Documents from Historic 1970 MLK Game Preserved in Cooperstown
As the nation and world pauses to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, the baseball world can reflect on a landmark exhibition game played to honor Dr. King in 1970.
The manuscripts and artifacts from that largely unremembered game remain alive in the archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
In December of 1968 – just eight months after Dr. King was slain in Memphis, Tenn. – a plan was put forth by Southern Christian Leadership Conference executives to hold an all-star baseball game at on March 29, 1969 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, proceeds from which would further the work of Dr. King.
The SCLC was founded by Dr. King and other civil rights activists in 1957 and led by Dr. King until his death.
According to documents in the Hall of Fame archive, the SCLC mapped out details of the game, which was expected to net $163,788. Minutes from organizational meetings as well as hand-written notes can be found among the hundreds of documents from the event in Cooperstown, including correspondence between SCLC leaders and baseball executives such as Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and future Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who was working for the Office of the Commissioner.
Documents indicate that the game was postponed until March 28, 1970 due to organizational challenges – and in the meantime the SCLC helped host an all-star basketball game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia featuring players like Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe and Oscar Robertson.
But the baseball game played on March 28, 1970 set a standard for similar all-star games that might never be eclipsed. Among the future Hall of Famers on the field that day for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial All-Star Baseball Classic were Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Ron Santo, Tom Seaver and Willie Stargell. The teams were managed by Joe DiMaggio and Roy Campanella, and the coaches included Larry Doby, Sandy Koufax and Stan Musial.
A crowd of 31,694 watched the East defeat the West 5-1 behind three innings of shutout ball apiece from Seaver and Gibson. Entertainer Bill Cosby held a pregame reception for the all-stars, and Jackie Robinson was in attendance at the game.
The game was not repeated in following years, but Major League Baseball revived the concept in 2007 with the introduction of the annual Civil Rights Game.
Meanwhile, historic documents of the game dedicated to Dr. King – including mock-ups of tickets, internal league correspondence and even a program from the game – are available to researchers at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. For information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum