MLB honors civil rights pioneers
Major League Baseball has made significant strides from the days of segregation and bigotry, but some of the sport's top figures say the work is not complete.
Commissioner Bud Selig, Hall of Famers and current players honored Jackie Robinson and other civil rights heroes at an awards luncheon in downtown Chicago before MLB's Civil Rights Game between the White Sox and the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.
''We salute the pioneers who enriched our game and, by extension, our culture,'' Selig said. ''Their courage, their leadership, were vital in the transformation of baseball into the social institution that it is today. They were among the many brave souls who helped change the direction of our nation.''
Weekend events, sponsored by the Chicago White Sox, coincided with commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's landmark ''I Have a Dream'' speech.
The Beacon Awards honored retired major leaguer Bo Jackson and entertainer Aretha Franklin.
Selig praised the legacy of Robinson, who broke color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
''The dawn of Jackie's career remains baseball's proudest and most powerful moment,'' Selig said. ''Our game has set Jackie's legacy on a pedestal, allowing each new generation to learn how one baseball player changed the course of the United States of America through the sheer power of his magnificent example.''
Robinson's Number 42 has been retired by all 30 Major League Baseball clubs.
After retiring in 1957, Robinson switched to private business. But daughter Sharon said Robinson also committed himself as a fundraiser for the NAACP and as a civil rights activist.
''We as a family have to have a legacy and our legacy is social change,'' Sharon Robinson said her father told her. ''And our first mission as a family out into the movement is going to be the (1963) March on Washington. That was my brothers' and my introduction to the Civil Rights movement.
''So that 50th anniversary means a great deal to me because it not only changed America but it changed my family.''
Frank Robinson, who broke color barrier as MLB's first African-American manager, related a conversation he had about responsibility with Jackie Robinson following the Dodger legend's retirement.
''I sat down with him and talked for a couple of hours about baseball and life and the game away from the field,'' said Frank Robinson, now an MLB executive. ''We talked about life away from the field and what responsibilities me coming in (to manage) and the people of my color appearing in the game at the time.''
Current Texas manager Ron Washington has a team with players from nine different nations. Still, Robinson's message resonates.
''It's very important and the one thing we try to do each and every day is make sure that they understand the history of the game so they can be thankful of where they are and what they're capable of doing,'' Washington said. ''Because at one time they couldn't do it.''
Former home run king Hank Aaron said baseball needs to continue to ensure minority players feel welcome.
''I think about is all the trials and tribulations that Jackie Robinson went through,'' Aaron said. ''For me to come back and break a record like the one that Babe Ruth held for such a long time showed that everybody — if given the same opportunity to play this game — can do the same thing.''