Now that the National Baseball Hall-of-Fame weekend with Tony Gwynn has wrapped up, it’s worth remembering the speech San Diego’s “other” greatest hitter in the game delivered in July, 1966 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Ted Williams’ speech is memorable for his recognition of black baseball players that had emerged in the Major Leagues and the Negro League legends that never had a chance to play in the Majors.

Williams, who hit 521 career home runs, had recently been passed by Willie Mays when he gave his speech that showed he was ahead of his time.

“The other day, Willie Mays hit his 522nd home run. He has gone past me, and he’s pushing, and I say to him, ‘Go get ’em, Willie.’ Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as anybody else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope some day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.”

Five years later, in 1971, Paige was the first Negro Leagues legend admitted to the Hall (although he played briefly in the Majors while well past his prime) and Gibson followed in 1972.

Later, there were proposals for a separate wing for Negro League stars, but then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, to his credit, overruled such plans, saying the legends deserved a place with the other Hall of Famers.

In subsequent years, there were 18 Negro League players admitted. In 2005, a Hall of Fame-commissioned study of the Negro Leagues between the 19th century and Jackie Robinson breaking in the color line, in 1947, admitted 17 more Negro League legends.

One reason Williams was generous to the Negro League players on a day set aside to honor him was his background. In the San Diego that he grew up, it was common for whites, blacks and Hispanics to play ball on the same teams. Williams’ mother was Hispanic.

When Williams played at Hoover High in the mid-1930s, San Diego High was a Southern California power.

Mike Morrow, the Cavers’ legendary coach, would take his team on road trips to the Los Angeles area for a weekend series against the likes of Long Beach Poly. If there were no hotel accommodations for his black players, Morrow had his white, black and Hispanic players camp out together in the Long Beach Poly gym.

Ted Williams broke into the all-white Major Leagues in 1939, eight years before Jackie Robinson made history. Curt Gowdy, who knew Williams as the Boston Red Sox radio broadcaster, considered Williams the least bigoted player of his time.

In addition to his great vision for hitting a baseball, Teddy Ballgame’s eyes were colorblind.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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