Friday, February 21, 2014
Young and Talented
There are four Sox players on Baseball America‘s 2014 Top 100 Prospects list. Here they are with the publication’s ranking and comments:
No. 29: Jose Abreu, 1B/DH – Signed to a major league contract, Abreu has higher expectations than most on this list. The White Sox are counting on him to make the majors and hit in the middle of the lineup.
No. 63: Erik Johnson, RHP — Listen to Don Cooper. Chicago’s major league pitching coach knows his stuff and should bring the most out of Johnson and his premium slider.
No. 72: Matt Davidson, 3B (pictured below) — Davidson’s new organization gives him a shot at a big league job.
No 91: Marcus Semien, SS/2B/3B – Semien will battle Matt Davidson and Conor Gillaspie for the third-base job in Chicago, but he likely is headed to Triple-A to play all three infield spots and continue to show he has the bat to be more than a utilityman.
White Sox advance scout Bryan Little (aka Twig) was the target of some good-natured ribbing recently. One of the reasons Twig is in camp each spring is to work with our hitters on bunting (and was seen today working with Alejandro De Aza and Adam Eaton) a skill at which he excelled during his time in the big leagues.
But while his bunting prowess was well-known and well-respected, Little wasn’t exactly a feared hitter overall. And the other day, the topic of Billy Martin and his riding of Twig many years ago came up in our clubhouse.
“Be careful,” Martin use to yell, teasingly, from the Yankee dugout. “He might swing.”
Martin used to threaten to bunch all of his fielders around the mound when Twig came to the plate.
Pitching coach Don Cooper goes for long walks each morning in camp. And what motivates him?
“I imagine having to take 10 trips to the mound during a game in Oakland,” Coop laughs. “Because that’s the longest walk in the league.”
It can’t get tougher than that!
A Little Too Much Information
According to Robin, Avi Garcia was sidelined today and likely out tomorrow with an in-grown toenail. A relieved Garcia was showing off the sliver of nail (removed by a podiatrist) to anyone in camp who has the stomach to look. Most people thought it was gross.
Back in Action
Having been sidelined with a strained glute, a happy Nate Jones returned to the mound –albeit briefly — today and took part in several drills.
On the Rebound
John Danks drew attention today.
“Johnny looked good today,” Ventura said, noting that both his velocity and strength were impressive. “Last year, I’m sure he came in here not as strong as he’d like to be. He’s in a better spot this year compared with last.”
White Sox pitchers and catchers began the process of signing baseballs, photos and jerseys for the club’s community relations efforts throughout the year. By getting the signings done in spring training, the club has a stockpile of items to donate to charity and for good causes while the players don’t need to worry about signing too much stuff once the season begins.
Quote of the Day
@CST_soxvan: Hit coach Steverson on Abreu’s swing: “He has a good path, ability to move barrel around zone. Inside, outside, down the middle…It has a nice shape to it. Pretty compact & he stays through ball pretty well. It’s all about approach to use swing & he has good approach”
Photo of the Day
No. 29 prospect Abreu taking BP.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Paulie met with the media this morning before the first day of his final spring training as the full squad reported to camp. As he walked under a tunnel on his way into the clubhouse after practice, a Chicago sports reporter began his taped report with, “As Paul Konerko walks into the sunset …” Tough love.
Words of wisdom from PK:
On Avi Garcia: “He has the potential to be a monster in this league.”
His advice to the young players on the Sox: “You only get one stab at this.”
Robin Addresses the Troops
Ventura’s message to his players today:
“It was more about being ready, getting your mind ready. It’s a long season, and if you don’t have your mind made up going in that you’re preparing for a season, in the right frame of mind as an organization and team, you’re going in the wrong direction. So when you’re doing drills you have to make sure your mind is ready and you’re doing the right things to get better.”
Quote of the Day
Pitcher Felipe Paulino had a long conversation before today’s team meeting with two Chicago front office staffers about the winter weather and driving.
