Sox host Double Duty Classic forum
High school players taught influence of Negro Leagues
CHICAGO -- There was a game to be played.
That's why 35 top inner-city high school baseball talents from across the country arrived on Friday morning wearing replica Negro League All-Star Game caps.
But first, there was a history lesson to be delivered.
That's why those same players donned slacks, button-down shirts and ties in addition to their hats during a special, invitation-only forum inside U.S. Cellular Field's Conference and Learning Center.
On Friday, the White Sox hosted the second annual Double Duty Classic, an event meant not only to promote the next generation of inner-city baseball players, but also to celebrate the history and tradition of Negro League baseball in Chicago.
Hours before the high schoolers were to showcase their skills on the diamond in front of college recruiters and professional scouts, Washington Post sports columnist and Chicago native Michael Wilbon emceed an hour-long forum focusing on the rich heritage of black baseball.
During the event, Wilbon stressed the importance of bringing back baseball in the inner cities, which has waned over the years.
"You look at playgrounds, we think of basketball as being the sport for African-American children and soccer as being the sport for black children," Wilbon said in his opening remarks. "Baseball was the original sport in our communities."
The forum also featured one-time Negro Leaguers Hank Presswood, Walt Owens and Ernest Westfield. The three men shared stories of their time in the Negro Leagues, including Presswood's humorous tale about injuring himself while attempting to swing at Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige's famous hesitation pitch.
Friday's event helped mark the 76th anniversary of the first East-West Negro League All-Star Game, which was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Inner-city high school players from across the country, as well as the White Sox Amateur City Elite travel team, participated in the All-Star showcase, dressing in uniforms honoring the Negro Leagues' East-West All-Star Game.
The event was named after Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who played for the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues. Radcliffe earned his nickname because he would regularly pitch the first game of a doubleheader and catch the second game. Starting in 2002, until the year of his death in Chicago in 2005, Radcliffe threw a ceremonial first pitch prior to a White Sox game.
On hand for Friday's forum was former Negro Leaguer Minnie Minoso, Radcliffe's great-niece, Debra Richards, executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League baseball Jimmie Lee Solomon, and several other local dignitaries.
In the final segment of the forum, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams addressed the youngsters in attendance, telling them that developing character was just as important as developing athletically. He discussed the value of work ethic in both sports and life, citing his post-playing career as an example, when he worked his way up from a scout to being the White Sox GM.
He also thanked the Negro Leaguers for sharing their stories.
"If they didn't make the sacrifices that they did back in the day, I wouldn't be here, you wouldn't be here," Williams said. "Understand it. Treasure it. These men will not be here forever to tell these stories, so it's your responsibility to carry that, and my responsibility as well -- to carry the torch and continue to tell these stories of these great people."
Solomon, who attended for the second straight year, will leave for the All-Star Game in St. Louis on Saturday but said he made a point to circle this particular event on his calendar.
After the function, Solomon spoke highly of Major League Baseball's attempts to bring back baseball in urban communities once again. He said that for the first time in nearly two decades, statistics were beginning to indicate an increase in black baseball players on the field. Solomon credited, in part, the efforts of teams like the White Sox, as well as programs such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI).
"Now I'm not going to say any one of those programs did it," Solomon said. "But a confluence of all these programs and all this excitement, I think, is really making a lot of kids focus on what the White Sox are doing, and these opportunities are now available for many urban youth and minority youth that would not have been available for them earlier."
Owens, who played with the Detroit Stars from 1955-57, wanted Friday's event to leave a lasting impression on the high schoolers.
"I hope that we touch some, so that if they're not good enough to become ballplayers that they'll continue to get their education. See, all these guys are going to become coaches. They'll have kids. Hopefully they'll come through and help others."
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.