Selig proud of MLB's track record on diversity
NEW YORK -- When his legacy is written, Commissioner Bud Selig will be remembered for the sweeping changes that took place in baseball under his stewardship: Interleague Play, Wild Cards and expanded postseason. He will be remembered for forging a hard-fought labor peace, financial prosperity for the game and constructing the toughest drug-testing policy in North American professional sports.
"But if you get [him] in a quiet moment, maybe his proudest accomplishment is his record on the issue of diversity," Major League Baseball COO Rob Manfred said Tuesday, introducing Selig at the Manhattan Center as baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, as it does on April 15 every year.
The Commissioner used the anniversary of Robinson's integration of baseball to speak at the third annual Diversity Business Summit, receiving standing ovations at the beginning and end of his remarks.
Selig noted that since he instituted the Diverse Business Partners Program in 1998, MLB and its clubs have spent more than $1 billion on goods and services from companies run by minorities and women. He mentioned the preliminary initiatives that were announced last week based on recommendations from his On-Field Diversity Task Force. Selig pointed out the 220,000 youngsters who participate in the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) Program and the Urban Academies in Compton, Calif., New Orleans and Houston, with more coming in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Washington and Miami.
How dramatically have things changed? Rev. Jesse Jackson was once a vocal critic of baseball's lack of diversity. On Tuesday, after Selig finished speaking, Jackson was the first to step to a microphone and praise the great strides that have been made.
"You took to heart that challenge and what it represented," Jackson said. "This game set the pace for the country. To honor Jackie in this way is to honor the best in America."
Robinson's daughter, Sharon, presented Selig with a large frame of No. 42 and a plaque from her and her mother, Rachel. The Commissioner was deeply moved by the gesture.
"You have no idea," Selig said afterward. "I don't often have a hard time articulating my thoughts, but this, it's really something."
In his speech, Selig made it clear how important remembering Robinson and using it as a basis for increasing minority opportunities throughout the game are to him. He retired Robinson's number throughout baseball in 1997, put an Equal Employment Opportunity policy into place two years later and has never stopped trying to improve baseball's record in that arena.
"[Jackie Robinson Day] has become a milestone across all of Major League Baseball," Selig said. "Jackie's No. 42 has come to symbolize our game's stature as a social institution with very significant social responsibilities. ... Baseball would not be the national pastime without pioneers like Jackie Robinson and all those who followed in his path.
"He once said, 'A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.' We must always shine a light on Jackie's life and legacy, and we must use his words to guide the direction in which we take our great game. Because of the special passion our game inspires, we have one of the most unique platforms in society. It is our duty to make the most of this important opportunity we have to make an impact on other lives.
"Baseball must continue to be more than just a game on the field. The game's remarkable ability to serve as a common bond should be used to create opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. I've often said that April 15, 1947, was the most powerful and important moment in baseball history."
While the day's events focused on Jackie Robinson and diversity, it was inevitable that Selig would be asked about other topics, including the new expanded instant replay system.
"It's two weeks old," Selig said. "I've studied all the numbers. There's really been very little controversy overall. When you do something new, there's always a glitch or two. I think it's off to a remarkable start. A remarkable start. Everything in life will have a little glitch here and there when you do something new. Are our guys on it? You bet.
"You'll hear about the one or two controversies, but what about all the calls that were overturned and we got it right? I think we're off to a great start. But we'll continue to work at it."
Selig has announced that he'll step down next January. One summit attendee wondered what guarantees there are that baseball will remain as committed to diversity and minority opportunities after his successor is in place.
"I think that diversity and everything I've done will just naturally follow. Because it's the right thing to do," the Commissioner said. "We talk about Jackie Robinson and the great heritage that we've had in this sport. And after Jackie Robinson, we've had Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson. A wonderful, wonderful part of our history.
"That will be perpetuated. I have no concerns about that at all."