Rawlings' charges unfair to Orioles

Ken Rosenthal

March 04, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

SARASOTA, Fla. -- So now the Orioles neglect the city's black majority. Next they'll be blamed for starting the recession, creating the hole in the ozone layer and propping up Saddam Hussein.

Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings may be one of the city's most respected black lawmakers, but when he criticizes the Orioles for poor community relations, he's simply ignoring the facts.

Let's nail the Orioles when they deserve it, OK? Fans and politicians keep crying wolf over perceived injustices. As their howling increases, legitimate gripes become obscured.

Sorry, not every season ticket-holder can sit behind home plate. Sorry, not every politico can satisfy every item on his personal agenda.

The Orioles can be accused of a multitude of sins, not the least of which is arrogance. But this time, they're guilty only of one thing: Failing to return calls to a big-shot politician.

It was a foolish blunder, for Rawlings chairs the House subcommittee that oversees construction of the new $105 million Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But let's not equate Larry Lucchino with David Duke just yet.

Actually, Rawlings should feel honored, for Lucchino yesterday issued a rare public apology. "There could have been better communication, undeniably," the club president said. "We could have made him more aware of what we were doing."

Then, maybe Rawlings never would have charged the club with ignoring efforts to include blacks in festivities planned for the opening of the new park. And maybe he wouldn't have said the club "ought to do more outreach into the African-American community."

Thus, the Orioles share the blame for this latest public-relations crisis. Their opening-week celebration is indeed designed to include every segment of the community. But somehow, they angered a legislator described by Lucchino as a "good and loyal supporter."

It's much ado about nothing. Two weeks ago, Lucchino invited Afro-American sports editor Sam Lacy to ride in the opening-week parade. Lacy once roomed with Jackie Robinson and had strong ties to the Negro Leagues. Rawlings surely would have been pleased with his inclusion, only he wasn't told.

Lucchino said, "We do so much, you can't keep everyone informed every step of the way." But Rawlings just needs stroking. Lucchino shouldn't yield the upper hand, for his club boasts a strong record in both community relations and minority hiring.

Really, what's the problem here?

Rawlings suggested the club give away 5,000 tickets for an exhibition game at the new park to public school students with excellent attendance records. He also proposed the Morgan State choir sing the national anthem Opening Day.

The team instead will give away 1,000 tickets through V-103, a radio station with predominantly black listeners. The Morgan State choir will sing at the "Base Ball" gala, and perhaps perform Opening Day.

Sounds like the Orioles and Rawlings are on the same wavelength, but you'd never know it from the delegate's outburst. His comments were beyond misinformed. The Orioles work harder at community relations than most teams.

You ready, Pete?

The "Read Like a Pro" and "Adopt a School" programs bring coaches and players into city schools. The Orioles wives' "Hits for the Homeless" telethon raises approximately $50,000 annually for the Action for the Homeless Agency.

The club recently donated $20,000 to purchase equipment for the Pediatric AIDS Unit at the University of Maryland Hospital. It provides balls, T-shirts and pitching machines for "Rookie League" teams in Northwood and Forest Park.

"Food Collection Night" benefits the Maryland Food Bank and Maryland Food Committee. The holiday memorabilia sale benefits Santa Claus Anonymous. The players make regular appearances at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and area schools, for which they're paid by the club.

This is the team that last season had a black manager and four black coaches, a major-league first that ended when all but one coach was fired. This is the team with a black assistant general manager (Frank Robinson) and a black vice-president of administrative personnel (Calvin Hill).

True, blacks comprise only 4-6 percent of the Orioles' home attendance. But that problem is not confined to Baltimore. The commissioner's office recently hired Len Coleman, a marketing expert, to focus on minorities. Ironically, he's a friend of Lucchino's.

"We're proud of what we've been doing," Lucchino said. "Can we do more? You can always do more on important social issues. But I think our efforts have been quite substantial, and very sincere."

Pete Rawlings should know that.

And he should have more pressing concerns than who sings the anthem Opening Day.

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