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Boston is the perfect place for the World Series to make history

Dave Roberts and Alex Cora put the focus on minority managers in baseball

BOSTON — When the first World Series was played 115 years ago, Puerto Rico had been under U.S. control for less than five years. Naha, Okinawa, was still 18 years away from becoming officially listed as a city. And Tom Yawkey was less than a year old, still decades away from becoming a trust fund baby with the help of his granddad, who almost bought the Detroit Tigers that same year.

The globe was a different place when the American and National leagues first began playing each other, and when José Alexander Cora and David Ray Roberts take the field to manage their respective teams Tuesday, it will not only be the first time that two former teammates face off in the Fall Classic, it will be the first time two managers of color have done so as well. The irony should not be lost on anyone that the series is beginning at Fenway Park, which, because of its address, is perhaps the most perfectly apt place for new ground to be broken in baseball.

In April, Boston’s Public Improvement Commission voted to change the name of Yawkey Way after more than 40 years of it existing as such. It was unanimous, a detail that surprised quite a few locals. Of course, the family’s foundation of the same name claimed that Yawkey did not deserve to be posthumously humiliated, as they saw it, but that was expected. But for a public board that routinely deals with curb cuts and storm sewers, the decision suddenly thrust the eight-person panel into the national spotlight. In the city where Bill Russell famously said, “I play for the Celtics, not Boston,” one of the uglier legacies in baseball was being removed, with a new owner leading the charge and a group of locals backing the cause.

If you’re not familiar with Yawkey’s history, there are many tales. The short version is that he was racist enough to let his team suffer because he refused to field black players, with the Red Sox becoming the last team to integrate in the majors. The long version is that his grandfather was a tycoon and would have been an MLB owner had he not died before he could finalize a deal. Instead, Yawkey’s uncle took over and became the Tigers’ owner for 16 years. When Tom Yawkey was bequeathed $40 million by his late uncle (who had adopted him), he didn’t wait long to buy a baseball team. Forced to wait until age 30 to receive his fortune, Yawkey took only four days to buy the Red Sox.

While the history lesson is not necessarily the point, it is instructive about what we’re seeing on the field and how we got here. Generational wealth, not dissimilar to generational discrimination, had an effect on the Red Sox that legitimately took 85 years to undo, even if just in name. Meanwhile, our president insults the people of Puerto Rico — a president who, it’s worth noting, is himself a product of generational wealth.

“It’s not about myself or Alex, just to see minorities get opportunities and perform and do well, I think that gives opportunities for others,” said Roberts, who is half-black and half-Japanese and was born in Naha. “So there’s a [responsibility] that I know that Alex shares and I do, to do things the right way and be good leaders. Up to this point, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. But I hope more minorities get opportunities, certainly.”

Which is what makes this so unfortunate, while at the same time uplifting. When does the “responsibility” become someone’s other than those who are most negatively affected by it? We’ve seen the efforts Major League Baseball has made and continues to make in terms of growing and teaching the game at the youth level, but unraveling that very notion of duty, when many in the game arrive simply from birthright, is paramount. On a basic level, it’s completely insane that it took 115 years for a World Series matchup to feature two nonwhite managers.

The Milwaukee Brewers, whom the Dodgers defeated in seven games to advance to the World Series, are managed by Craig Counsell. His dad, John, played in the minors, and for years when Counsell was a kid, John Counsell worked for — you guessed it — the Brewers in community relations. All of this isn’t to say that all persons involved with decisions didn’t deserve nor were qualified for their jobs, but think about it this way. After retiring, Craig Counsell immediately was given a front-office position with the Brewers. Then, three years later, they hired him as the manager. He’d never even been a coach in the bigs. Conversely, Cora interviewed for his job during the playoffs, while he was the bench coach for the Houston Astros. You don’t have to go far to understand exactly how generational wealth affects baseball.

For Cora, the connection to his homeland is obvious. Cora lives in Puerto Rico in the offseason.

“I’m proud representing not only all the Puerto Ricans that live in the island, but Puerto Ricans all around the world. We know what happened last year [with Hurricane Maria]. It was a tough one,” he said. “As a country, we’ve done an outstanding job fighting. We’re standing up on our own two feet. I know there’s a lot of people back home, they’re proud of me, of what I’ve done throughout the year. But I’m proud of them.”

Meanwhile, earlier in the year, when the Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor hit a home run in Puerto Rico during his MLB return to the island, it got emotional and the place went crazy. Yet he felt forced to apologize for his celebration.

So, while Roberts and Cora make history Tuesday night, remember where we are. Boston’s reputation is well-known, but the city did renounce Yawkey when faced with the decision. And when the Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones was the target of racist heckling last season, the team did publicly apologize. The two skippers aren’t the only ones helping baseball make progress.

Hopefully the years of generational trauma that the game has endured can undergo some healing over the next two weeks, courtesy of a city that lays its claim as the foundation of revolution.

Clinton Yates is a tastemaker at The Undefeated. He likes rap, rock, reggae, R&B, and remixes — in that order.