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

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument here, that there is some possible context on a baseball field in which bringing up Jackie Robinson’s name might be appropriate as an “inside joke” between players.

How Josh Donaldson could even entertain the thought that Saturday was one of those times — by dropping it on Tim Anderson, the Black All-Star shortstop of the White Sox with whom he’s been feuding — defies any logical explanation.

Aside from maybe the obvious.

“He made a racist comment,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said.

La Russa was the only person in either clubhouse to use that explosive term after the Yankees’ 7-5 victory, but nothing else accurately summed up what his players were feeling. And that’s plural, even beyond Anderson, who became more enraged with each on-field interaction with Donaldson.

“He was calling me Jackie Robinson, like ‘What’s up, Jackie?’ ” Anderson said. “I don’t play like that — I don’t really play at all. It was disrespectful.”

Incredibly, Anderson said Donaldson did it repeatedly, from the first inning on, and the two got into a heated argument when they crossed paths at the end of the third. Tempers finally boiled over when Donaldson stepped to the plate in the fifth inning and catcher Yasmani Grandal confronted him.

Grandal got in Donaldson’s face, prompting the dugouts and bullpens to empty. No punches were thrown and nothing escalated beyond some shoving, but the White Sox’s anger simmered during the remainder of the game.

“This game went through a period in time where a lot of those comments were made,” Grandal said. “And I think we’re way past that. It’s just unacceptable . . .  so I made sure I got my teammate's back. There’s no way that you’re allowed to say something like that.”

When Grandal was asked if Donaldson denied it, the catcher scoffed at the question and made a reference to last year’s incident with Lucas Giolito, when Donaldson homered off Giolito and then taunted him about use of sticky stuff on the baseballs, an indication that the bad blood toward him still runs deep within the White Sox. Giolito ripped Donaldson as “classless” then, but this is another level.

“I guess he lives in his own world,” Grandal said.

That world was quickly collapsing Saturday around Donaldson, whose efforts to apologize — along with the Yankees’ attempted spin — didn’t make much sense, especially in the wake of the White Sox’s fury. Donaldson said he had used the “joke” previously with Anderson, based on the Chicago shortstop referring to himself as the “new Jackie Robinson” in a 2019 Sports Illustrated story.

“I don’t know what’s changed,” Donaldson said. “If something has changed from that, my meaning of that is not in any term trying to be racist. It was just off an interview what he called himself. We said that before, we joked about it  . . .  Obviously, he deemed that it was disrespectful, and look, if he did, I apologize. That’s not what I was trying to do.” 

Why that gives Donaldson license to bring it up in this volatile setting — with Anderson, who already was ticked off at him — is something that only the Yankees’ third baseman apparently understands. The two clashed a week ago in Chicago when Anderson dived back into third base and took offense at Donaldson’s aggressive tag — he also pushed Anderson off the bag — and maybe he should have gotten the hint by now that      Anderson isn’t on a joking-around basis with him.

Once the showdown between Grandal and Donaldson lit the fuse in the fifth, Anderson came running toward the pileup but was immediately restrained by his teammates and pulled into the White Sox dugout. Anderson was visibly agitated, so it was clear that this was more than typical trash-talking or muscle-flexing. This was personal.

The last interaction came in the seventh, when Anderson chose to turn the double play himself with Donaldson running rather than make the easier flip to second base. The two knocked legs briefly but avoided any further conflict, other than Anderson firing off some words to the smirking Donaldson as he walked away.

“We knew out of the gate, we already knew what time it was,” Anderson said, referring to Donaldson’s reputation as an instigator.

The matter is now in MLB’s hands, and a source said Saturday there already is an investigation underway. To think that one of this sport’s own heroes in Robinson could be invoked in a racist way — whatever Donaldson said his intention was — is going to strike a particularly strong chord in the commissioner’s office, and a suspension for Donaldson definitely is not out of the question. It may even be anticipated.

As for the White Sox, they made it sound as if this is far from over, regardless what MLB chooses to do. Anderson coolly answered questions afterward, but it was obvious that this was no “inside joke’ to him. Same went for his teammates, who don’t seem as if they’re finished with Donaldson either.

“I think that’s very sad,” Dallas Keuchel said. “There’s no room for that here or anywhere in the game.”

Donaldson may find those walls closing around him after Saturday’s remarks to Anderson, including among some in his own clubhouse.


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