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updated: 8/24/2013 9:56 PM

Special, and important, night for White Sox

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  • Bo Jackson is recognized on the field as a MLB Beacon Award recipient before Saturday night's seventh annual Civil Rights Game between the White Sox and the Texas Rangers at U.S. Cellular Field.

      Bo Jackson is recognized on the field as a MLB Beacon Award recipient before Saturday night's seventh annual Civil Rights Game between the White Sox and the Texas Rangers at U.S. Cellular Field.
    Associated Press

 
 

I remember playing baseball from about the time I could walk, and I also remember always having the latest equipment and being welcomed to play by well-organized leagues.

So when it comes to the importance of the Civil Rights Game, I can hardly imagine the struggles players such as Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Minnie Minoso and Ernie Banks encountered while breaking down major-league baseball's color barrier.

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Fortunately, the White Sox hosted this year's annual Civil Rights Game Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox played the Texas Rangers in the middle of a three-game series, but with living African-American legends Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams, Willie Horton and Bo Jackson on hand at the Cell, the action on the field was understandably overshadowed.

Earlier in the day, Jackson and Aretha Franklin were presented Beacon Awards at a downtown luncheon.

"The MLB Beacon Awards offer a positive reminder that there are individuals who use their celebrity and fame to make a positive difference in our society," said Robinson, major-league baseball's executive vice president of baseball development.

Horton accepted the award on behalf of Franklin, and Jackson was thrilled to personally receive his Beacon in such esteemed company.

"To have all of those guys in that room at one time, that's a gold mine of athletic history," said Jackson a standout football/baseball player who was with the White Sox in 1991 and '93.

"To be a part of it, to be there to consume, to be in the room with all that knowledge and experience, is wonderful. Wow. It's like somebody telling you, 'Hey, go out and dive in that pool of gold, liquid gold.' And you come out and you're gold-plated.

"Being there in that room with all that experience, you can't do anything but come out of there smarter than you did when you went in as far as baseball knowledge is concerned."

Major League Baseball has come a long way toward integrating African-American players into the game over the past 50 years, but there still is much work to be done.

In November, MLB released a Player Diversity Report. Tabulating the 40-man rosters of all 30 big-league teams, 62 percent of the players were Caucasian, 28 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were African-American and 1 percent were Asian.

Relief pitcher Donnie Veal is the only African-American player on the White Sox' current 25-man roster.

"You definitely notice it," Veal said. "I think I'm the only one out here today. MLB has put in the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) Program and stuff like that.

"That's all you can do is get out there, get in the community and try to get the game out there as much as possible."

Give the White Sox credit for trying.

Last month the Sox hosted the fifth annual Double Duty Classic -- an event celebrating the history and tradition of the Negro Leagues highlighted by a showcase game featuring the best African American high school baseball players in the nation.

Executive Vice President Kenny Williams is African-American, and so are four of the last five White Sox top draft picks: Jared Mitchell (2009), Keenyn Walker (2011), Courtney Hawkins (2012) and Tim Anderson (2013).

"It always can be helped," said Sox assistant hitting coach Harold Baines of the lack of African-Americans in baseball. "Everyone talks about the inner-city, it's just the kids have more options.

"I can't blame it on one thing or another. They have more options than 30 years ago."

•Follow Scot's White Sox and baseball reports on Twitter@scotgregor, and check out his Chicago's Inside Pitch blog at dailyherald.com.

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