Athletics

Sonny Gray brushes off false trade rumor as A's blank Indians

Sonny Gray brushes off false trade rumor as A's blank Indians

OAKLAND — A cell phone can be the worst enemy for a ballplayer trying to get in the competitive frame of mind before first pitch.

Sonny Gray had his next to him leading up to Friday night’s start.

He probably wishes he hadn’t.

Less than an hour before game time at the Coliseum, Gray’s phone lit up with text messages from friends and loved ones who saw a false tweet coming out of Chicago that the A’s right-hander had been scratched against the Cleveland Indians, leading to all kinds of speculation that a trade was in the works.

“It’s hard,” Gray said. “You get 50 text messages 45 minutes before the game, and that’s when you just try to put your phone away and go to a place where you can block everything out and get ready for the game. So that’s kind of what I tried to do.”

About the only place he’ll be able to escape those rumors is when he walks to the mound. Gray set the distractions aside Friday and provided yet another stellar effort, bottling up the Cleveland Indians over six innings in Oakland’s 5-0 victory coming out of the All-Star break.

Over the past four starts, Gray is 3-1 and has surrendered just four earned runs in 27 innings for a 1.33 ERA. If you throw out an abbreviated one-inning outing in Anaheim in September of last season, Friday marked Gray’s first scoreless start since Sept. 8, 2015 against Houston. But it’s merely an extension of the excellent form he’s shown lately.

The downside of that success — no starter in the majors has more speculation swirling around him as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

Gray has downplayed things after some previous starts when the trade topic has come up. On Friday night, he didn’t hide the fact that the bogus pregame report bothered him a bit.

But he says it never got to the point where he went and asked anyone A’s-affiliated if he indeed he had been scratched and didn’t know it.

“I mean, it would be nice to have (some clarity), I guess, but that’s not how it works,” Gray said.

He wasn’t the only Athletic trade target who stood out Friday. Yonder Alonso crushed his 21st home run. Relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson both continued to exhibit their sharp form.

Shopping season has begun for contending teams, and the A’s “For Sale” sign is up. But it will take a boatload in return for a team to land Gray. The A’s have some leverage — a starter who is still young (27) and under team control for two more seasons after this. And with the Cubs coughing up two prime-time prospects to the White Sox in a package to get Jose Quintana — a starter with similar value as Gray — the A’s asking price gets steeper.

Whether a team ponies up to meet their high demand is the key to whether the A’s pull the trigger. After stocking up on young pitchers over the past couple of years, indications are the A’s would now like to get their hands on young, impact position players.

And it makes sense they would want prospects who are major league ready now, or very close to it. The outfield remains an area that needs upgrading.

Until then, Gray will do his best to keep his cell phone out of sight and ignore the rumors. “It’s just one of those things that you have to deal with sometimes,” he said. “Whatever happens is gonna happen, and that’s out of my control.”

Bruce Maxwell: Kneeling for anthem not 'disrespecting my country or my flag'

Bruce Maxwell: Kneeling for anthem not 'disrespecting my country or my flag'

OAKLAND — Bruce Maxwell’s gesture to take a knee during the national anthem Saturday night at the Coliseum was no knee-jerk reaction by the A’s catcher.

It was something he’s considered for a long time, balancing his own personal convictions to make a statement with how it might affect his teammates and organization.

Think it was bold of Maxwell to become the first player in baseball to kneel during the anthem, in protest of racial discrimination and the inflammatory remarks of President Trump? It took just as much guts to stand before his teammates, manager Bob Melvin and GM David Forst and explain why he felt he needed to do it.

He did so in a pregame meeting Saturday that made for a degree of discomfort in the room, but also seemed to have played out in a healthy way.

“I didn’t want them to sugarcoat or aid me when it comes to the media and their personal feelings,” Maxwell said, “because the whole point of this is the ability to protest (based on) our personal beliefs and our personal choices.”

Many athletes have been critical of the President, with things intensifying across the sports landscape Saturday after Trump, among other things, withdrew an invitation for the Warriors to visit the White House and harshly criticized athletes who have knelt during the anthem, saying they should be booted off their teams.

After blasting Trump on both Instagram and Twitter, Maxwell took the field for the anthem and took the action that will define him in the eyes of the baseball world. Maxwell had been wanting to make a statement in some way. He said he and his sister dealt with racial discrimination growing up. Watching Trump’s rally play out in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala. on Friday further persuaded Maxwell to finally do so.

“This goes beyond the black community, it goes beyond the Hispanic community, because right now we’re having … a racial divide in all types of people,” said Maxwell, who is African American. “It’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country and it’s basically saying it’s OK to treat people differently. And my kneeling, the way I did it, was to symbolize the fact that I’m kneeling for a cause. But I’m in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.”

A’s outfielder Mark Canha stood next to Maxwell during the anthem with his hand on Maxwell’s shoulder, a show of support. Canha said he’s considered kneeling before in protest himself but had chosen not to. As he listened to Maxwell address the team, Canha wasn’t going to let his teammate make his statement on his own.

“I could tell he was getting kind of choked up and emotional about his beliefs and how he feels about the racial discrimination that’s going on in this country right now,” Canha said. “I felt like every fiber of my being was telling me that he needed a brother today.”

Canha added that he sensed some “discomfort” in the room as Maxwell addressed the team. But he also said there was support.

“It was an open forum to ask him questions. It was as articulate as I’ve seen him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “This wasn’t an emotional thing just today for him. … I think he handled it really well and everybody was comfortable after the session. I’m proud of him for the fact he went about it the way he did.”

Maxwell, who was born in Germany while his father served in the Army over there, said he will continue to kneel for the anthem. He doesn’t expect his teammates to do the same, only to stick to what they believe in.

“I have plenty of family members, including my father, who have bled for this country,” Maxwell said. “At the end of the day, this the best country on the planet. My hand over my heart symbolized that I am, and will forever be, an American citizen. But my kneeling is what’s getting the attention because I’m kneeling for the people that don't have a voice.”

MLB issues statement on A's Bruce Maxwell kneeling during national anthem

MLB issues statement on A's Bruce Maxwell kneeling during national anthem

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history Saturday night in Oakland. The 26-year-old became the first player in big-league history to kneel during the national anthem. 

Below is the official statement from Major League Baseball:

Major League Baseball has a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of our games. We also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions. We believe that our game will continue to bring our fans, their communities and our players together.

MLB media services contributed to this report