NEW YORK - Fervently anti-war, Carlos Delgado quietly carried out his personal protest this season, refusing to stand when “God Bless America” was played at ballparks across the majors.
Most fans never saw him disappearing up the dugout tunnel or staying on the bench. And even teammates who disagreed with the Toronto slugger’s political stance accepted his right to call the United States’ invasion of Iraq “the stupidest war ever.”
This week, though, a lot more people noticed.
The Blue Jays played at Yankee Stadium for the first time this year on Wednesday night. It’s the only park in the majors where “God Bless America” has been played every game since the Sept. 11 attacks, a place where active military members are still admitted free.
“I don’t think that will be received too well,” Yankees manager Joe Torre predicted Wednesday before the opener of the two-game series. “Just when Bob Sheppard starts announcing ‘God Bless America,’ they start applauding. If you do call attention to that, it won’t be popular.”
It sure wasn’t.
Delgado was greeted with scattered boos each time he batted — no telling whether that was related to his off-the-field opinions, or his status as an opposing star.
But there were brief chants of “USA! USA!” when he lined out in the top of the seventh. During a moment of silence before Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” was played during the seventh-inning stretch, derisive shouts were made in his direction.
Delgado politely declined to elaborate before Wednesday night’s game, though he said he stood by his previous comments. After the 10-3 loss, he deferred when asked about his remarks and the crowd reaction.
“No, I will not talk about it. Is that OK? Thank you,” he said.
While big leaguers usually come to the top step of the dugout or on to the field to stand in silence during “God Bless America,” Delgado does not make a public show of his stance.
In fact, until the first baseman spoke about the issue in early July to the Toronto Star, many people were not aware of how strongly he felt.
“It’s a very terrible thing that happened on Sept. 11. It’s (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Delgado said at the time. “I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war.
“But I think it’s the stupidest war ever. Who are you fighting against? You’re just getting ambushed now. We have more people dead now after the war than during the war,” he said. “I don’t support what they do. It’s just stupid.”
Delgado, from Puerto Rico, also opposed the U.S. military’s longtime use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for weapons testing.
Delgado’s opinion became more well known to New York fans in a column in The New York Times on Wednesday. In it, he said, “It takes a man to stand up for what he believes.”
“I am not pro-war; I’m anti-war,” he said. “I’m for peace.”
Commissioner Bud Selig said he understood Delgado’s position and that it was a sensitive subject. Selig said he’d like to talk to the Blue Jays’ franchise leader in home runs and RBIs about the issue.
Other athletes have taken similar approaches.
NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets would not stand for the national anthem during the 1995-96 season, which led to an indefinite suspension that was lifted two days later.
Division III basketball player Toni Smith of the Manhattanville women’s team attracted attention for refusing to face the flag during the national anthem in the 2002-03 season.
Most ballparks generally play “God Bless America” on Sunday and holidays, but the Yankees do it at every game. It comes on after Sheppard, the stadium’s longtime public-address announcer, reads a remembrance to the people serving in the military.
There was a chance during this series, Delgado realized, that he might make the final out in the top of the seventh and be on the field when the tribute begins.
“This is my personal feeling. I don’t want to draw attention to myself or go out of my way to protest,” Delgado told the Times. “If I make the last out of the seventh inning, I’ll stand there. But I’d rather be in the dugout.”
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said the team has not gotten any reaction from fans about Delgado’s position. Team president Paul Godfrey has said he respects Delgado’s opinion but opposes his political view.
Standing in the box seats, Yankees fan Barry Phillips disagreed with Delgado, but said he would not boo him.
“I think it’s totally disrespectful,” he said shortly before gametime. “It’s a slap directly in my face, as a New Yorker and an American.”
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