Give Major League Baseball credit, because it is using its imagination to bring color back into the game. The lords of baseball surely see the value of making “diversity” more than a catchphrase.
That’s what you come away with after learning the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a silent partner with Major League Baseball, has enlisted the talent of gospel singer Yolanda Adams to celebrate the museum’s 75 th birthday in August.
Adams will join former Yankees Bernie Williams and Dave Winfield and other retired stars such as Rod Carew, Juan Marichal and Ozzie Smith. It’s a lineup that packs a wallop, and maybe it needs a powerful voice like Adams’s to speak to the significance of the occasion.
For Adams is a gospel legend, and as Hall President Jeff Idelson said so well in a press release, “We are thrilled to welcome her high energy and powerful voice to Cooperstown for what’s sure to be an incredible evening of music and entertainment.”
The evening, indeed, will be incredible, but the Hall might have gone a bit too far in adding Adams, a four-time Grammy winner, to its entertainment mix. While she can’t possibly be the big blunder 50 Cent was when he threw out a ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night at Citi Field, Adams seems more like mere window dressing than someone who belongs at this event.
For neither gospel nor rap fits into what baseball is about.
We can look inside the game and see its conservative nature, how reluctant the men who run the game are to alter it and make the game resonant in contemporary America. Whenever they try, their efforts tend to come across as ham-handed: ideas not thought through quite enough.
It’s fine if that’s how the Hall of Fame feels about its birthday. It had its choice of celebrities to bring in for the Main Street event. The Hall could have had presidents and U.S. senators; war heroes and heroines; Hollywood celebrities and the almost-famous; dying adults and children who have a wish that Cooperstown could make come true; 9/11 survivors and New York City firefighters; more Hall of Famers than just Winfield, Carew, Marichal, Rollie Fingers, Carlton Fisk and Phil Niekro; and other 1980s rockers like Paul Simon.
After Simon and the Boston Pops, did the event need anything else to entertain baseball fans?
Unlike any other American sport, baseball is big on symbolism, and nothing symbolizes America’s game as much as its holiest shrine. Cooperstown is where the legends go, where the history of the game is played out in front of a fans' eyes. Cooperstown is a celebration of baseball’s past, not a hard look at its present.
Winfield, Carew and Marichal are its past. Adams is neither the past nor the present. She is the face — rather, the voice — of what baseball has left behind it.
That’s been all right for segments of America that love the game. They don’t need it to be what it can’t be: cool, hype and urban.
Those are traits that speak to Yolanda Adams, and she can sing “I Believe” all night in the rural town in upstate New York, but she will never make people believe that the game holds the same allure for her as it does to a white crowd that will sit in front of her and listen to her golden voice.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for BET)