Anthony Rendon wanted to make one thing perfectly clear. He did not skip the Washington Nationals’ visit to the White House as any kind of political protest, or out of any objection to President Trump.
“I wanted to go so bad,” Rendon said. “Obviously, being from Texas, I think you guys know which kinds of views we lean toward.”
Rendon was one of eight players who did not join the Nationals when the newest World Series champions visited the White House last month.
After the Angels introduced the star third baseman at a news conference in Anaheim on Saturday, Rendon said his absence was a matter of logistics and joked that it might have represented “a little payback” for Trump skipping a golf date in spring training.
The Nationals staged their championship parade on a Saturday, and Rendon said he previously had been told that the White House visit would be the following Wednesday.
Rendon had planned to fly to his Houston home that weekend and return to Washington on Wednesday. When he learned that the White House visit had been changed to Monday, he said, he already had plans with friends and family in Houston.
Rendon would have been happy to see Trump. In fact, Rendon said, Washington teammates Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman had been invited to play a round of golf with the president months earlier at Trump International Golf Club, eight miles from the Nationals’ spring home in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“He actually bailed on Strasburg, Zim and I in spring training. We were supposed to golf together and he didn’t show up,” Rendon said, smiling. “Maybe that was a little payback.”
Forty days ago, the Nationals visited the White House, a traditional rite of championship passage. The visit is usually a lighthearted oasis from the political grind, no matter the party with which the president is affiliated.
In 2003, in his sixth day as the Angels’ owner, Arte Moreno joined the team in its White House celebration of the 2002 World Series championship.
“It’s pretty quick how things happen in America,” President George W. Bush, himself a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers, told Moreno. “You buy the team, now you’re at the White House.”
The Angels presented Bush with a jersey with his name on the back, the president made sure a guest waved a rally monkey, and the players got to take pictures in the Oval Office.
In this bitterly polarized political climate, and in this presidency, however, what historically has been a happily nonpartisan event has divided players, teams and leagues.
After the Golden State Warriors expressed their reluctance to celebrate their 2017 NBA title at the White House, Trump told them they were no longer invited.
In 2018, when it became clear that very few players from the Philadelphia Eagles would attend a Super Bowl championship celebration, Trump also told them they were no longer invited.
In 2018, after the Warriors won another title, they visited former President Obama instead.
In addition to Rendon, Nationals players who skipped the White House visit included pitchers Sean Doolittle, Javy Guerra, Joe Ross and Wander Suero, infielder Wilmer Difo and outfielders Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Doolittle said he had thought hard about his decision. He said he hoped that the teammates that chose to go would enjoy their visit.
“At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to be there with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can’t do it,” he said. “I just can’t do it.”
Doolittle, who has hosted Syrian refugees for Thanksgiving, is not shy about his liberal politics. But he said his decision was less about Trump’s policies than about what he called “divisive rhetoric” that pushed Americans apart rather than united them.
“I have a brother-in-law who has autism, and [Trump] is a guy that mocked a disabled reporter,” Doolittle told the Post. “How would I explain that to him, that I hung out with somebody who mocked the way that he talked or the way that he moves his hands? I can’t get past that stuff.”