WASHINGTON — President Trump honored the World Series champion Boston Red Sox – well, some of them – at the White House on Thursday, but made no mention of the controversy that shadowed the visit.

The team’s manager, Alex Cora, did not attend the ceremony after citing his frustration with the administration’s efforts to help his native Puerto Rico recover from a devastating hurricane. And nearly a dozen members of the team, all players of color, skipped the opportunity to shake Trump’s hand. Meanwhile, every white player on the team – as well as outfielder J.D. Martinez, who is of Cuban descent – attended.

The Red Sox repeatedly denied that there was any sort of racial divide caused by the White House visit, which has been transformed from moment of celebratory ritual to hyper-politicized event under Trump. And there was no sign of discord during the rained-upon ceremony on the White House South Lawn.

The U.S. Marine Corps band played versions of “Dirty Water” and “Sweet Caroline,” two unofficial Red Sox anthems. A derogatory shout about the Red Sox rival, the New Yankees, was heard. Trump was presented with a Red Sox jersey with the number 18 on the back.

Donald Trump, J.D. Martinez

Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Martinez presents a team jersey to President Trump during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

And while the White House incorrectly labeled the team as the “Red Socks” on its website earlier in the day, Trump himself stuck to the correct script, honoring the team’s dominant run to the title.

“Frankly, they were unstoppable. I watched,” said Trump, who noted that the squad had now won more World Series titles than any other franchise this century. He laughed when Martinez teased him for being a Yankees fan.

The president was accompanied by two of the team’s stars, Martinez and pitcher Chris Sale, from the Oval Office and joined the rest of the team assembled under the South Portico. The team’s third base coach, Carlos Febles, who is from the Dominican Republic, stood two rows behind the president. And dozens of administration officials and members of government, many of whom hail from the six New England states, stood on the lawn to cheer.

Tom Werner, the team’s chairman, downplayed the no-shows, saying that it was each player’s personal decision whether to attend.

“We don’t see it as a racial divide,” he said after the team received a post-ceremony tour of the Lincoln Bedroom. “I think, to the extent that we can, baseball is apolitical.”

A championship team’s coach rarely, if ever, misses the White House visit, a tradition that began in earnest in 1924 when then-President Calvin Coolidge invited the Washington Senators. Cora had considered attending Thursday’s White House event to call attention to the plight of those in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria is estimated to have caused nearly 3,000 deaths. But in the end, he opted not to go.

“Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting,” Cora said in a statement. “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 Maria struck. I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten, and my absence is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.”

Those around the Red Sox locker room stressed that a player’s decision to attend was a personal choice and not, in many cases, political.

“Politically, it didn’t matter who was in the White House. If I have an opportunity to go to the White House and meet the president, I’m going to go,” relief pitcher Heath Hembree said Wednesday. “Nobody tried to persuade me. They have their reasons why not to go.”

Having also won World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013, the Red Sox – who also visited wounded veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Thursday – have been honored at the White House under both Republican and Democratic presidents. But the events have taken on sharp political overtones since Trump took office.

When the New England Patriots visited in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, far fewer players attended than when the franchise won a title during Barack Obama’s presidency. After several players on the Philadelphia Eagles and Golden State Warriors publicly declared that they would skip White House ceremonies, Trump disinvited the teams. Trump has also instituted a new tradition for the ceremonies, scrapping gourmet meals in favor of offering plates of fast food to the athletes.

 

 


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