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MLB's commitment to inclusion unwavering
They sat together for a couple of hours in a Milwaukee hotel room that afternoon 29 years ago. They talked some. They cried some, too. They listened, both of them. They attempted to comprehend the nearly incomprehensible. All these years later, both men still struggle with that part of it.
When Bud Selig and Hank Aaron were done talking, a friendship that had begun years earlier and has stood the test of time and distance helped galvanize an unspoken commitment to something larger.
Weeks earlier, Selig had awakened Aaron in a Tokyo hotel room to announce he'd just acquired him to play for his Brewers.
"He's the only player I ever personally traded for," Selig said.
Selig saw the acquisition as the perfect marriage of an iconic star returning to the city in which he'd had some of his greatest years and a new franchise still trying to establish itself in the hearts and minds of fans.
When Aaron went to Milwaukee for a news conference, he asked Selig to stop by his hotel room. There he showed him some of the letters he'd received during his pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record.
Aaron and Selig had known each other casually for years, and on this day, Aaron wanted Selig to understand the path he'd taken.
A sampling of those letters -- filled with racial hatred and profanities and even death threats -- has been displayed at the Hall of Fame through the years. As a young Jewish man, Selig had felt the sting of anti-Semitism at times in his life, but he was unprepared for what he read in those letters.
"I have trouble, I still have trouble understanding how one human being could write those kinds of things to another human being," Selig said.
In his 21 years atop Major League Baseball, Selig has used his platform and power to make the sport an institution committed to racial and gender fairness. His leadership has resulted in a historic period of growth and innovation, but he has remained true to his core values and his belief that baseball is a social institution and a force for change in the world.
That's why baseball honors Jackie Robinson every season and attempts to tell his story of courage and pain. Selig has called Robinson's breaking of the color line in 1947 the "single greatest moment in the history of this sport."
Robinson changed the world in ways we may still be trying to understand a century from now. He helped open hearts and minds to the notion that black people and white people could work and play together and that they wanted the same things for themselves and their children.
America's civil rights movement began with Robinson. Had he not been a man of courage and dignity, change almost certainly wouldn't have come as quickly, and the country would have been diminished.
But it can't be just about one man, and that's why Major League Baseball is proud of its initiatives in the areas of affirmative action and diversity. It wants to be a mirror of America -- all of America, black and white, male and female.
As part of that effort, the MLB Diversity Business Summit, to be held June 18-19 in Houston, will allow job seekers and entrepreneurs to meet teams at both the Major League and Minor League level, as well as an array of sponsorship partners.
Selig will head a list of speakers that includes MLB's chief financial officer, Jonathan Mariner; Brewers owner Mark Attanasio; and D-backs president Derrick Hall.
Baseball has gotten high marks through the years for bringing men and women of color into the game at every level. In his most recent report, Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, wrote:
"MLB once again recorded an A for racial hiring practices."
The report, covering the 2011 season, praised baseball for bringing a diverse mixture of people into all levels of the sport. He reported that 38.2 percent of all players are of color, adding, "The playing fields look more like America."
This isn't just about front-office executives and minority managers, either. It's about giving everyone, regardless of color or gender, an opportunity to be part of Major League Baseball.
Baseball's urban academies are a commitment to giving inner-city kids a chance to play, and the commitment to bringing women and minorities into the decision-making process throughout the sport is also critical.
It's not a fight that can be won in one day or in 100 years. It's ongoing, and it has to be part of the culture of an organization. Baseball is proud of its role in leading the way in these areas. Its commitment is real and deep and unwavering.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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