NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Continuing Major League Baseball’s newest preseason tradition, the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets will meet in the second annual Civil Rights Game on March 29, 2008, at Memphis’ AutoZone Park.Details of the game were announced at a Monday evening media conference led by Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB’s baseball operations executive vice president, at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center, site of the annual Winter Meetings.
Flanking Solomon on the dais was an appropriately diverse group representing the participating teams, each of whom humbly welcomed the opportunity to share the reflective spotlight.
Mets manager Willie Randolph talked of the “sense of pride” he gets from the game. Ozzie Guillen, his White Sox counterpart, felt “great to be a part of this.”
Both general managers, Ken Williams of the White Sox and Omar Minaya of the Mets, expressed gratitude for the invitation to participate in the 2008 Civil Rights Game, which already has a difficult act to follow.
“This year’s event was tremendous,” Solomon said, “and I know next year will carry on that tradition.”
With its inaugural game last March, the Civil Rights Game instantly became a significant MLB milestone, a symbolic eternal torch commemorating the struggle for racial harmony near where the most painful obstacle had been thrown in its path.
AutoZone Park, the 7-year-old home of the Memphis Redbirds, St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate, sits six city blocks from the National Civil Rights Museum, site of the former Lorraine Motel at which Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
The inaugural game’s success — not only a 5-1 Cardinals win over the Indians, but also of the socially conscious events surrounding it — assured its continuity as a yearly affair.
“It was a proud moment for all of baseball,” Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said Monday, “and I am excited that two great franchises have committed to carry on this significant tradition. Major League Baseball and its players have contributed immensely to this movement and will continue to play an important role in our society’s social history.”
Williams called it “a tremendous honor.” Minaya said the Mets were “honored to be participating.”
“The role baseball has played in promoting civil rights and cultural change in this country has great personal significance for me and for many other members of the White Sox organization,” said Williams, one of MLB’s two current African-American GMs, along with Tony Reagins of the Los Angeles Angels.
“Baseball’s history and tradition need to be remembered, celebrated and constantly re-evaluated by everyone connected with the game,” Williams added. “The Civil Rights Game provides us all with an annual opportunity to do just that, and we look forward to playing in this year’s exhibition contest against the Mets.”
“Since the days of Jackie Robinson, baseball has been at the forefront of social change in this country, and this game is just another example that our sport understands the significance of paying the proper respect to such an important part of American history,” said Minaya, the Queens-reared but Dominican Republic-born GM of the Mets.
Williams remarked that one of the things to which he most looks forward is a tour of the Civil Rights Museum — which Minaya already has experienced.
“To walk through those halls … it reminded me how fortunate I am to be part of this game,” Minaya said. “We’re all here through the graces of a lot of men of courage.
“This game,” Minaya added, referring specifically to the Civil Rights Game, “is a chance to think about the others. It’s a moment of reflection not only for baseball, but for society.”
As was the case last March, the nationally televised (ESPN) Saturday exhibition between the White Sox and the Mets will culminate a two-day celebration of baseball’s part in a significant movement only begun in 1947 when Jackie Robinson crossed baseball’s own color line.
On March 28, an MLB-hosted panel discussion on “Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement” at the National Civil Rights Museum will be moderated by Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree.
That evening, the second MLB Beacon Awards will be presented at a fund-raising banquet. Charter recipients of the awards, presented to individuals for significant contributions to civil rights around the world, were Vera Clemente, the widow of Pirates’ Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, filmmaker Spike Lee and, posthumously, Negro League star Buck O’Neil.
Monday night’s announcements came only four days after The McLendon Foundation, comprised of the nation’s scholastic athletic directors, had honored the baseball Commissioner’s ongoing efforts on behalf of minorities with creation of the annual Allan H. (Bud) Selig Mentoring Award.
Past progress, and a forum for its commemoration, is fine, noted Williams, who asked for people to enable the Civil Rights Game to become even more.
“I would like to remind all involved with this game that we still have civil rights issues in this country day-to-day,” said the erudite White Sox executive. “While we reflect on the past, let’s try to continue the progress that matches it.”