NEW YORK — The frenzy around the Yunel Escobar controversy starting to ebb, there was time for some reflection Wednesday on the latest mishap to befall the Toronto Blue Jays in this season of woe, and to draw some lessons from the shortstop’s senseless act.
The public outrage over Escobar’s decision to write a Spanish term that can be interpreted as a homophobic slur on his eyeblack during a weekend game offered an unwanted, but perhaps needed, reminder of the need for tolerance, sensitivity and common sense for players in the public eye.
“No matter what walk of life, there has got to be a view of acceptance and not just make an off-handed comment that might be in the mind of the individual, harmless,” manager John Farrell said. “In this day and age we live in, as information is readily accessible, as video is broadcast everywhere, what you might say in a private conversation, when it is broadcast on your body, you are speaking to the world.
“So, in general, as it relates to our team, there is an understood minimal level of professionalism that you would think would cover how you take the field, how you act. Something that we talk about repeatedly that to respect the game also takes into account the fans that come to this game and view the individual players. There is a definite role-model responsibility that some guys might not realize or might not want to take on. But it’s part of being a major league player.”
Escobar has certainly been learning that the hard way, and the Blue Jays, who insist they never paid much attention to previous messages on the 29-year-old’s eyeblack, will definitely be doing so now, “to the point of strongly recommending don’t write anything.”
Much of how things play out from here depends on Escobar, who apart from serving a three-game suspension (with the roughly US$90,000 in forfeited salary going to You Can Play and GLAAD), will also undergo sensitivity training and perform some outreach work.
Should he respond to all the earned criticism with a genuine desire to make amends, perhaps he can rehabilitate a public image that’s taken a deserved beating over the past few days.
Apart from his public apology at a news conference Tuesday, Escobar also apologized to his teammates for pulling the club into a negative spotlight and creating a distraction for a group that’s already plied through countless hurdles this year.
“Every year presents a set of challenges,” said Farrell. “You quickly find out and realize, and I’m sure players this year do because they have been involved or because there has been a number of things that have been thrown our way, the game doesn’t stop. The game stops for no one. Regardless of what challenge is thrown at us, either performance, physical injury, other issues, you have to deal with it, remain focused on your individual job and the overall goal doesn’t change and that is to go out and win a game today.”
Asked whether mental fatigue from coping with all the issues may erode a club’s resolve, Farrell replied, “I always view that players earn the money they do at this level to go out and play the game that they played as a kid and yet deal with all the distractions that are thrown their way.”
Once he returns, Escobar will be tested most sternly in that regard, part of the price he must pay.
JENKINS ON SUNDAY: Tuesday’s rainout means rookie Chad Jenkins will make his first big-league start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, with Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez teaming once again to work Monday’s doubleheader at Baltimore.
Jenkins is scheduled to throw a simulated game Thursday in Florida in preparation for the outing.
WBC THOUGHTS: Canada opens play at its World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament Thursday in Regensburg, Germany against Britain (Sportsnet One, 1 p.m. ET) and Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie will be keeping tabs on them.
The native of Langley, B.C., participated in the 2009 tournament and is hopeful of playing a bigger role in 2013 edition of the event.
“Of course, any time you get a chance to play for your country,” said Lawrie. “This stuff doesn’t come around a lot, especially because there’s no more Olympics for men’s baseball and women’s softball. When we get a chance to represent our countries, especially at the major-league level, that’s a pretty cool thing to do.”
For that to happen, the Canadians must beat out Germany, Britain and the Czech Republic for the sole spot up for grabs. The sad truth is that many of the players doing the work now won’t take part in the Classic should Canada get that far, something Lawrie appreciates.
“They’ve had a long season themselves, they’ve had a full minor-league season and that’s not easy, long bus trips and all that, so obviously I give a big thanks to them for (playing in the) qualifier and giving their time to Canada,” he said. “Trying to get us to qualify is obviously pretty big.”