HOUSTON — Yuli Gurriel will have to sit out for making a racist gesture toward Yu Darvish — but not during the World Series.
Major League Baseball suspended the Houston Astros first baseman on Saturday for the first five games next season. The punishment came a day after Gurriel’s actions toward the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher during Game 3.
“I understand that people may have different views,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “But it was my best judgment that this timing was appropriate.”
“I wanted the burden of this discipline to fall primarily on the wrongdoer,” he said.
The Cuban-born Gurriel pulled on the corners of his eyes after homering off Darvish during Houston’s 5-3 win Friday night. He also used a derogatory Spanish term in reference to Darvish, who was born in Japan.
“I made an offensive gesture that was indefensible,” Gurriel said in a statement released by the Astros. “I sincerely apologize to everyone that I offended with my actions. I deeply regret it.”
“I would particularly like to apologize to Yu Darvish, a pitcher that I admire and respect. I would also like to apologize to the Dodgers organization, the Astros, Major League Baseball and to all fans across the game,” he said.
Gurriel said Friday that he wanted to meet with Darvish to express his regret. Manfred said there would be a private apology.
Gurriel will lose $322,581 of his $12 million salary next year, which the Astros will donate to charitable causes. He also will be required to undergo sensitivity training during the offseason.
Immediately after the game, Darvish said he was angry.
“Acting like that, you just disrespect all the people around the world,” he said in Japanese through a translator.
Darvish later tweeted “let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger.”
The 33-year-old Gurriel played in Japan in 2014 and is completing his second season in the major leagues after leaving Cuba.
Darvish was born to a Japanese mother and an Iranian father. The four-time All-Star played professionally in Japan from 2005-11 before joining the Texas Rangers in 2012. He was sent to the Dodgers at this year’s July 31 trade deadline.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the team was “surprised and disappointed” by Gurriel’s behavior and supported Manfred’s decision.
“Yuli has always demonstrated respectful behavior and is extremely remorseful for his actions,” Luhnow said. “Appropriately, Yuli has apologized for his gesture. He had no intention of offending anyone, but now recognizes the perceived offensiveness of his actions.”
MLB suspended two players this season for using slurs. Toronto’s Kevin Pillar and Oakland’s Matt Joyce each were banned two games this season after making anti-gay comments. In 2012, Toronto infielder Yunel Escobar was penalized two games for a gay slur.
“That precedent is not adequate to deal with the current situation,” Manfred said. “I’ve decided to go beyond that precedent as a statement of our disapproval of this behavior.”
Manfred said he was “impressed in my conversation with Yu Darvish by his desire to move forward, and I felt that moving the suspension to the beginning of the season would help in that regard.”
Said Manfred: “There is no place in our game for the behavior or any behavior like the behavior we witnessed last night.”
“There is no excuse or explanation that makes that type of behavior acceptable,” he said.
Manfred would not compare Gurriel’s actions with the Cleveland Indians’ decision to keep using their Chief Wahoo logo, which has been criticized by Native Americans and others.
“I see a difference between behavior from one player directed specifically at a player and a logo,” he said. “While both are problematic, I don’t see them as the same issue. We continue to have conversations with the Indians about the logo, and it’s an issue I intend to deal with in the offseason.”