Subtle demonstration brings worthwhile message to baseball

John Steadman

April 06, 1993|By John Steadman

Everything about the pre-game demonstration was in order. Peaceful yet forceful, it sent a meaningful message to the Baltimore Orioles, whether they needed it or not, and, more importantly, to all of baseball.

If Jackie Robinson, who pioneered the cause with the humane consideration of Branch Rickey, were alive, it's reasonable to believe he would have been leading the march again.

The season opener brought out President Bill Clinton, a left-winger in the pitching but not political sense, for the ceremonial toss. From his delivery, he resembled a boy who grew up playing the saxophone. It was coincidental that Clinton's arching toss had a rainbow trajectory on an afternoon when the Rainbow Coalition for Fairness in Athletics was staging a quiet protest outside the ballpark.

Clinton appeared encumbered, not with the issues of the day but the protective harness he was wearing. It was later explained by Morris "Mo" Siegel, the gifted and whimsical sports columnist of the Washington Times, that the president had on a bullet-proof vest, which has unfortunately become a required order-of-dress for a chief executive.

Siegel offered a more perceptive suggestion when he said, "Rick Sutcliffe should have worn one."

Yes, there were some ringing shots off Sutcliffe on this 40th anniversary of Baltimore's return to Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, a change-of-speed artist, Craig Lefferts of the Texas Rangers, dazzled the Orioles for more than half the game. His fastball had slightly more velocity than Clinton's earlier offering. The magic was mesmerizing enough to believe he was a young facsimile of Eddie Lopat, an ex-New York Yankee of similar style.

At one juncture, he put down eight Orioles in a row. Abetted by the home run power of Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer, the Rangers posted a 7-4 win, which Commentary

spoiled the effort of a team picked by most observers to win the Eastern Division.

Brady Anderson, with three hits, led the Orioles' offense and Chris Hoiles, cutting down two of three runners, showed he's determined not to again rate as the league's poorest throwing catcher.

It's significant to mention, on this occasion, while Rev. Jesse Jackson was leading a march outside the ballpark for more minority representation in front-office positions, that 10 of the 20 players, or half, of the starting lineups were either African-Americans or Latin Americans. There were no physical incidents or disparaging words caused by the sign-carrying protest group, which was as it should be.

Only four whites, including two Catholic priests, were in the procession. "I'm here," said the Rev. Sy Peterka of the Vincentian order and pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church here, "because we as Americans have to be aware of the justice issue. Some of my parishioners were afraid I might be arrested for participating. We are not against the Orioles. But baseball has no guidelines, no deadlines for improving its hiring practices."

The other priest was the Rev. Damien Nalepa of St. Gregory the Great Church, also of Baltimore, who had a similar opinion. One sign read: "Fairness Beyond The Field." Another pointed out the major leagues had only two black umpires. And then the reminder: "46 Years After Jackie Robinson It's Time To Be Fair."

Quite significantly, it brought to mind this reporter's last meeting with Jackie, maybe only a year before his death. If he could write his own epitaph, what would it be? In a reply that's never to be forgotten, he said, "That I said strongly the things I believed." Right there, with a minimum of words, he succinctly described himself.

Yes, Jackie, who broke baseball's color line in 1947, would have been in the forefront of trying again to awaken the consciousness of a game that calls itself the national pastime. Orioles president Larry Lucchino issued a brief welcoming statement that said, in part, "Let me also say we at the Orioles are in fundamental agreement with Rev. Jackson's general philosophy and objectives."

This isn't 1947, but now it's time for a subtle reminder once again, which was the purpose of the walk in front of the ballpark. There was no civic disturbance or impediment to pedestrian traffic, just a desire to bring about fair hiring practices.

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