Rawlings says Orioles slow to woo black fans 'Lack of awareness' cited by delegate

March 03, 1992|By Sandy Banisky and Mark Hyman | Sandy Banisky and Mark Hyman,Staff Writers

The Baltimore Orioles have neglected the city's black majority and ignored efforts to include the community in the festivities planned for the opening of the new Camden Yards ballpark, one of the city's most respected black lawmakers said yesterday.

Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings said he approached the Orioles before Thanksgiving to suggest ways the ball club could encourage more team support by blacks. But he said the Orioles have been slow to respond.

"I am just so damn mad that it's been before them for three months they done nothing," said Mr. Rawlings, who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees construction of the new $105 million Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"It's a reflection of their lack of awareness that this Baltimore Oriole team is located in the city of Baltimore and the city is more than 60 percent African-American.

Orioles President Larry Lucchino declined last night to respond to Mr. Rawlings' charges.

"I don't know what Pete said. I've got no comment until I have had a chance to educate myself about what this is all about," Mr. Lucchino said.

But an Orioles spokesman, Bob Miller, said the team is "proud of the work we do with inner-city kids, underprivileged kids, with the handicapped, the disabled."

"We are proud of programs we have in place in the community regardless of race, creed, color and handicaps," Mr. Miller, Orioles assistant public relations director, added.

Mr. Miller listed several programs in which the team is involved: Read-Like-a-Pro, in which fifth- and sixth-graders who read books are eligible to come to a ballgame as a guest of the team; baseball clinics for youngsters, and game invitations for members of school safety patrols and for other deserving students.

He said the team also has adopted a city school as part of a program in which corporations devote resources to a particular school.

The Orioles last season had four black coaches, more than any other team in major league history.

Mr. Rawlings, however, said the Orioles have rejected his suggestions for including more blacks in the week of celebrations planned for the April 6 opening of the stadium.

"One of the realities is that there are very few African Americans that come to ballgames," Mr. Rawlings said.

"One of the problems, I believe, is the lack of outreach to the African-American community.

"The Orioles, who derive a tremendous profit in this town, ought to do more outreach into the African- American community."

The delegate said he suggested giving away 5,000 tickets for an exhibition game at the new stadium to public school students with excellent attendance records.

He said he proposed having the Morgan State choir sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" on Opening Day. And he said he urged the club advertise in such traditionally black newspapers as the Baltimore Afro-American.

Team officials, he said, have not responded. "I chair the committee that oversees the development of the stadium, and even that doesn't get me a respectful return call," he said. His call to Mr. Lucchino, he said, was referred to a "low-level person" -- Julie Wagner, head of community relations for the team -- "who kept telling me she was going back to discuss this with others."

Ms. Wagner last night said the team will be giving radio station V-103 1,000 tickets to give away, including some designated for high school students enrolled in the commonwealth program, a program meant to encourage school attendance and provide mentors for city high school students.

Mr. Miller said Ms. Wagner could not respond to Mr. Rawlings' request or 5,000 tickets "because she knew she would not have that amount available at her discretion."

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