The Red Sox will finally make their trip to the White House this week. Or at least some of them.
President Donald Trump will welcome the 2018 World Series champions Thursday afternoon at 3:45 p.m., following the team’s three-game series in Baltimore this week, White House officials announced last Friday.
The midseason celebration in the Rose Garden comes a few months later than initially scheduled and without several of the individuals most responsible for last year’s historically successful season, including manager Alex Cora.
Cora, a Puerto Rico native, who has objected to Trump’s treatment of the U.S. island territory in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, first announced his decision to skip the event in a written statement Sunday to Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nueva Día:
“Puerto Rico is very important to me. During the winter I spent a lot of time back home, visiting my family and friends. Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting. Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane María struck.”
“Even though the United States Government has helped, there’s still a long road ahead and that is OUR reality. I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten and my absence (from the White House) is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.”
Following the Red Sox game Sunday night, the 43-year-old Caugas native confirmed he’d be skipping the White House event and said he was unconcerned about any potential backlash.
“There’s going to be reaction anyways,” Cora said.
During the Republican president’s administration, entire national championship-winning teams — from the NBA to the NFL to college basketball — have ended up skipping the ceremonial event, in what’s become something of a litmus test for athletes. The previous World Series winners, the Houston Astros, did go to the White House last year — with a few absences.
Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy says the team has tried to be consistent in its approach. After all, this week’s trip will be their fourth in the last decade and a half. While Kennedy says it’s an “honor” for the team to be recognized by the White House, he said attending is the “personal choice” of the organization’s members.
“It’s not about an individual president or policy,” Kennedy told NESN last week. “We went under Bush. We went under Obama. We’re going under Trump, and I hope we’re going again under Trump. Let’s keep this thing going.”
Still, Thursday’s event could present some awkwardness. When it comes to which players are and are not going, the team has split almost exactly along racial lines. The pattern did not go unnoticed Monday by pitcher David Price, who retweeted The Athletic columnist Steve Buckley’s observation that “basically it’s the white Sox who’ll be going.”
I just feel like more than 38k should see this tweet… https://t.co/BtbK0DNPQc
— David Price (@DAVIDprice24) May 6, 2019
According to a clubhouse poll taken by The Boston Globe‘s Pete Abraham during spring training, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brock Holt, Brian Johnson, Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, Steve Pearce, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Sandy Leon all plan to attend. Star slugger J.D. Martinez also confirmed he would attend in February.
“I believe it’s an honor to go,” Martinez said at the time. “That’s our capital. It’s the White House. Not a lot of people ever get to go there, so I’m really excited about it.”
Others, however, have personally elected to skip the White House event, which coincides with the team’s first off day in three weeks (according to the Globe, the Red Sox have scheduled two separate charter flights back to Boston from Baltimore: one after Wednesday’s game and one after the ceremony Thursday). Only pitcher Hector Velazquez explicitly cited Trump’s divisive brand of politics for the decision.
“I made the choice not to go because, as we know, the president has said a lot of stuff about Mexico,” Velazquez told MassLive.com last month. “And I have a lot of people in Mexico that are fans of me, that follow me. And I’m from there. So I would rather not offend anyone over there.”
Mookie Betts, the 2018 AL MVP, said in January that he “won’t be going there,” though he declined to elaborate on his reasoning. Same with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rafael Devers, both of whom say they don’t get into politics. Bradley, who has already visited the White House twice, said he wouldn’t have gone if Hillary Clinton were president, either.
Christian Vazquez also declined to explain his decision to not attend.
“Don’t ask why,” he told MassLive.com last week. “It’s personal. Nothing crazy, but my opinion.”
Price gave a simple explanation for his absence last month, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman: “It’s baseball season.”
Xander Bogaerts added his name to the list of expected absences after Sunday’s game.
“I won’t be going, either,” Bogaerts told reporters. “I won’t be. I’ll leave it there.”
Among the 2018 Red Sox players with the team this season, it’s still unclear whether Andrew Benintendi, Eduardo Nunez, Dustin Pedroia, Bobby Poyner, Tyler Thornburg, or Steven Wright will be there Thursday.
Red Sox owner John Henry (who also owns Boston Globe Media Partners, which includes Boston.com) has indicated he would attend.
“If the team goes, we’ll go,” Henry said in January, amid some uncertainty about the event due to the government shutdown at the time.
Tom Werner, the team’s chairman, who campaigned for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign with Henry, said they’re planning to go despite their political differences with the president.
“I think it’s actually an intelligent decision to try to keep sports as apolitical as possible,” Werner told The Athletic last week.
“People go to sporting events, in many ways, to forget about the issues that they have to struggle with in their daily lives,” he added. “It’s not appropriate, I don’t think, for the Red Sox to be either red or blue. It should be a respite from the issues that we wrestle with daily.”
Despite their players’ differing decisions, Kennedy and Cora have both dismissed the notion that the White House visit would divide the team. Kennedy even says he welcomes this particular dilemma.
“These are great problems, controversies to have,” he told NESN. “I will take this controversy every single year.”