“Because when we get even a little snow or ice in Houston, no one drives,” Paulino explained.
Play of the Day
During his final swing of BP today, Konerko blooped a pitch from Matt Lindstrom down the right field line. “Triple!” pitching coach Don Cooper immediately called out.
Konerko tipped his cap.
Photo of the Day
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Now Pitching for the White Sox…
That’s Robin in the above photo throwing BP today, while coach Joe McEwing takes charge of infield practice.
Hitters in camp early experienced the joy of facing live pitching today, with Jose Abreu and Avi Garcia drawing Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others. How’s that for a welcome to the big leagues for Abreu?
“How’s “take” practice going?” a coach asked as he walked up to the cage to see most hitters just tracking pitches.
“No one likes it,” said another about that first time in the cage against live pitching, “But you have to do it.”
White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham spent most of the winter in Chicago and a little time back home in Atlanta.
“I’m just happy to get outside and move around,” he said.
Beckham’s timing this winter was horrible. After surviving a brutal Chicago winter, he escaped in time to land in Atlanta for the ice storm that shut down the city.
Garcia stood next to Abreu at the batting cage today and made an impression.
“Avi Garcia managed to make Abreu look small and that’s not easy,” an observer noted. Here are the new teammates.
Quote of the Day
@ESPNChiSox: (Andre) Rienzo got Abreu to fly out twice during last spring’s WBC. Said Rienzo: “I told him we’re on the same team now and friends so forget it.”
Play of the Day
Garcia may have made Abreu look small, but when Sale saw the size of Jose as the slugger stepped into the batter’s box he kiddingly asked for someone to come out and relieve him.
Sox Note of Note
Adam Dunn will be wearing uniform number 44 this season (instead of 32), the number he wore with the Reds and Nationals.
First day of full-squad workouts.
Photo of the Day
Chris is a happy camper.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Sights and Sounds in Sox camp
Gordon Beckham, Adam Eaton, Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie are among those who have just arrived in camp in anticipation of Thursday’s first full squad workout…Beckham has a new look. He put on muscle over the Winter and is sporting a beard. He also admitted that he may have to relinquish his “Best Hair on the Sox” distinction to new teammate Matt Davidson…More Beckham: Gordon has a nickname for Eaton–the Gremlin…Speaking of nicknames, Eaton says his Sox teammates call Jose Abreu “Oso,” (which is bear in Spanish) because of his size, and “Yogi” because he resembles the famed cartoon character…While we’re on the subject of Abreu, Sox strength and conditioning coach Allen Thomas, per a tweet by CSN’s Chuck Garfien, says Jose is usually the first player in camp and the last to go. Thomas also says that Abreu’s mental focus reminds him of fellow Cubans and former Sox pitchers Jose Contreras and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez…More Abreu from Garfien: He’s dedicating part of each day to learning English so he can eventually do interviews in English. Jose met with the media today.
Prospect Profile: Keon Barnum
Play of the Day
Warning shouted to pitchers and catchers throwing beyond the left field fence as Jose Abreu launched several massive home runs during today’s BP.
Quote of the Day
Robin on watching Abreu hit:
“He has more of a professional approach for being a big guy. He’s not worried about hitting every ball over the fence. He’s moving it around the field and hitting it on the barrel…You’re looking at a guy who knows what he’s doing and has a plan when he goes in there.”
Photo of the Day
Certainly an appropriate number for a leadoff hitter (photo courtesy of @ChuckGarfien).
Monday, February 17, 2014
The Sox pitching coach was the center of attention today. Among his comments? Erik Johnson is “firmly” penciled into the starting rotation.
Flowers and Phegley: A Friendly Rivalry
Happy Presidents Day
Just for fun, we looked up all the former White Sox who shared last names with U.S. Presidents. I posted last year and now it just might be a Presidents Day tradition. The one addition this year is Erik Johnson.
