps, bowed their heads and stood silently for 42 seconds — representing Robinson’s uniform number, an idea put forth by Marlins team leader Miguel Rojas.
Then the teams exited. All the other major league games that were postponed (it was three Wednesday and seven Thursday) came with no one taking the field.
“We showed tonight we’re not just gonna shut up and dribble, shut up and play ball,” Smith said. “We’re gonna stand up for what we believe in.”
Smith, perhaps, more than anyone else in the game, served as a change agent. Other leagues went first, other teams in the majors, too. The Mets played on Wednesday night. But in the postgame, Smith’s words and tears moved a sport.
Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty called him. Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins, citing the need to have empathy for people who lead different lives and endure different circumstances, said, “I’m sure everyone saw Dom Smith last night. If that doesn’t hit you differently, it should hit you differently. We are all humans.”
Indeed, Smith humanized the issues. You could have looked at him as an athlete or a black man. But it was just as easy to imagine him as a son or sibling, and wonder how we all would feel if our own relative was bearing his pain and soul publicly like this. He put a crying face to the racial injustice.
“It really touched all of us in the clubhouse to see how powerful his statement was,” Michael Conforto said.
Conforto said the Mets met at 3 p.m. Thursday to decide how to handle this day. Some time during the afternoon Brodie Van Wagenen was captured on an in-house video feed that went viral criticizing Rob Manfred for recommending the Mets take the field at game time, leave for an hour and then come back. He would say in a later statement that he was mistaken and that was Jeff Wilpon’s idea. So essentially, the commissioner is not a fool, my owner is — I guess this commissioner is going to be around longer than this selling owner.
Still, the leaked video brought not only pie-in-your-own-face slapstick to this day, but further confusion about what would occur. Ultimately, the Marlins and Smith and his Mets teammates provided a better soundtrack to the day — in part with their silent, symbolic 42-second act of protest and defiance. But also hope. Smith talked about the past 24 hours being “overwhelming” as he felt a goodwill to defy the ill.
“We are in the right direction,” Smith said flanked by Robinson Cano, Conforto and Dellin Betances, “to make some serious, serious changes.”