Uumpire Nick Mahrley attempts to separate Yasmani Grandal of the White Sox...

Uumpire Nick Mahrley attempts to separate Yasmani Grandal of the White Sox and Josh Donaldson of the Yankees during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium on May 21. Credit: Getty Images/Sarah Stier

In delivering a one-game suspension of Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson on Monday, Michael Hill, MLB’s senior VP for on-field operations, used a number of words to describe Donaldson’s antagonistic “What’s up, Jackie?” exchange with Tim Anderson.

“Disrespectful” and “in poor judgment” were two of the primary characterizations.

One that did not appear anywhere in Hill’s statement?


Right there, in black and white, MLB rendered its verdict on Donaldson’s behavior during Saturday’s multiple altercations with Anderson, as the two continued a nasty feud that boiled over into a benches-clearing standoff in the fifth inning.

MLB clearly took issue with Donaldson’s inflammatory conduct and held him responsible for sparking Saturday’s brushfire. But the racial overtones expressed by the White Sox were conspicuously absent from Hill’s ruling, which in that sense leaned (marginally) toward Donaldson’s strained explanation.

“Regardless of Mr. Donaldson’s intent, the comment he directed toward Mr. Anderson was disrespectful and in poor judgment, particularly when viewed in the context of their prior interactions,” Hill — who is Black — said in the statement. “In addition, Mr. Donaldson’s remark was a contributing factor in a bench-clearing incident between the teams, and warrants discipline.”

And it wasn’t just Hill, or the White Sox, who believed Donaldson was in the wrong. You can add his own teammate, Aaron Judge, to that list.

Judge finally offered his thoughts on the dispute after Monday’s 6-4 loss to the Orioles. When asked about the one-game suspension, the Yankees’ de facto captain was more than sympathetic to Anderson’s side.

“It’s a tough one — joke or not,” Judge said. “And I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do there, especially given their history .  .  . Anderson’s one of the best shortstops in the game and he’s a big part of MLB, what’s going on here and how we can grow the game. I don’t know .  .  . J.D. made a mistake, owned up to it, now we gotta move on.”

Donaldson admitted saying “What’s up, Jackie?” to Anderson but said it was meant to be a joke between them, stemming from the shortstop — who is Black — saying he felt like “today’s Jackie Robinson” in a 2019 Sports Illustrated profile.

Anderson, who was booed Sunday night at Yankee Stadium before shushing the crowd (finger to lips) with a three-run homer, has yet to respond to Donaldson’s “inside joke” defense. Anderson spoke before Donaldson did Saturday, so he was not available to be asked about any previous humorous interactions between the two.

As for how Saturday’s incident was perceived, that mostly depended on the uniform. White Sox manager Tony La Russa was quick to tell reporters that Donaldson made a “racist” comment but sternly refused to provide any details beyond that. It was Anderson who later filled in the blanks, and when he was specifically asked if he agreed with La Russa’s labeling of Donaldson’s remarks as “racist,’’ he responded: “Yeah, same. Along that same line.”

For the record, Anderson never used the word himself. Neither did his teammates, all of whom blasted Donaldson for boorish behavior past and present.

Donaldson has a well-earned reputation as an instigator. That’s irrefutable. He wasn’t around Monday to talk about the suspension; he was home sick, and the Yankees placed him on the COVID-19 injured list. But he did have a response: He has elected to appeal MLB’s decision.

Based on Hill’s statement, the suspension is likely to stick. A one-game penalty is fairly standard when a player is guilty of inciting any sort of melee on the field, and Donaldson repeatedly jabbed at Anderson with the “Jackie” references.

That’s where Donaldson’s case falls apart. He insisted he was trying to “defuse” the tension with Anderson. But if that truly was his purpose, out of the 50 things Donaldson could have said, he chose to say “What’s up Jackie?” to a Black player who despises him? What did Donaldson expect to happen?

Given his previous experience at trolling opponents, probably exactly what went down, with Anderson ultimately losing his cool and the White Sox ready to get physical to back their shortstop. But Donaldson wildly miscalculated.

It really doesn’t matter that Anderson reached in making a somewhat misguided comparison between himself and Jackie Robinson, a very small percentage of a much bigger story regarding the challenges for a Black player in today’s MLB.

It’s fair to say MLB absolved Donaldson of any racially tinged wrongdoing. But he’s got to wear the backlash from his behavior, and there are plenty of people who still will believe that should include the R word going forward.