Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Yankees holds back teammate Josh Donaldson...

Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Yankees holds back teammate Josh Donaldson #28 during a scrum in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

An afternoon at the ballpark turned ugly Saturday afternoon.

The Yankees' Josh Donaldson said, “What’s up, Jackie?” to White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who is Black — an action that culminated in a bench-clearing melee in the fifth inning and led  White Sox manager Tony La Russa to call the comment racist.

Donaldson, who did not deny making the comment, said he had called Anderson “Jackie,” as in “Jackie Robinson,” multiple times before and that the two had laughed about it in the past. Donaldson said he did not intend to be racist and that his comment was in reference to comments Anderson made to Sports Illustrated in 2019 in which he referred to himself as “today’s Jackie Robinson” in that Robinson changed the game and Anderson hoped to do the same, imbuing it with more fun. Anderson, though, said he agreed with his manager’s assessment and reacted only the second time Donaldson greeted him in that manner Saturday.

Anderson and Donaldson are not friends, and nearly came to blows last week  in Chicago after a physical play on the basepaths that Donaldson said he took responsibility for. Donaldson said he wanted to further defuse the situation Saturday when, without prompting, he said “What’s up, Jackie” to Anderson. Both Anderson and Donaldson said this happened in the first inning, though Anderson clarified that it happened the first time Donaldson reached base, which was in the second. That time, Anderson said, he didn't react. 

Anderson then said Donaldson repeated the missive in the third, prompting Anderson to jaw back, with the two briefly engaging in a verbal altercation.

“He made a disrespectful comment, trying to call me Jackie Robinson — ‘What’s up, Jackie?’ ” Anderson said. “I don’t play like that. I don’t really play at all. I wasn’t even bothering anybody. It was disrespectful and I don’t think it was called for . . . It happened in the first, the first time he got on, and I spared him that time, then it happened again. It was just uncalled for.”

Added La Russa: “He made a racist comment, Donaldson, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Major League Baseball is investigating the matter and is concerned, a source said. It’s unclear if Donaldson will be suspended for his comments, though it’s a possibility. Aaron Boone said he intended to “go in and get to the bottom of it.”

Donaldson said he started calling Anderson “Jackie” back when Donaldson played in Atlanta, in 2019, after the Sports Illustrated interview. “We actually joked about that [during] the game” in 2019, Donaldson said. “I don’t know what’s changed. I’ve said it to him in years past, not in any manner, just joking around [about] the fact that he called himself Jackie Robinson. So, you know, if something has changed from that, my meaning of that is not in any [way] trying to be racist . . . 

“Today [I said that] just trying to defuse [the tension], make light. ‘Hey, we’re not trying to start any brawls’ or anything like that," Donaldson said. "Obviously, he deemed that it was disrespectful and look, if he did, I apologize.”

When Donaldson batted in the fifth, catcher Yasmani Grandal called him out, and the two got into a heated exchange. Anderson came charging in from shortstop and had to be held back and dragged away by teammates as the benches cleared, the bullpens emptied and both teams were warned. 

“There’s no way you’re allowed to say something like that . . . it’s unacceptable,” Grandal said. “I’m sure not only us but everybody else would have reacted the same way. Maybe even worse.”

Donaldson said he potentially could explain himself to Anderson but did not believe it likely that Anderson would be willing to hear him out.

“Obviously, there have been a couple situations where he’s tried to get in my face and say a couple words to me and it keeps happening,” Donaldson said. “That’s why, after I slid into second base today, I just kind of looked at him after he said something to me and I’m like, all right, I just laughed. I’ve had enough.”

Donaldson said when Grandal confronted him in the fifth, he was unsure why the catcher was angry.

“I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?' ” Donaldson said. “He’s like, ‘You know what you said.’ I’m like, ‘Are you referring to me calling him Jackie?’ That’s — I thought that was a joke between him and I, you know, because we talked about it before. And, as I said, let me mention it again: He’s called himself Jackie Robinson. That’s why I thought it was funny between us.”

Anderson, meanwhile, said he won’t soon forget Donaldson’s actions: “You’ll never sleep this off,” he said. “There’s always going to be that.”

This is not Donaldson’s first run-in with the White Sox. Last season, when he was with the Twins, he homered off  Lucas Giolito and then taunted him in reference to the ''sticky stuff'' controversy. They then met in the parking lot after the pitcher spoke out about Donaldson’s jawing during a postgame media session.

With David Lennon

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