The Civil Rights Game is an annual Major League Baseball game (starting in 2007) that honors the history of civil rights in the United States and marked the unofficial end to the league's spring training. Starting in 2009, the game became a regular season game.
The first two games were held at AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tennessee. The intent of the game was to "embrace baseball's history of African-American players", as well as to generate interest for future black players, after a demographics survey revealed that the percentage of black players in the league has dwindled over the past twelve years to just 8.4 percent. The survey also gave the diversity of players in Major League Baseball an A+ grade: while African-Americans in the sport since 1996 dropped from 17 percent to 8 percent, the percentage of Hispanic players (many of them blacks from the Caribbean) increased during that period from 20 percent to 29 percent, and Asian and other minorities increased from 1 percent to 3 percent. The percentage of non-Hispanic white players actually went down from 62 percent to 60 percent during that period.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig commented on air during the first Civil Rights game that the 8 percent total for African-Americans was "a problem that needed to be looked at." Associated Press news releases related to the game focused on the drop in African-Americans, and quoted former Cleveland pitcher CC Sabathia on the idea that baseball must do more to promote the game in inner cities, saying, "It's not just a problem—it's a crisis."
In conjunction with the Civil Rights Game, Major League Baseball honors three pioneers of civil rights with the Beacon Awards (Beacon of Life Award, Beacon of Change Award and Beacon of Hope Award).
|2007||March 31||Memphis, Tennessee||AutoZone Park||St. Louis Cardinals||5–1||Cleveland Indians||12,815|
|2008||March 29||Memphis, Tennessee||AutoZone Park||New York Mets||3–2||Chicago White Sox||7,717|
|2009||June 20||Cincinnati, Ohio||Great American Ball Park||Cincinnati Reds||8–10||Chicago White Sox||42,234|
|2010||May 15||Cincinnati, Ohio||Great American Ball Park||Cincinnati Reds||4–3||St. Louis Cardinals||41,326|
|2011||May 15||Atlanta, Georgia||Turner Field||Atlanta Braves||3–2||Philadelphia Phillies||42,117|
|2012||August 18||Atlanta, Georgia||Turner Field||Atlanta Braves||2–6||Los Angeles Dodgers||42,219|
|2013||August 24||Chicago, Illinois||U.S. Cellular Field||Chicago White Sox||3–2||Texas Rangers||22,079|
|2014||May 30||Houston, Texas||Minute Maid Park||Houston Astros||2–1||Baltimore Orioles||38,482|
|2015||April 15||Los Angeles, California||Dodger Stadium||Los Angeles Dodgers||5–2||Seattle Mariners||51,287|
The inaugural game was played on Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 5:30 p.m. and was broadcast nationally on ESPN and ESPNHD. It was announced by ESPN's #1 broadcast team of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, with Peter Gammons serving as a field analyst (his role during Sunday Night Baseball telecasts on ESPN). The game featured the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians. Both teams wore uniforms reminiscent of those worn in Negro League games. The Cardinals won 5–1, receiving a solid five-inning start out of their 2006 closer Adam Wainwright, who got the win.
Selig came under heavy fire from Native Americans, who feel that the involvement of the Cleveland Indians was a slap in the face to the Cherokee people who still live in the Memphis area after the infamous Trail of Tears passed through less than 200 years ago. The New York Daily News called the situation a "primer on how to inadvertently stage an ironic insult to a local and large population of Natives" and insinuated that the league has (inadvertently) sabotaged the game by inviting the Indians. The sports blog Deadspin asked the question "If the Indians win, do Native Americans get civil rights?"
On December 3, 2007, league officials announced details for the second annual game. It was played on March 29, 2008. The New York Mets beat the Chicago White Sox 3–2. Martin Luther King III threw out the first pitch. This has been the lowest attended game, to date, primarily because it was held at a minor league park during cool, rainy weather.
On June 20, 2009, the Civil Rights Game was played for the first time as part of the regular season schedule. The game took place at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati between the host Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox defeated the Reds, 10–8. For this game, the teams wore replicas of their 1965 uniforms. The White Sox became the first team to participate in two Civil Rights Games. The game was broadcast on MLB Network except in the home markets of the two teams that played in the game, Cincinnati (FSN Ohio) and Chicago (CSN Chicago).
As of the end of the 2011 season, this game marks the last time the White Sox have actually worn white socks.
Cincinnati again hosted the Civil Rights Game on May 15, 2010. The Reds defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in a dramatic 4–3 game that ended when Reds SS Orlando Cabrera took a relay throw from LF Chris Heisey at the base of the left field wall and gunned down Skip Schumaker at home plate trying to score the tying run from first base on Joe Mather's double. Both teams wore replicas of their 1954 uniforms for this game, the first season both teams fielded their first black players. Again, MLB Network telecast the game except in Cincinnati (Fox Sports Ohio) and St. Louis (Fox Sports Midwest).
During the 2010 season, it was announced that Atlanta, Georgia had been selected to host the 2011 and 2012 Civil Rights Games at Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. Prior to the start of the 2011 season, the 2011 Game was announced to be the May 15 series finale between the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. Additionally, the festivities have been expanded from two days to four days. TBS carried the game outside the Philadelphia and Atlanta DMAs.
For the Civil Rights Game, the Braves and the Phillies wore their 1974 throwback jerseys to honor Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run in 1974 as a member of the Atlanta Braves. In the previous game of the series, both teams wore Negro League uniforms from their respective cities, the Atlanta Black Crackers for the Braves and the Philadelphia Stars for the Phillies.
The game was a pitching duel against two of the National League's best pitchers, Tim Hudson of the Braves and Roy Halladay of the Phillies. Both pitchers had very good starts, with Hudson going seven and giving up just two runs on a John Mayberry Jr. home run. Halladay worked eight innings, giving up a leadoff eighth-inning home run to Dan Uggla to put the Braves in front. Craig Kimbrel of the Braves closed the game out, earning his tenth save of the season.
Like the 2011 Game, the 2012 Game was held at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta Braves organization announced on February 21 that the game would be the August 19 series finale versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. The three-game weekend series from August 17 to 19 will again be incorporated into the Civil Rights Game Weekend, an event that will honor those on and off the field who have paved the way for equal rights for all Americans.
It was announced on November 19, 2013 that the 2014 Game will be held at Minute Maid Park in Houston on May 30, when the Astros host the Orioles. Houston beat Baltimore 2–1. For the game, the Astros were known as the Houston Eagles (after the only Negro League team in Texas) and Baltimore played as the Baltimore Elite Giants.
Beacon Awards Luncheon Keynote Speaker: Julian Bond
Beacon Awards Dinner Keynote Speaker: Dr. Joseph Lowery
Beacon Awards Luncheon Keynote Speaker: Bill Clinton
Beacon Awards Luncheon keynote speaker: Andrew Young
Beacon Awards Luncheon keynote speaker: Dr. Joseph Lowery