NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- During a press conference Monday evening to announce the participation of the New York Mets and Chicago White Sox in Major League Baseball's second Civil Rights Game on March 29, Ken Williams quipped how the White Sox should have been involved in last year's inaugural contest.
But the White Sox general manager added with a smile that they quickly got over being overlooked. For one time only in Williams' ultra-competitive mind, there still was a great reward and tremendous sense of pride emanating from finishing second.
"In all seriousness, it was an easy call when [executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball] Jimmie Lee [Solomon] called me and asked if we would participate in this event," Williams said. "It was easy for a number of reasons.
"After giving him a little bit of a hard time behind us not being the first participants, we got to the heart of the matter. And what it is is something that's very personal to not only our organization, but to me personally. It makes you proud to be part of something that is more than just a game; when you're talking about affecting people's lives in a charitable way; when you are talking about representing and standing for something."
Williams was joined on the dais at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, the site of this year's Winter Meetings, by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, Mets general manager Omar Minaya and Mets manager Willie Randolph. Williams stands as one of two African-American general managers in the game, while Guillen became the first native Venezuelan to serve as manager upon his hiring in 2004.
Guillen also quickly became the first manager to bring a World Series trophy back to Venezuela. Being part of this game, to be played at Memphis' AutoZone Park, also has a profound effect on White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Not only has Reinsdorf worked extensively on baseball's Equal Opportunity Committee and, as Williams pointed out, "played a large role in getting baseball to adopt some of the diversity practices that are in play now," but the Brooklyn native also has a deep childhood connection to Jackie Robinson. It was Robinson who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, and it has been Reinsdorf, in part, who has watched the game change in regard to minorities in front office positions during his ownership.
"I think when [Faye] Vincent left and the [Bud] Selig regime started, we had something like 6 percent of the front offices were minorities," Reinsdorf said. "Now, we are up somewhere in the 20s and it's building.
"You have two black general managers today, and it's moving very far forward. Selig has been a good leader in that respect. I guess it makes me feel proud baseball has been such a great leader for the Civil Rights cause."
In regard to the weekend itself, Williams spoke of his excitement toward getting to view the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Both Williams and Guillen referred to the great impact felt through a team-wide visit made to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City two years ago, and Guillen went as far as to say Major League Baseball should make this sort of trip mandatory for every team traveling to face the Royals.
Guillen added, to much laughter, how he hoped the Civil Rights Game also featured a preview of the 2008 World Series. But Williams eloquently closed with personal analysis slightly more salient to the press conference, pointing out how the Civil Rights Game does not solely represent a salute to the past.
"So often, when I hear the term 'civil rights,' and I've heard things and I've read things on last year's game, so often it's referred back to, you know, past days, in the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s," Williams said. "I would just like to remind everyone that is reporting on the game, talking about the game in their various circles, that we still have several rights issues in this country that we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis now.
"This game can also serve as a platform to, yes, look back and respect the past, but also, look forward in terms of respecting where we're going with our civil rights. And again, one of the last civil rights that are out there: the right to an education, the right to go and compete in the workplace and some of the things that we are still dealing with.
"But if we open the conversations up, if we have a dialogue like some of the forums that we're going to have to discuss some of these issues down in Memphis, it does not have to be limited to the past," Williams added. "It can be a reflection on the past, but with the mind-set that we have the ability to change our present."