Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Integrating past into the present

Tribute to Murtaugh raises money for future.

The Pittsburgh Pirates proved that good things can - and do - happen at a confluence when they brought home a World Series championship to Three Rivers Stadium in 1971.

Yesterday, the Phillies and Delaware County sought to borrow from that trailblazing team's legacy. The Pirates' cross-state rivals joined with the Delaware County Athletes Sports Hall of Fame to bring three good causes together when they gathered at the Renaissance Airport Hotel to honor Danny Murtaugh, the Chester native who managed the '71 Bucs, and raise money to revive baseball in inner cities, in general, and Murtaugh's hometown, in particular.

Murtaugh, who died in 1976, was feted for his vision, as well as a career that was comparable to Hall of Fame managers Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver.

"He led the Pirates to two World Series [titles] the Pirates had no business winning," said Bruce Markusen, author of 1971 Pirates, the Team that Changed Baseball.

Aside from the upsets of the Yankees in 1960 and the Orioles in '71, Murtaugh was also remembered for his refusal to bow to the unspoken belief that a preponderance of minorities should not be fielded on any given day.

For those reasons, Markusen declared: "Danny Murtaugh deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."
Murtaugh's son, Tim, recalling Sept. 1, 1971, the historic day when his father fielded an all-minority lineup, against the Phillies, amused the sold-out luncheon when he revealed that his father was color-blind - literally.

"It must have been an omen of things to come," Tim Murtaugh said after telling how his father's medical affliction was discovered when he attempted to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II.

All who gathered agreed that Murtaugh would have applauded the effort to revitalize youth ball in cities such as Chester. The Phillies were applauded for their work, especially when Rob Holiday, the Phillies' assistant director of scouting, told of the growth of the team's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities initiative, which is known as RBI.

When the Phillies' RBI branch started in 1989, 200 children participated in what was then a neighborhood Puerto Rican Rookie League.

The Phillies now promote and sponsor RBI teams and leagues in which up to 7,500 children participate throughout the Delaware Valley.

"Baseball is a wonderful game," Dick Allen, the former Phillies slugger who is part of the Phillies' RBI vanguard, told the audience.

"To see kids having fun playing with one little baseball - no guns, no shootings, no knives... . When they're started young, they're on their way," Allen said.

Then, nodding toward a table filled with members of the Chester Red Sox - the only youth team in Chester and the beneficiary of the fund-raiser - Allen said, "When they get to these fellas' age, they're well on their way."

Fifteen-year-old Keyon Staples, an outfielder with the Red Sox, agreed.

"Some people don't understand why we play," he said. "They say baseball is a white person's sport, that blacks should play football and basketball. But they don't know about it. Baseball is fun, too, and I love it."

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