Bobby Adams 3B 1955
Doug Adams C 1969
Herb Adams OF 1948-1950
Jeff Carter P 1991
Gene Ford P 1938
Jimmy Grant 3B 1942-1943
Frankie Hayes C 1946
Jackie Hayes 2B 1932-1940
Bo Jackson DH 1991-1993
Charlie Jackson PH 1915
Darrin Jackson LF 1994, 1999
Edwin Jackson P 2010-2011
Joe Jackson OF 1915-1920
Mike Jackson P 2004
Ron Jackson 1B 1954-1959
Jesse Jefferson P 1975-1976
Bart Johnson P 1969-1977
Charles Johnson C 2000
Connie Johnson P 1953-1956
Dan Johnson 1B 2012
Dane Johnson P 1994
Darrell Johnson C 1952
Deron Johnson DH 1975
Don Johnson P 1954
Erik Johnson P 2013
Ernie Johnson SS 1912, 1921-1923
Johnny Johnson P 1945
Lamar Johnson 1B 1974-1981
Lance Johnson OF 1988-1995
Larry Johnson C 1978
Mark Johnson C 1998-2002
Randy Johnson DH 1980
Stan Johnson OF 1960
Bob Kennedy OF 1939-1948
Vern Kennedy P 1934-1937
Larry Monroe P 1976
Billy Pierce P 1949-1961
Leo Taylor PR 1923
Wiley Taylor P 1912
Claudell Washington OF 1978-1980
George Washington OF 1935-1936
Bill Wilson OF 1950-1954
Craig Wilson 3B 1998-2000
George Wilson OF 1952
Jim Wilson P 1956-1958
Red Wilson C 1951-1954
Roy Wilson P 1928
Quote of the Day
Felipe Paulino, who is competing for a starting spot after shoulder and elbow injuries:
“I’m stronger, (my injuries) are in the past. I’m trying to do everything I can. I’m healthy and ready to compete and just enjoy the game.”
Sox Note of Note
Former White Sox infielder Jerry Royster is at Camelback Ranch as a baseball consultant on a three-day Nike commercial shoot in the Camelback Ranch-Glendale stadium. Royster, a 16-year major leaguer, played for the Sox in 1987.
Photo of the Day
The brain trust deep in thought.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
A Silver Lining
Chris Sale, talking about what he learned from last season, via Colleen Kane’s story in today’s Trib:
“Any time you go through something like that or something negative you always try to bring some kind of positive from it,” Sale said. “Last year made me a better pitcher, a better teammate and a better person because anyone can start throwing stuff and swearing at people and pointing fingers, but that really made me kind of grow up in a sense of knowing that these guys are giving everything they have for me and it’s just not working out.
“It’s not any single person’s fault. It’s not going to do me any good to grab someone and shake ‘em, probably because they’re bigger than me too. But you have to work together, and last year made us work together and really be closer in terms of off the field and in the clubhouse.”
Robin on Derek Jeter
Quote of the Day
“Have you been there all night?”
Head Trainer Herm Schneider to Sox relief pitcher Nate Jones who was receiving treatment for his strained glute early this morning after being hooked up to the exact same machine all afternoon yesterday.
Sox Notes of Note
Coop: Reliever Matt Lindstrom was impressive in his bullpen session today and newcomer Felipe Paulino is throwing without any restrictions and will throw in the bullpen tomorrow…More Coop: No clear cut candidate for the closer role at this point.
Photo of the Day
Newly acquired third baseman Matt Davidson meets with the media. Among other things, he said he’s working with hitting coach Todd Steverson to use the whole field.
Saturday, February 15, 2014
A Good Start
For the first time of thousands this spring …
“Chief! (Bullpen catcher Mark Salas) I need some baseballs!”
Physicals moved quickly and we were out on the field way ahead of schedule.
