Former Major League Baseball manager Tony La Russa said he recognizes there are issues that affect the black community in the United States, but takes some issue with what Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones said and questions the motives of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Appearing on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on ESPN Radio on Wednesday, La Russa said that while he respects Jones as a person and as a player, the Orioles outfielder was off base when he said baseball is a “white man’s sport.”
“When he says it’s a white, like elitist kind of sport, I mean how much wronger can he be? We have tried so hard, the MLB, to expand the black athletes’ opportunity,” said La Russa, who also spent two years working for MLB. “We want the black athletes to pick not basketball or football, but want them to play baseball — they should play baseball. And we’re working to make that happen in the inner cities. We have a lot of Latin players, we have players from the Pacific Rim.”
Jones’ opinion on the lack of African-American players in MLB is supported by the league’s demographics. Only 8 percent of the league classifies as African-American, according to USA Today, with a total of just 69 black players being on the Opening Day rosters of the league’s 30 teams.
La Russa agreed that there is an issue, but said effort is being made.
“It’s very difficult in the inner cities to get black athletes to play the game,” La Russa said. “So what [Major League Baseball is doing is] expanding the opportunity so the black athlete gets a chance.”
La Russa further said baseball is the smart choice for young athletes, regardless of race.
“If you pick the sport where you have all shapes and sizes, you can retire and not walk around crippled, it’s gotta be baseball,” said La Russa, who is now the chief baseball officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks. “But we have to provide the opportunities, but it’s not because it’s an elitist sport. It’s because there just hasn’t been enough playgrounds that have baseball. And that’s gonna change — it is changing because MLB is making it a target.”
Jones’ comments on Monday are part of the broader topic of the recent wave of African-American athletes electing not to stand for the national anthem as a way of bringing attention to issues they feel need to be addressed in the U.S. Kaepernick started it by sitting during the national anthem this preseason and has evolved his protest to taking a knee during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner”.
La Russa, who as a manager led the Oakland Athletics to three straight World Series trips from 1988-90 and a 1989 title, says he “really distrust[s]” the sincerity of the Bay Area quarterback.
“I was there in the Bay Area when he first was a star, a real star. I never once saw him do anything but promote himself. And all of a sudden now he’s a second-stringer and he’s got this mission … and I just don’t trust his sincerity,” La Russa said. “And even if he was sincere, there’s ways to express your belief in some of the issues that face blacks around this country without disrespecting the country you live in or the flag that it represents.”
When asked if he as a manager would let a player sit during the anthem he said he “absolutely would not allow it.”
“I would tell [a player that wanted to sit out the anthem to] sit inside the clubhouse,” La Russa said. “You’re not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag. No, sir, I would not allow it. … If you want to make your statement you make it in the clubhouse, but not out there, you’re not going to show it that way publicly and disrespectfully.”
While he said he would force a player to stay in the clubhouse if they wanted to protest, La Russa added that he wouldn’t keep that player from playing.
“No, he’d play the game, but he wouldn’t be out there sitting down, he’d go in the locker room and make his protest.”