HOUSTON – When he became the first black manager in the Major Leagues the 1975 as a player/manager with the Cleveland Indians, Orioles Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was shocked to see that the Indians still specified a player’s race on their scouting reports.
Yes, Robinson – who as a player won two World Series titles as a player with the Orioles and won the 1966 Triple Crown – broke down the barrier for future black managers, but was immediately struck with the realizations of how some things still needed changing.
“It upset me back then absolutely,” Robinson said. “I had discussions with the front office about that. I told them that they didn’t have to put a black player on a scouting report for me to know what he could do and that’s all I really wanted to know about on the scouting report – what he could hit and what he couldn’t hit and what type of pitches he had. … I don’t know why they had that it the first place and I had them remove that and it bothered me.”
In his current role at Major League Baseball’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Development, Robinson oversees the annual Civil Rights Game, which raises awareness for the fight for civil rights and honors the sacrifices of those who have campaigned and fought for civil rights.
When the Orioles face the Astros tonight at Minute Maid Park, both teams will wear throwback uniforms of Negro League teams – the Orioles will wear the uniforms of the Baltimore Elite Giants –but the mission of the game, in its eighth year, is deeper.
Robinson said Friday that more still needs to be done to connect minorities back to baseball.
“Nothing is perfect, it never will be perfect,” Robinson said. “I don’t think enough gains have been made. Gains have been made, there’s no doubt. It’s not enough. We still have a lot of work to do, not only in sports in the area of our society. … Sports has worked very hard to improve the number of minorities in the game itself not only on the field but in the front office and in businesses and in the stands. We look in the ballparks and we don’t see minorities in the stands. I think a lot of that has to with they really don’t have the players like Jackie Robinson to identify with. … There are a lot of fine minority players out there, but they don’t identify with them as much as Jackie.”
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said he wants to be a part making baseball more identifiable for minorities. In his time in Baltimore, he’s been active in MLB’s RBI (Revitalizing Baseball in the Inner Cities) Program and with local Boys and Girls clubs.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but a lot of my friends who are African-Americans in the game right now there’s a movement,” Jones said. “We know what we have to do and now we’re in a position to do it and not just help out vocally but financially and expand this game.”
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette made history when he was general manager of the Montreal Expos, hiring Felipe Alou to become the first Dominican-born manager in 1992. As a player, Alou and his brothers, Matty and Jesus, blazed a trail for Dominican players into the big leagues.
“Baseball has made great progress,” Duquette said. “It’s an honor for the Orioles to be a part of this event to honor all the people who were a part of the struggle. We’re part of the fight for civil rights and today we get the opportunity to see a lot of great talented people on equal footing. I think it’s helped and it’s also helped baseball recognize diversity beyond the country and help recruit people from around the world to come show their talents to all the fans who love baseball.”
Before tonight’s game, NFL legend Jim Brown, Motown label founder Berry Gordy and late author Maya Angelou were honored with MLB Beacon of Life awards as part of the Civil Rights Game festivities.
Jones was able to meet Brown during a pre-ceremony media session and said it was an experience he won’t forget.
“Jim Brown is Jim Brown,” Jones said. “I’ll never forget shaking that big ol’ hand.”