What They’re Saying on Day 1
@CST_soxvan: Reliever Mitchell Boggs, who said his deal is contingent on making 25-man, is confident: ‘My expectations are as high as they’ve ever been.’
@scottmerkin: John Danks told Herm Schneider that he feels like he’s 18 again. Ball coming out of his hand different than last year, per Danks.
@ESPNChiSox: Long shot closer candidate Daniel Webb says he just wants to make the roster. He’ll be happy with whatever role he earns.
@ChuckGarfien: Chris Sale: “I’ve got 8.6 body fat.”
Robin Ventura: “I’ve got some if you want some.”
Skipper Ventura, GM Hahn Quotes of the Day
Robin on the possibility of an 11-man pitching staff: “It’s not always easy to do, but the way we’re structured, we have to go that way every once in a while.”
Rick on Jose Abreu: “He wants to earn that money and show it was a damn good deal for the White Sox.”
Sox Spring Training Broadcast Schedule
The White Sox, Comcast SportsNet, WGN-TV and WSCR-AM 670 The Score have announced the team’s 2014 spring training broadcast schedule.
The White Sox will have 10 Cactus League games televised from Arizona (nine on Comcast SportsNet and one on WGN), and seven additional webcasts of spring training games free on whitesox.com. WSCR-AM, the club’s flagship radio station, will air nine games (including three interactive broadcasts).
Comcast SportsNet’s first spring training broadcast is scheduled for Friday, March 14 at 3:05 p.m. CDT when the White Sox face Cleveland at Camelback Ranch – Glendale (CBR). CSN will air the Sox-Cubs game at CBR on Friday, March 21. Along with airing seven home games, CSN will broadcast games at Colorado (Scottsdale) on March 23 and at Seattle (Peoria) on March 24. WGN will close out the spring broadcast schedule on Thursday, March 27 when the White Sox play the Cubs in Mesa at 2:05 p.m. CDT.
Ken “Hawk” Harrelson and Steve Stone will work all 10 television games in their sixth season together as the White Sox broadcast team. Harrelson is set to begin his 30th season as the television voice of the White Sox, while Stone enters his sixth year in the Sox television booth.
WSCR-AM broadcasts the first of its nine games on Friday, February 28 at 2:05 p.m. CST when the White Sox open Cactus League play vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale. WSCR-AM features the on-air tandem of Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson. Three of the nine game broadcasts (March 2, 8 and 16) feature an “interactive” format, allowing listeners to interact with Farmer, Jackson, and pre and post-game host Chris Rongey during the broadcast.
In addition to television and radio broadcasts, the White Sox will present webcasts of seven spring training games, in their entirety, at whitesox.com. The spring training webcasts begin on February 28 vs. the Dodgers and are available free to all fans with internet access. Russ Langer will serve as the play-by-play announcer for all seven webcasts.
Additional information regarding spring training broadcasts and tickets at CBR can be found at whitesox.com/spring.
Sox Notes of Note
Reliever Nate Jones has a mild to moderate glute strain. He’ll be evaluated in a few days…Bullpen mate Ron Belisario is having visa issues and is not yet in camp.
Photos of the Day
Robin and Rick meet the media.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Former Sox Skipper Passes Away at 71
Jim Fregosi, a six-time All-Star as a player who managed four different major league teams including the White Sox from 1986-88, died early this morning at 71 after suffering multiple strokes. Fregosi, who most recently was a special assistant with the Braves, suffered the strokes while on a Major League Baseball alumni cruise.
We issued the following statement this morning:
“All of Jim’s friends at the White Sox were stunned and saddened at the news of his stroke and death. Jim was your classic baseball lifer, with the experiences and stories to match a career devoted to the game. He will be missed at the ballpark this spring and our thoughts go out to all of his friends and family.”
A Good Omen
Pitchers and catchers don’t officially report until tomorrow, but 25 players are already in camp working out, including Jose Abreu, who was out in the cages hitting early this morning. “He lives in the batting cage,” someone noted.
