My favorite baseball player is almost 80 years old next November. He is about five weeks older than my mother and regardless of the fact that he does NOT know me, he is my role model, my baseball idol and a man of great character.
I feel that too many times Jackie Robinson is hailed as the great trailblazer of equal rights. But Mr. Gibson himself grew up in one of the most dangerous ghettos in America… Cabrini Green. His own father died about three months before Bob was born and his brother who was some 15 years older was a kind of mentor.
The song above is probably my favorite from Elvis and conveys the hard reality of disadvantage and self-destructive behaviors. Growing up in Texas in a segregated neighborhood it seemed that integration was happening and no one had to tell us racism was wrong. How is it little kids can figure out. One day this black boy came across me and asked his friends, “Who is this peckerwood?” One of my friends from that run down place called the young black child out and told him I was his friend.
Racism was very real but the good part of that change was not a slogan or a gimmick, we had real problems in our country. We had Little Rock Hall and the protest of the brave young black students. I was one year old as this cauldron was beginning to boil over and an ugly scene ensued.
This young lady was a hero and young kids of all races were angry at the over racism and Jim Crowe Laws that permeated the nation and especially the South. It was this that the young Cardinal star had to deal with and he did so relatively easily as was his character never to lose at anything.
Gibson had rickets and asthma as a kid and yet become a good basketball player, averaging 22ppg as a senior in high school. After that he went on to be an All-American basketball player at Creighton University. And from there the Harlem Globetrotters and finally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.
When pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training, black players were not allowed to stay in the hotel that was white only. Eventually the Cardinals organization fixed that problem. Imagine being the superstar pitcher in the second best baseball organization and then being spit at in Florida.
The rough life growing up and his competitive nature made him a force in the game and he set one record that is still a record fifty or so years later. (1.12) over 300 strikeouts and 13 shutouts with 22 wins. He was a prolific hitter also bashing 24 Homeruns and 144 RBIs. During the day there were not a lot of televised games and especially the Cardinals so I would listen to KMOX in St. Louis while we were living in upstate NY. I loved and was proud when watching him pitch and would emulate his pitching delivery.
Mr Gibson like Hank Aaron survived the rigors that racism and hate with class and strength. One time his catcher Tim McCarver ( a really good one) came to the mound and Gibson, “told him the only thing McCarver knew about hitting was he couldn’t.”
He was known for a blistering fastball and an awesome curve. When he retired I felt such a deep sadness on a variety of levels. As the years have passed fans revere him as a classy human and one of the greatest pitchers and one of only a few black pitchers. So my looking up to him is influenced by so many factors. I refused to lose and invariably I came through in the clutch every so often. That included beating an undefeated wrestler in a state tournament, and an unassisted triple play. The baseball coach told my little brother that he had large shoes to fill.
I was born in a turbulent time with wars, bitter conflicts racial and otherwise so I take a dim view of blacks using slavery as a crutch and so do the stars, businessmen and fathers who do the right thing and do represent the status quo, There is a lot of work and Ferguson roiled the waters and I am not going to be political but to say, we collectively have to see each others as valuable as ourselves if not more.
This is a condensed version of my love and respect for this great man and served as a role model to black and white kids.