Orioles president Larry Lucchino said yesterday that a "communication problem" may have contributed to complaints that the team isn't working diligently enough to include blacks in Opening Week and Opening Day festivities.
Lucchino said he telephoned Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, who publicly criticized the team, to explain ways that minorities will be represented in ceremonies leading up to Opening Day at the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"I said to him that we should talk more frequently because, quite frankly, there is a lot of stuff we are doing that he might not be aware of, that would not go through his office. Given his influence in this area, we should do better to keep him informed," Lucchino said.
The Orioles president didn't disclose many specifics, although Rawlings said Lucchino did say plans are being made to include minorities in a variety of occasions. "He said I will be pleasantly surprised to the extent of the full community's participation on Opening Day. I'll wait and see," Rawlings said.
On Monday, Rawlings criticized the Orioles for being slow to respond to several ideas he proposed for Opening Week. Among them: A giveaway of 5,000 tickets to a workout at the ballpark scheduled for the day before the Orioles' opening game on April 6, and arranging for the Morgan State choir to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" on Opening Day.
Rawlings' suggestions were assigned to the community relations department, where, he said, they were considered but weren't acted upon. After three months, Rawlings said, "I rightly assumed this wasn't important to them."
In his talk with Lucchino, Rawlings said that he was assured the Orioles are working on ways to involve minorities. He also said Lucchino asked him to call his office next time he is troubled by an Orioles' policy.
"He would have preferred -- and maybe, on reflection, he is correct -- for me to call and tell him what my concerns were," said Rawlings, who is chairman of a House subcommittee that is overseeing construction of the $105.4 million Orioles ballpark.
Despite his chat with Lucchino, Rawlings said he still is concerned that blacks and other minorities don't attend ballgames in greater numbers. For that, in part, he cited the team's failure to market aggressively in the black community.
"This is a very broad community issue," Rawlings said. "I just believe the Orioles have a corporate responsibility into seeing that the black population becomes a part of their market targeting."
Lucchino said that point was valid. "We have not been silent or inattentive on this issue. But why African Americans have not historically attended baseball games in representative numbers is a complicated issue."