Photo of the Day
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Sox Make the Grade
With White Sox pitchers and catchers set to report on Saturday, the Sports Illustrated website gives big props to the moves we made over the Winter.
Strikeouts for Sale
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Chris Sale has struck out 417 batters in his 59 career starts. That’s the most for any pitcher in White Sox history in their first 59 career starts for the team. And only two active pitchers had more career K’s in their first 59 career starts than Sale.
Most Strikeouts, first 59 starts for White Sox: Sale (417), Juan Pizarro (354), Javier Vazquez (345), Jake Peavy (333), Gary Peters (320).
Most Strikeouts, first 59 career starts, active pitchers: Yu Darvish (481), Tim Lincecum (421), Sale (417), Stephen Strasberg (399), Yovani Gallardo (373).
Nate Jones Chosen as “White Sox of the Year”
White Sox reliever Nate Jones was honored Monday as “White Sox of the Year” at the 26th Annual Comcast SportsNet Sports Awards presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois benefiting the March of Dimes. Jones was honored for his outstanding work in the community as well as his play on the field.
White Sox, Birmingham Extend Agreement
The Sox and the Birmingham Barons, the club’s Class AA affliate, have agreed on a four-year extension that will run through the 2018 season, ensuring that the partnership will reach 32 consecutive seasons. The Barons won the Southern League championship in 2013.
Dream Comes True for White Sox Amateur City Elite Standout Darius Day
Having overcome early baseball struggles, Simeon’s Darius Day is headed to play for “the college of his dreams”–the University of Arizona.
Last August 24th during the 2013 Civil Rights Game festivities in Chicago, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon (pictured above), who grew up on the South Side, gave the keynote address at a luncheon the day of the game. He touched upon a variety of subjects including his youth, baseball in Chicago, the Negro Leagues and the Civil Rights movement. It seems appropriate, in light of Black History Month, to revisit his words with you here:
Good afternoon everybody…people always associate me with basketball because I cover a lot of basketball and talk about it a lot for ESPN. But baseball is my first love. I grew up here on the South Side. If nobody else knows that, my mother, who is here with me today, 87 years young and back in Chicago after a lot of years away, (does). I am thrilled she is here. She was my first catcher, so she knows my first love was baseball.
I am thrilled to be here. Anytime I am in a room with Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson, I get a little jittery and it just becomes a little bit overwhelming in addition to all the other great ballplayers, many of whom I have gotten to know over the years. I started out wanting to get in this business to be a baseball writer — that was the goal. Once I realized I wasn’t going to be Ferguson Jenkins, then I wanted to be a baseball writer and that’s how it started.
Memphis, Cincinnati, and Atlanta have given the Civil Rights Game a weekend, a wonderful foundation through six seasons for which I am sure Major League Baseball is thankful. But the event is now where it belongs, in Chicago. More specifically, on the South Side of Chicago, and even more specifically than that, 35th Street where Negro League Baseball thrived for decades–and just a few blocks from Bronzeville, which was the center of Chicago’s Civil Rights struggles.
It’s the South Side of Chicago and Comiskey Park that were home 27 times to what in my house was called the Negro League All-Star Game. I know that wasn’t the official name but that’s what it was called by my parents. It was home for most of his 102 years to Ted Double-Duty Radcliffe, who said his finest moment of a great many came in the 1944 game–and the White Sox honor Ted, of course, every year. It was even home to Rube Foster, the father of black baseball, who in 1920 finally got Negro League Baseball, essentially as we knew it, off the ground and really running. Before that began the league gave the South Side the Chicago American Giants. Just last week, the youngest player to ever play in the Negro Leagues, Marvin Price, passed away in Chicago. He was 14-years-old when he showed up for a tryout with the American Giants. The manager thought he was looking at the team’s new bat boy.
