Civil Rights Game reminder of struggles
Mets, White Sox will play in second annual exhibition contest
NASHVILLE -- Baseball's best moment had nothing to do with a perfect game or a record-setting home run or even a World Series.
Baseball's best moment was the appearance of Jackie Robinson in a Major League game, an event that changed not only a sport, but the possibilities of an entire society.
This was a moment when baseball truly led in a positive direction. With that in mind, the fact that the Civil Rights Game has become an annual undertaking rather than a one-time event is particularly good news.
The official announcement of the second annual Civil Rights Game was made on Monday at the Winter Meetings. The two teams involved are perfect choices, by reasons of diversity -- the Chicago White Sox, with general manager Ken Williams, an African-American, and manager Ozzie Guillen, a Venezuelan; and the New York Mets, with general manager Omar Minaya, born in the Dominican Republic, and manager Willie Randolph, an African-American.
The White Sox were such an ideal choice for the Civil Rights Game that Williams said with a smile: "I still think we should have been in the first game, but we're over that now and we'll move on."
The inaugural Civil Rights Game was played in March between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians. The second Civil Rights Game will be played on March 29, once again in Memphis, Tenn., at AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cardinals.
The game is important for what it symbolizes -- in baseball and in all of American society, for that matter. "This is not just a game of baseball, this is a moment of reflection for all of America," Minaya said.
"If not for the struggle of civil rights, what Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson went through, we wouldn't be sitting here today," Randolph said.
Baseball's historical heritage goes way beyond the segregated Major League game that was played before Robinson's arrival in 1947. Guillen, more than impressed by a visit to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, suggested that a visit to the museum ought to be mandatory for every Major League team that plays the Royals.
In the same way, a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis ought to be mandatory, for, well, everybody who goes to Memphis. The Civil Rights Game is being played by the right teams and in the right place.
And, as Williams was kind enough to point out, the occasion of the Civil Rights Game ought to be about even more than a long look backward at the history of civil rights in baseball and in America.
"So often when I hear the term 'civil rights,' it's referred back to past days," Williams said. "I would just like to remind everyone who is reporting on the game that we still have civil rights issues in this country that we are dealing with on a daily basis right now."
For that reason, too, the Civil Rights Game is important for baseball. It recalls a time when baseball led society, but it reminds everyone involved of the work that still needs to be done.
In either case, this is much more than an exhibition game. Its renewal is both good news for the game and necessary for the game.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.