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06/20/09 8:23 PM EST

Selig 'very proud' of Civil Rights Game

Commissioner pleased with tribute's debut in regular season

CINCINNATI -- Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig indicated on Saturday that the Civil Rights Game has become a staple of the baseball calendar.

The Civil Rights Game is in its third year of observance, and its first year in a Major League venue, in this case Great American Ball Park. A capacity crowd watched the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox play in the game on Saturday night. While the game is the culmination of the weekend schedule, other related events are also taking on increased importance and visibility.

Saturday's Beacon Awards luncheon, with awards being presented to American icons Henry Aaron, Muhammad Ali and Bill Cosby, would have been a feature attraction under any circumstances. The importance of this event was underscored by the prominence of its keynote speaker, former president William Jefferson Clinton.

The luncheon was an event rich in meaning and emotion. If it stressed baseball's role in the struggle for civil rights, it also focused on how much work has yet to be done in this area.

"We're very proud of this event," Selig said. "It's come a long, long way in a short period of time. I'm delighted to be here, particularly with people who deserve the praise and recognition. This has been really a wonderful day. It has really been an honor and a pleasure to be here.

"The luncheon today was overwhelming, a wonderful human experience. President Bill Clinton gave a very poignant speech at the luncheon and told me, too, how much he enjoyed being here. It was really a highlight of the luncheon.

"The guys we presented the awards to -- Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali and Bill Cosby -- with all they've done for the civil rights movement, it was really touching. I know I presented the award to Hank, and he and I have done a lot of events over the past 52 years, but I don't think I've ever seen him as emotional as he was today. It was really a great experience."

Selig noted also Friday's roundtable discussion on baseball's role in the civil rights movement as an essential portion of the weekend. And he pointed to an outreach program intended to increase the participation of African-American youths in baseball as another important component.

"Earlier today, [Reds players] Brandon Phillips and Jerry Hairston Jr. helped us launch a new program called 'Wanna Play,' which will enhance our efforts to bring the game of baseball to African-American kids and teens," Selig said. "As all of you know, we are building academies all over the country, we have the RBI [Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities] program, we have a myriad of things working to increase that participation. So feel very good about where we are. This is another program that, thankfully, has worked well."

Selig thanked the Reds organization for "an extraordinary job" in helping to put the weekend's events together. And the Commissioner said that the underlying goals of the weekend -- to honor and recall baseball's role in the civil rights movement, as well as to honor and recall all those involved in this struggle -- had been met.

"Our goal this weekend is to pay tribute to all those who fought, on and off the field, for the rights of Americans to live equally," Selig said. "I think it's been articulated in a myriad of ways, very, very well."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.