A lot of young men have played a lot of baseball in Chicago, but 99.9% of it nowhere near what Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, and so many other people that we associate with Chicago produced when they played here. I grew up playing baseball on the South Side. I was pretty unhittable at 14 or 15 years old, I thought. Until this tank of a kid, he was like 5’6, 200 pounds at 13,14-years-old. He crushed a pitch I threw about 370 feet. Again, he was like 14 and I asked after the inning, “Who the hell that kid was?” And somebody said, “You don’t know him? His name is Puckett, Kirby Puckett.” I said “So, okay let’s keep track of him.” When I was covering baseball for the Washington Post 10 years later, I walked into the Minnesota Twins locker room, and Puckett extends his hand and was like, “Don’t I know you? You look familiar.” And I was like, “Nah, that’s got to be somebody else. It can’t be me. We’ve never seen each other.”
I should probably detour a little bit to explain. I grew up on the South Side with a father who rooted exclusively for the White Sox. He vowed he would never set foot in Wrigley Field after being shooed away from the box office on the occasion of Jackie Robinson’s very first game in Chicago. Fairly early on I rooted for both teams, and I became a Cubs fan. Uh, this growing up on the South Side but rooting for the Cubs isn’t nearly as complex as most Chicagoans want to make it. A good chunk of my Little League in West Chatham Park, which is still there, was sponsored by Ernie Banks Ford. That in and of itself was a reason enough for me to root for Ernie Banks which also meant rooting for the Cubs. We had Ernie Banks Ford on the back of a lot of our uniforms.
In the segregated Chicago that I grew up in, in the 60s and 70s, black ballplayers regardless which of the teams they played for, lived primarily on the South Side. They were my neighbors and they came to neighborhood Little League parades on Opening Day. I have home movies to prove it. They bought our uniforms. They told us to get the hell off the corner well after dark and go home when they were done driving to their own homes after day games at the ballpark.
Baseball, not basketball, not football, was the first choice for children then. Yes, black children. We didn’t need back then the RBI program, Amateur City Elite Program, or the Urban Youth Academies. Those have been so wisely and necessarily conceived, and efficiently executed programs by Major League Baseball, which connect urban kids to all kinds of marvelous baseball opportunities now. It was a different time. Before African-American boys fell in love with basketball to the exclusion of virtually everything else. It was a time when we wanted to be the next Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson or, in my case, Ferguson Jenkins. Baseball just a few miles south of here, in my case, was a daily escape from the very adult news of marches, riots, of clashes between protestors and police, or lynch mobs. It felt with most of it happening in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama to be somewhere else, but nothing was ever very far from the reach of Chicago, not ever. Certainly, not in any stew of sports, race, and conflict.
You could go all the way back to July 4th, 1910, to the great Jack Johnson, who lived in Chicago and was buried here in the Graceland Cemetery. He beat Jim Jeffries in the first and most important fight of the century. It was that important because it probably was the only time a prize fight caused race riots, which it did in approximately 50 cities, including this one, New York, Kansas City, Philly, Houston, and New Orleans.
Jeffries, the first real great white hope, had lost to Johnson and all hell broke loose. People were shooting and stabbing folks for walking down the street and being the wrong color. Johnson stalked then champion Tommy Burns around the world, literally, and down to Australia for two years; he wasn’t just ahead of his time, Johnson was in a time warp. This was 1908, when lynching a black man was so common. It helped drive 6.5 million black people out of the South over the next 60 years in a phenomenon called “The Great Migration” and into places like the South Side of Chicago. Jack Johnson, of course, couldn’t have cared less or feared any of it. He was ahead of his time.
