Muhammad Ali impresses White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Only somebody like Muhammad Ali could turn major leaguers into a bunch of little kids.
No longer able to speak because of the effects of Parkinson's disease, the former heavyweight champion-turned-humanitarian still captivated the White Sox clubhouse during a visit Tuesday morning.
Ali was on hand to extol the virtues of his charity "Athletes for Hope," doing it with the help of his wife, Lonnie, and other representatives from the outreach program.
The White Sox proved to be an attentive audience, even taking part in demonstrations designed to show that it doesn't matter how much money you make or how big of a name you have, that all major and minor leaguers have a unique opportunity to make a difference.
After the presentation, the team posed for a group photo with Ali. He then took individual photos with players and other members of the organization.
"It's just impressive because when you talk about the most famous people over the course of mankind, he's probably on the list somewhere," said Paul Konerko, who has met presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and compared meeting Ali with them. "We're obviously around a lot of people that are known and all that, but when you start talking about a guy like Muhammad Ali, that's a whole other ball of wax. That's something totally different."
A.J. Pierzynski brought along his 4-year-old son, Austin, for the occasion.
"He has no idea who [Ali] is now, but 10 or 15 years from now he'll hear about it and say he has a picture with him and got to meet him," Pierzynski said. "He'll appreciate that later in life. I was happy it worked out that way. I met him a couple of times in the past. It's always an honor to be in his presence."
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General manager Kenny Williams is an acquaintance of Ali and his wife and was instrumental in making Tuesday's gathering happen.
Appearing tired at times, Ali still stayed until everybody who wanted a photo got one. He even showed a little of his personality by sitting upright and raising his eyebrows when Williams presented him with a custom White Sox jersey or when somebody made a fist while taking their photograph with him.
"When he has a good day, every now and then he'll give you a little nugget of wisdom and it will raise your consciousness," Williams said. "I value the family. I value his sister-in=law, Marilyn. She does a great job in helping to care for him. [Ali's wife] Lonnie is a superstar and is really his mouthpiece. They are just sharp people and caring people.
"He talks. I know it looks like if he has a bad day, he's not as peppy and you know, doesn't [have a] spring to his step. There are days where you get all of that and you start talking about fighting and that will get him excited. You see it all come up."
Williams said that Ali's message seemed to get across, just as he hoped it would.
"I think there's a message of giving back and I was among those with the line of thinking that you have to be so well-known or so famous for there to be an impact," Williams said. "I didn't even realize my own potential to have an impact here and there, albeit to a lesser degree, but an impact, nonetheless. Through a conversation with Lonnie actually a few years ago, I got that message that was delivered today and it really changed my thinking and I try to help out when I can."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com.