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03/29/08 6:48 PM ET

Award a surprise only to Reinsdorf

White Sox chairman widely known for progressive thinking

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- During the course of Jerry Reinsdorf's 72 years, he has been surprised exactly three times, by his recollection.

"Once, when I was 50, there was a party for me, and the second time was when Paulie [Konerko] gave me the ball," said Reinsdorf, referring to the White Sox first baseman presenting him with the baseball from the final out of the 2005 World Series on the stage of the 2.5 million-strong victory celebration for the champions in Chicago.

"Then, there was last night," added the White Sox chairman with a smile. "Paulie giving me the ball is still No. 1, but I was surprised last night, really stunned."

Reinsdorf's third surprise came at the close of Friday night's Beacon Awards, held at the Peabody Hotel, as part of this weekend's Civil Rights Game festivities. Reinsdorf was given a special award for his commitment to diversity within the sport during his close to three decades of involvement with Major League Baseball, as presented by Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's vice president of baseball operations.

In looking at the program before the evening's events transpired, Reinsdorf saw the special award listed at the bottom but never gave a second thought to the honorary plaque containing his name. When Solomon punctuated a description of Reinsdorf's progressive nature by stating, "Not bad for a kid from Flatbush," one thought went through Reinsdorf's mind.

"I said, 'Oh ... it's me. Now, what am I supposed to say?'" said Reinsdorf with a laugh, re-telling the story during his team's Saturday morning visit to the Civil Rights Museum.

Friday's surprise rang true for everyone associated with the White Sox attending the Beacon Awards. But Reinsdorf's body of work speaks for itself as a deserving recipient.

"Jerry's a very progressive man and very socially conscious," said White Sox general manager Ken Williams of his boss, who presided over the first African-American general manager/manager combination when Williams and Jerry Manuel ran the White Sox.

"I'm not afraid to admit I've learned a lot about civil rights and equality, subjects and issues not relegated to people of color," added Williams of his longtime association with Reinsdorf.

Hours before receiving Friday's special recognition, Reinsdorf sat in an auditorium at the Civil Rights Museum and watched his general manager take part in a roundtable discussion entitled 'Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement.' The roundtable included five other highly distinguished panelists.

In fact, Williams admitted to looking to his left on the dais and seeing Martin Luther King III, Hank Aaron and Sharon Robinson (daughter of Jackie Robinson), and then looking to his right and seeing Ambassador Shabazz (daughter of Malcolm X), and joked that he wondered where he fit in. But Williams spoke eloquently during the two-hour session about not just sports and minorities, but the problems facing children in modern times and having them ready for life aside from athletic competition.

"There are greater issues at play than just the topic of baseball standing alone," said Williams, who also was joined by Mets general manager Omar Minaya in the roundtable. "I know my role. I know I'm a spokesman for baseball. I'm also a person that sees what's happening to some of our younger generations, and it scares the heck out of me.

"It was very powerful, inspirational," added Williams of being part of a panel including the daughter of Malcolm X and the son of Martin Luther King. "You certainly understand being in [that] building and being with people who have sacrificed as much as all of the people on the panel have -- and also doing so with such style and grace."

Williams also met Aaron for the first time. It wasn't exactly a surprise, like Reinsdorf's award, but instead another part of this memorable day.

"Humbled is mostly what I felt, but also inspired and something more," Williams said. "It was a great dialogue, and ultimately a great place to start."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.