Likewise, sports were almost always ahead of its time, too, when it came to race relations. As sad as it was that black ballplayers, talented men, had been driven from professional baseball and football early in the 20th century. The fact is that Jackie Robinson desegregated baseball a year before President Truman ordered the desegregation of U.S. Military as Commissioner Selig reminded us earlier. Five years before the first black character Louise Beavers as “Beulah” starred in a television series. Seven years before the Supreme Court declared the segregation in public school unconstitutional. Eight years before Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Ten years before nine black students, under the watch of Federal Troops, integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Seventeen years before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 24 years before the U.S. Supreme Court got rid of laws banning interracial marriages. That’s how ahead of its time Jackie Robinson’s desegregation of baseball was. Ballparks had turned out to be the first public places where blacks and whites could, without much effort, sit together and eat popcorn and root for the home team, whether it was the American League White Sox or the Negro League American Giants.
While finding out in the process that neither black ballplayers nor black fans were demons. Nobody would make that case aloud that desegregating baseball was as important as desegregating public schools. Except that athletic progress just about always preceded progress anywhere and everywhere else in our culture. And then, there was a matter of winning and losing that suddenly — as the former became lucrative — trumped everything else.
As a Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist wrote about then Redskins owner George Preston Marshall refusing to have a black player in the early 1960s, quote, “Drafting blacks is not an argument for social equality. It’s a matter of practical football policy. The Redskins were spotting their rivals the tremendous advantage of exclusive rights to a whole race containing excellent football players.” It’s impossible to argue with that. Still, the Redskins owner would not relent until the Kennedy Administration threatened to kick the Redskins out of their taxpayer supported stadium. Very, very fortunately that sort of inhumane thing never played out here in Chicago, though, plenty else did.
Not talked about nearly enough was the role sports columnist Wendell Smith played in baseball desegregation. His agitation in favor of Jackie Robinson and his subsequent move to the Chicago Herald American, then the Chicago Sun-Times, and ultimately WGN-TV, as one of, if not the first black sports anchor in America. I didn’t realize it at the time when I was watching him on Channel 9 every night, but he would impact my professional life more than that of anybody I grew up idolizing. Smith was on the front line of civil rights movements in sports. More than a half dozen years before Jackie Robinson was allowed to join the Dodgers, it was Wendell Smith who was agitating behind the scenes, whenever possible, for Jackie to lead the “great experiment” as it was called at one point.
I had the privilege during a recent trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, of seeing the letters he and Jackie wrote each other at the end of that historic, dramatic, stressful season of 1947. I wish Wendell Smith had lived long enough to cover not just Jerry Reinsdorf’s selecting Kenny Williams to be general manager of the White Sox without any outside agitation, but Kenny Williams doing exactly what Jackie Robinson did when given the opportunity – win. The only baseball winner in this town that’s been seen in nearly a 100 years was built by a man, for who the first 120 years of this game’s existence would never been given a chance, and ultimately that is what the Civil Rights movement is about.
My five-year-old son, Matthew, asked me the other night, “Dad, what’s Civil Rights?” He’s too young at this point to understand it’s the long, non-violent struggle to achieve cultural and racial equality under the law. So, I told him the struggle for Civil Rights is about inclusion. That’s all it’s really about. Inclusion on fields, in dugouts, front offices, sidelines, press boxes, training rooms, and roles that are large and small in any and all areas of our national life. It’s appropriate also that we are commemorating Dr. King’s speech here in Chicago, which is one of several cities where he used the “I Have a Dream” theme in a speech. Dr. King actually used it here, two weeks before he arrived in DC for the march on Washington. During the first decade of his public life, he visited Chicago all the time, seeking support for his agendas, which thankfully turned into national priorities. To annually celebrate that effort, to which so many people devoted their lives, is one of the noblest things Major League Baseball, the City of Chicago, and all of us could possibly do.
And for that, again, and for having me, I’d like to thank you, Commissioner Selig, and I want to thank Jerry Reinsdorf and Kenny Williams. It’s an honor and really a prideful day no matter where you’re from, but I think particularly if you’re from Chicago and you know the struggles of both Civil Rights and how far baseball has come, as (the Commissioner) reminds us all the time as a social institution.
Here’s Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Sox President Ken Williams at the 2013 Civil Rights Game celebration.