From deep in the dark forest of a performance-enhancing drugs scandal that has shadowed baseball in recent years came a light on Saturday, a light that was lit over 50 years ago by the greatest generation ever.
Perhaps no other sport has endured the racial and cultural segregation that baseball has endured. But in battling to overcome that scourge of racism, America's pastime also came to epitomize attributes that America holds dear—freedom, success, equality and true character, characteristics championed by the most influential athlete in civil rights history.
The Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson.
This past Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Marriott Hotel in Chicago, baseball's finest players and, even more importantly, the sport's finest individuals gathered to reflect on the contributions of those trailblazers who came before them. Guests of honor included home-run champion Hank Aaron, baseball's first black manager Frank Robinson, Detroit Tigers legend Willie Horton and Chicago White Sox legends Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson and Minnie Minoso.
Former Yankee manager Joe Torre, Jackie Robinson's daughter Sharon, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and many current White Sox players were on hand as well.
The Beacon Awards are held each year to pay homage to those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the betterment of society, most specifically in terms of civil rights. This year, the event honored MLB All-Star and 1985 Heisman Trophy recipient Bo Jackson and Motown singer Aretha Franklin. Jackson received the Beacon of Life Award, while Miss Franklin was given the Beacon of Change Award. Franklin was unable to attend due to health reasons.
Almost fifty years to the day after the famous March on Washington D.C. in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream Speech," baseball paid homage to those who made countless contributions to civil rights. Jackie Robinson's daughter Sharon was on hand to speak, and she helped unveil the U.S. Postal Service's stamp commemorating the historic 1963 event.
The Civil Rights Game began as an exhibition event in Memphis in 2007 with the St. Louis Cardinals facing the Cleveland Indians. In other years, it has taken place in Memphis (2008), Cincinnati (2009 & 2010), Atlanta (2011 & 2012) and now Chicago.
Instead of focusing on what needs fixed in today's MLB, Saturday was about how far baseball and America have come. There was no talk of steroids or cheating, only of progress and gratitude towards those who paved the way for countless others.
The night was capped off with a great contest between the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers in the Civil Rights Game. The White Sox won on a walk-off single by Josh Phegley in the bottom of the ninth.