HOUSTON — Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel will be suspended for five games — none during the World Series — for racially insensitive behavior directed at Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced Saturday.
Gurriel disrupted the World Series here Friday night when he used his fingers to slant his eyes in a gesture that is offensive to people of Asian descent and mouthed a derogatory word in Spanish after hitting a home run against Darvish and returning to the Astros’ dugout in the second inning of Game 3.
Manfred met Saturday with Gurriel and said the 33-year-old rookie, a native of Cuba, “expressed remorse.” He also noted Darvish’s desire to “move forward” from the ugly incident. But Manfred said he also couldn’t allow Gurriel’s actions to go unpunished, leaving him to determine only the length of the punishment and when to enforce it.
In deciding to wait until the beginning of next season, Manfred explained he wanted to make sure Gurriel’s penalty included docking his $12 million salary — he will lose $322,581. He also didn’t want to punish the rest of the Astros players for the behavior of one individual.
“There is no question that it is a difficult decision as to when the appropriate timing was,” Manfred said. “Obviously World Series games are different than regular-season games, and I used my best judgment as to where the appropriate disciplinary level fell. I understand that people may have different views. But it was my best judgment that this timing was appropriate.”
Another part of Manfred’s calculus involved trying to make sure Gurriel didn’t exercise his right through the players’ union to appeal his suspension. The union announced in a statement that it will not appeal.
In a separate statement, Gurriel described his actions as “indefensible.” As part of the punishment, MLB will require him to undergo “sensitivity training” in the offseason.
“I sincerely apologize to everyone that I offended with my actions,” Gurriel continued. “I deeply regret it.”
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow released a statement in which he said the team was “surprised and disappointed by the behavior displayed by Yuli Gurriel” and announced the club will donate Gurriel’s lost salary to a charity that supports diversity efforts. But Gurriel also remained in the Astros’ Game 4 lineup Saturday night, playing first base and batting fifth. Houston leads the series two games to one.
Speaking through an interpreter after the game Friday night, Gurriel said he made the gesture because he hasn’t had success in the past against Japanese pitchers. He also explained that both the gesture and the word — “chinito,” loosely translated as “little Chinese boy” — are commonly used in Cuba, although he admitted he realized they are considered offensive in many places, including Darvish’s native Japan. Gurriel played one season in Japan in 2014.
Based on Saturday’s meeting, Manfred said he believes Gurriel understands the meaning behind his actions.
“He maintains that he did not intend to be offensive, but he understands that he was. And that’s what’s important,” Manfred said. “I think that we all need continuing reminders and education in this area as to what’s appropriate and not appropriate, and I do feel like [the sensitivity training] is an important part of the entire package.”
Manfred declined to discuss specifics of his conversation with the players’ union other than to say it was “supportive of the general proposition that this type of behavior was not appropriate in our game.”
MLB went beyond its precedent for penalties for similar behavior. In 2012, then-Toronto Blue Jays infielder Yunel Escobar received a three-game suspension for wearing eye-black with a homophobic slur written in Spanish. Earlier this season, Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar and Oakland Athletics outfielder Matt Joyce were each suspended two games without pay for yelling an anti-gay slur, Pillar at an Atlanta Braves pitcher and Joyce at a fan.
“I think that the two [games], that was kind of the standard that had evolved over three of four incidents was inadequate to deal with the particulars of this situation,” Manfred said, “and I will continue to deal with each situation on its own merits.”