Mets to be in Civil Rights Game
Randolph, Minaya pleased to be part of MLB celebration
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Willie Randolph wore uniform No. 30 in his 13 seasons as the Yankees second baseman, and he has worn No. 12 since he became the Mets manager.
Those numbers came together on his back -- and, in another sense, on his sleeve -- in April when the Mets recognized the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in the big leagues. Randolph wore Robinson's No. 42 that night and reveled in the connection to the man he identified as "my total inspiration."
Now, Randolph and his team are to participate in another celebration of what Robinson helped accomplish on an even broader scale. The Mets have been asked to play in the 2008 Major League Civil Rights Game in Memphis, Tenn., on March 29.
The Mets will play the White Sox in AutoZone Park, home of the Cardinals' Triple-A Memphis Redbirds affiliate, as the focal point of two days commemorating the Civil Rights Movement. The game, staged for the first time last April, pays tribute to one of this country's most significant eras of social change, Major League Baseball's involvement in the historic struggle and the legendary African-American players who broke barriers and made important contributions to American society -- Robinson, first and foremost, of course.
"Anytime I can do anything to honor Jackie Robinson and recognize what he did and pay tribute to Martin Luther King, it's a special honor," Randolph said. "I have a sense of history and what Jackie and Dr. King did. It can't be overstated. We all should be aware of what he had to deal with and overcome."
Randolph, the first African-American manager in New York baseball, recalls vividly when he escorted Rachel Robinson during 1997 ceremonies at Yankee Stadium that recognized the 50th anniversary of her husband's first game with the Dodgers. He beams when he speaks of the moment. He and Rachel Robinson attended the annual dinner staged by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America last January. He made a point of being photographed with her.
"A very special lady," he said. "So much dignity."
With the trade last week having moved Lastings Milledge to the Nationals, the Mets have two black players on their projected roster -- Marlon Anderson and Damion Easley. Anderson is delighted with the prospect. "I wore No. 42 -- actually we all did -- last year when I was with the Dodgers and we saluted Jackie," he said. "And it was such a great day. This will be different, I'm thinking, even though it's baseball. It's about Dr. King and civil rights in general.
"And I'll be so honored to play in the game."
At the same time, Anderson also is discouraged by the lack of presentation of African-American players on current big league rosters. His voice lowered as he recited the numbers he was given in a recent conversation.
"It's so bad now," he said. "It's so low. Only nine percent of the guys in the game are black, four percent in the Minor Leagues, and of that nine percent, half are 33 or older."
Anderson is 33 and Easley is 38.
"The numbers are going down. ... You'd hate to see the game lose that presence. But that's the direction it looks like we're heading. That's why a game like this is so important. It's good to celebrate and recognize the people who did so much. But we have to help the game maintain a presence in the cities."
Anderson is familiar with the speculated reasons for the decline of the game in cities -- equipment, facilities, the increased appeal of other games.
"Baseball is a hard game to learn," he said. "It's a humbling game. The best players are going to have bad days. And it takes a lot of time to develop. You don't learn this game playing every other weekend.
"Damion and I talked about it. You're usually introduced to the game by your dad. And, I don't like to have to point this out, but the number of dads in the communities we're talking about isn't high. And that's a problem. You'd love to see the communities playing baseball again.
"The game we're playing in can help that."
Mets general manager Omar Minaya attended the BBWAA dinner in January, and he made a point of introducing his son, Teddy, to Rachel Robinson.
"I wanted Teddy to know a great lady," he said recently. "And to know what she and her husband stands for."
In a statement released Monday when the Mets' involvement in the game was announced, Minaya said: "On behalf of the entire New York Mets organization, I would like to say how honored we are to be participating in the second annual Civil Rights Game. Since the days of Jackie Robinson, baseball has been at the forefront of social change in this country, and this game is just another example that our sport understands the significance of paying the proper respect to such an important part of American history."
The release also included the words of Commissioner Bud Selig: "It's impact was so significant that we decided to make it an annual event. It was a proud moment for all of baseball, and I am excited that two great franchises have committed to carry on this significant tradition. Major League Baseball and its players have contributed immensely to this movement and will continue to play an important role in our society's social history."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.