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Yankees ‘Josh Donaldson on incident with White Sox’ Tim Anderson, two weeks later

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Josh Donaldson has been consistent in who he is. The Yankees acquired the veteran third baseman this spring knowing his long track record of on-field success, but he also has a record, at numerous points throughout his 12-year career, of conflict and criticism from teammates and opponents.

“I gotta be myself,” Donaldson said Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. “I play the game a certain way, and I go out there to play, and I play to win.”

Being himself has brought Donaldson an MVP award and three All-Star nominations. It’s also brought him a reputation as a player who doesn’t know how to get along with those around him, who has seemingly all but depleted the reserve of goodwill other players may have to draw from to interpret his words and actions.

Donaldson is currently on the injured list with a shoulder issue, for which he received a cortisone shot last week. He was transferred to the 10-day IL off the COVID-19-IL after coming down with a non-COVID illness. There is a one-game suspension waiting for him when he is activated off the IL. In mid-May, he called White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson “Jackie,” referring to a 2019 quote in which Anderson told a reporter he felt like he was the Jackie Robinson of trying to break baseball’s “have-fun barrier.” Anderson called the comment “disrespectful,” and White Sox manager Tony LaRussa said it was racist. Donaldson has chosen to appeal the MLB punishment.

Illness and a shoulder injury that Donaldson says is just wear-and-tear have given the third baseman time away from the field and, when the team went to St. Petersburg over the weekend, away from his teammates. It’s taken him out of the spotlight for over a week after he once again became the poster boy for running his mouth.

Over the last nearly two weeks, the back-and-forth over Donaldson’s stated intention versus Anderson’s interpretation of his comments has played out without the two parties speaking to one another directly.

Donaldson has said he felt it was a joke between the two players when he first called Anderson “Jackie” in 2019; Donaldson said Wednesday that he recalls it coming up as a “friendly banter back and forth.” Anderson said last week that when Donaldson said it to him in 2019, he told him, “I won’t speak to you and you won’t speak to me if that’s how you’re going to refer to me.”

Throughout roughly 10 minutes of questions and answers on Wednesday about his interpretation of the incident with Anderson, the way former teammates and opponents feel about him, and the way those in the Yankees clubhouse responded to the “Jackie” comment, Donaldson seemed consistently confused about why his actions received the responses they did.

He was asked Wednesday what about their interaction in 2019 made him feel Anderson had interpreted his comment as a joke.

“I think he took it as a banter,” Donaldson said. “It was like a,‘ Hey, you compared yourself to Jackie. What is this? ‘ kind of ordeal. I think he took it as such. That’s how I interpreted it. “

Whether or not there was a misunderstanding between Donaldson and Anderson, Donaldson’s own manager and teammate felt it crossed a line even if, as he has said, it was meant to be.

“When I first heard the name Jackie, I was really taken aback,” Aaron Boone said in May. “Frankly, I was upset about it myself.”

Boone added that hearing Donaldson’s explanation of the context of his comment, he doesn’t “believe there was any malicious intent in that regard. But you know, this is – just in my opinion – somewhere he shouldn’t be going. “

Aaron Judge, who uniformly praises his teammates in public comments even when they make mistakes, said that Donaldson’s decision to call Anderson “Jackie” was a tough one. Joke or not, I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do there. “

Donaldson said the comments from Boone and Judge were “tough to hear.”

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“I pride myself on being a good teammate,” Donaldson said Wednesday. “Everywhere that I went, I’ve won. And I think part of that part of winning is having good team chemistry. I’ve taken pride everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve always tried to help people try to get better. I’ve tried to learn from my teammates as well. So that was definitely tough. ”

The morning after the May game in which Donaldson called Anderson “Jackie,” White Sox closer Liam Hendriks restated his disdain for the Yankees third baseman, and indicated it was a common sentiment around the game.

“My feelings toward the individual in question are pretty well-documented, in that fact that we don’t get along,” Hendriks said. “The fact that I have now spoken to, I think it’s four separate clubhouses that he’s been in, and as a whole, none of them have gotten along.”

Donaldson said Wednesday that he ran into Hendriks in the player parking lot in Chicago earlier in May and “he said, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and gave me a dap. ”

“So, it’s weird. I hear one thing and then when I see him, it’s different. It’s definitely been confusing for that, ”Donaldson continued. “I’m not saying that every one of my teammates I’ve always been best friends with, but when it comes to playing the game and trying to help my teammates, I think you can see by the way that I play the game like I care not just about myself, but I care about trying to do my best to help us win. ”

Donaldson indicated that he felt the sample of former teammates asked about him was not representative of his relationships with players throughout the league, saying Wednesday that “another one of my good teammates, who is still a good friend of mine, is Dallas Keuchel, who was in the same locker room. ”

Keuchel, who played with Donaldson on the 2019 Atlanta Braves, was designated for assignment by the White Sox last week.

“If you talked to him, I guarantee – I think he would have given you a different perspective of me as a teammate,” Donaldson said. “But I can’t control what they say about me.”

Donaldson’s answers Wednesday indicated that he wants to be seen as a well-meaning but intense player with a singular focus on winning on the field. However, now he is in a situation in which there is a wide gulf between his stated intentions and the way others are perceiving his actions. As much as winning and on-field production defines his track record, so, too, does running into conflict with other ballplayers, most of whom are also competitive and interested in winning.

“I don’t know why it got to that point. We haven’t had a lot of conversations – let’s be frank, “Donaldson said of his incident with Anderson. “On the field, we’ve talked and we’ve joked and obviously, Tim is a competitor and he kind of plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

He reflected back on a play he made at third base in Chicago in May. It was a pickoff attempt when Donaldson appeared to attempt to push Anderson off the base, leading to Anderson pushing Donaldson away from him. The benches cleared and the incident was resolved without further escalation. But the White Sox visited New York the next weekend, still angry with Donaldson for the play at third and other grievances from the year prior when Donaldson was with the Twins.

“I think I tried to get out in front of that and say, ‘Hey, like, my bad.’ I felt like I was trying to offer an olive branch and to be like, ‘Hey man, let’s laugh and just clear the tension,’ “Donaldson said. “That’s what I was trying to do. That was my intent. It had nothing to do with trying to bring him down or the race situation. That was not my intention. Talking to some guys, I shouldn’t have put myself and my team in that situation. As I said in my original statement, if (Anderson) took offense to that, I apologize. ”

(Photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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