Simms picks Rawlings off base for claims of Birds' racial injustice

John Steadman

March 13, 1992|By John Steadman

All those knockdown pitches Del. Howard Rawlings threw at the Baltimore Orioles sent them spinning in the dirt. It was disturbing to a team, especially an organization that has a record that contradicts the racial charges made against it. The Orioles took an unfair hit.

Obviously, Rawlings felt differently or he wouldn't have delivered the blast. President Larry Lucchino politely mentioned something about a "communications problem" and insisted he would welcome hearing from the elected state official any time he had a problem.

But today, stepping up to the plate, is Joseph "Zastrow" Simms, who claims Rawlings took a cheap shot that needs to be refuted. Not from the Orioles but by him, a black man, who says for the last 20 years he has received more than 30,000 complimentary tickets that were used by minority youngsters wanting to enjoy a baseball game at Memorial Stadium.

Simms insists Rawlings picked himself off base when he claimed the Orioles were insensitive to the needs of the community. "The man obviously hasn't been paying attention," said Simms. "I wouldn't be surprised if the Orioles don't do more for blacks than any team in all of professional sports. The club didn't deserve the rip Rawlings gave them."

It was surprising that Frank Robinson, assistant general manager, and Calvin Hill, a vice president, didn't attempt to clarify or challenge Rawlings' statements. Their silence caused concern among the public and also with some members of the front-office staff, who felt they were being vilified without justification.

"Why didn't Frank say something?", asked Simms rhetorically. "And why didn't Calvin say something? For the Orioles to be put down by Rawlings, who obviously has no idea what he's talking about, is unfair to the team officials and the players. Blacks, as I see it, receive the same treatment as whites by the Orioles. Prove to me they don't."

It has been pointed out that the last Oriole honored before the closing of Memorial Stadium was coach Elrod Hendricks and the man picked to touch home plate before it was transplanted to the new downtown park was Frank Robinson. Rawlings suggested the Morgan State University Choir be used to entertain for pre-game ceremonies but that is something the Orioles have been doing on special occasions, such as the World Series and playoff games, going back decades.

Simms went on to recite some of the things the Orioles contributed. This has been going on since they returned to the American League in 1954. He specifically mentioned the "Read Like a Pro" program, where school children are rewarded for achievements with a trip to a game. "And I remember 'Operation Birdland,' which must go back 20 or 25 years," Simms recalled.

"Earl Banks, the retired Morgan athletic director, supervised the effort along with Capt. Smith of the Recreation Department and kids not only got free bus trips to the game but soda, hot dogs and popcorn. It worked like a charm. You only have to check with Earl to find out how popular it was. He was in charge and the Orioles paid for it.

"I hope, while I'm talking about Rawlings, that he is aware that last year the Orioles, under manager Robinson, had four black coaches, the most minority representation of any team in major-league sports. Black kids know about the literary effort headed by Cal Ripken Jr., and they remember, too, how Eddie Murray donated $500,000 to 'Upward Bound'. That's a tremendous record for volunteer involvement by players and the club."

Simms, retaliating against the stand of Rawlings, suggested the delegate "spend more time serving our youth and working for them with their parents and ministers instead of taking on the Orioles in a way that is totally unfair, plus it is inaccurate."

Saying he is a strong proponent of free speech, Simms insists he has nothing personal against Rawlings but believes if his claims go unanswered it will place the Orioles in a situation that would damage their reputation of trying to be a good neighbor.

Simms says minorities should be encouraged to speak out when being deprived individually or as a group. But he calls Rawlings' remarks "unfortunate because they are totally lacking in factual evidence." Simms has been involved since the mid-1950s in the promotion of youth activities, mainly sports, in the city of Annapolis. Simms was hoping Robinson or Hill, with the Orioles, and Mayor Kurt Schmoke, would have stepped forth to set the record straight.

When that didn't happen, he decided to make his own stand, even to the point of writing a 2 1/2 -page letter contradicting Rawlings and hastening to explain his views to reporters in interviews. The Orioles might be criticized for some of the philosophies that guide their operational policies but being insensitive to the black community isn't one of them.

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