Whenever Josh Donaldson returns to the Yankees from his bout with an undetermined illness, he’ll be playing with the cloud of a one-game suspension hanging over his head while appealing (even after apologizing for the actions that led to the discipline).
For Donaldson is an agitator by trade, who approaches each game with the intention of hitting the ball hard while sneaking under his opponents’ skin by any means necessary.
Those means tripped into unsavory territory over the weekend, when Donaldson singlehandedly reversed the Yankees’ vibes by chirping White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson with the racially-tinged “Jackie,” based on a 2019 article where the smallest possible portion involved a self-made comparison between the two players.
Donaldson, however, fixated on Anderson’s statement and brought it up three years later — and not for the first time, either. Regardless of the infielder’s supposed intention, Anderson noted this week he’d warned Donaldson not to poke that area again during their prior interaction. That warning was not enough to stop the Yankees’ agitator, and has caused a far larger clubhouse problem, the first fracture in an otherwise magical season.
From Aaron Judge to Aaron Boone, Donaldson’s efforts have not received the same tacit internal endorsement as they have from a certain sect of the Yankees’ fan base.
In a column this week, Joel Sherman of the New York Post laid out why you don’t need to reflexively defend Donaldson’s actions just because you prefer the Yankees to the White Sox. He also compared the slugger to another Yankee without a filter in David Wells, who the Yanks clearly could win a title with, but who also found himself cleared out the winter after his standout season in pinstripes.
Yankees’ Josh Donaldson, David Wells caused the same problem?
"So I will only add this if it matters: Donaldson said he wanted to give “context’’ to his comments by citing that Anderson stated “I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson” in a 2019 Sports Illustrated article. But if we want to give “context,” that was a minor element in the piece. The theme was about Anderson feeling isolated as the lone black American on those White Sox while playing in a league with about a 7 percent black American population. He was invoking Robinson hoping he could be a trailblazer of bringing a style of play that would make black Americans more receptive to playing and watching the game.Even if you think that is audacious, why would a 3-year-old article be on Donaldson’s mind in the middle of a May 2022 game? And who deputized one of the most polarizing players in the sport to retroactively police this? Had Donaldson not noticed he is up to his seventh organization because, in part, he feels the need to say whatever strikes him without much concern about how it will be received?"
Sherman also laser focuses on Donaldson’s propensity to bounce around the league; the Yankees are his sixth MLB team and seventh organization, and the Twins seemed extremely willing to move off his financial commitments this offseason, attaching an MLB starter and intriguing catcher to his contract … in order to immediately spend said money on Carlos Correa.
This also helps draw a parallel to Wells, the ultimate journeyman through the ’90s and 2000s, despite a borderline Hall of Fame career (seriously) packed with antics like purposefully getting ejected from a boiling hot game in Miami with the bullpen short and wearing Babe Ruth’s cap during a regulation game.
In 1998, David Cone made involving and saving Wells his personal goal. It worked. The Yankees won more games than they ever had before, as well as the World Series.
In 2022, someone must now fill the same role in Donaldson’s life, though the third baseman has never shown much interest in being reigned in. For the remainder of the campaign, the Yankees must walk a tightrope between keeping Donaldson fiery and shutting off his valve when he’s about to cross a line.
There’s historical precedent for such a strategy working, but not all that much.