Black History Month & the Greatest Pitcher Ever – Bob Gibson

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.

BobGBGibson45BGBG2

Advertisements

Black History Month and Bob Gibson.

I think much of America lives in a dream world.   It is kind of like fast food and they get their news in a drive-through window.    It is also Black History Month and that is a noble cause for sure.

But nothing is really changing.   People live in their glass houses and throw stones but never entertaining the notion of actually changing.  Then to justify their odd behavior,   they watch the news and that news and agree with their favorite pop view of what is going on.

Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson 2

Bob Gibson 3

In this case,  we have the same ole recipe.   We name streets MLK or a Newscasters who feign concern over the plights of the poor.   But like Scrooge they hoard emotions and follow carefully nuance scripts full of hyperbole and the kinds of generalizations that make no sense.

Don’t get me wrong,  we should change but those changes are to investigate stories of minorities and whites.   Expand our lexicon to include people who have done well for their own community.

I am white and male and I am not intimidated by stupid people who do only what is expected and no more.  We become a reflection of what we despise.   I live close to Greensboro, NC.    The place where four black men decided to do their own part in integration and they are heroes and rightly recognized in that very building where Jim Crowe’s spirit thrived.

That building is now the Cultural Center and I had the opportunity to visit that place and came away with a further appreciation for history that is often overlooked.  So it is my intention to bring my own appreciation and it concerns a baseball player.   An unique player and he did not wear the number 42 or was he named Robinson.

My childhood hero was black.   I wanted to be him.   I practiced my high leg kick and pitched for hours on a makeshift mound and rubber.    I had a bucket full of balls.  These green and brown balls were stained by dirt and other grime and eventually the seams would break until they were not any longer serviceable.   These flights of fancy put in the front of adoring fans.

I was Bob Gibson.   A flame-throwing right-hander with an attitude.    The real Mr. Gibson dealt with a childhood that was dangerous,  growing up in the projects of Cabrini Green. (A notoriously violent ghetto).  He fought daily and commonly they were racial in nature and sometimes he had white friends fighting along side him.     There was also twice as many whites as there were blacks (Negroes back then).   Even as a kid,  I hated that term and the larger N-Bomb I heard from my own father.   He said,  “they smell among other things”.

One day at the supper table we rebelled at our own risk and pointed out dropping that word was offensive and it was all five of us kids.    It was a seminal moment and we didn’t have  cue,  we got it and made the point that that kind of bigotry was unacceptable!

Bob Gibson was an All-American basketball player at Creighton University and then the Harlem Globetrotters.   He also signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and stopped playing basketball at the insistence of Bing Devine,  the Cardinals General Manager.

As Gibson matured into one of the greatest right-handed pitchers ever.  I used to listen to the games on K-M-O-X in St. Louis, a very famous radio station that aired all the games and I almost always heard  their games.

In one season he had 12 shutouts and an ERA of 1.12.   Both of those are exceptional and legendary especially the ERA.   Gibson said the pitcher mounds were lowered just because he was black.   And he is probably right.

In spite of the racial hubris,  Gibson was loved in the City of the Arch but the same hospitality was not afforded him or the other black Cardinal players.    They had to live in segregated housing in Sarasota,  Florida instead of the hotel in St. Petersburg.

The next year,  the Cardinal’s owner August Busch bought the motel,   declaring that all his players  were equal and would be treated the same no matter their race.

This was also a great selling point for me.    Not only that but many players of that age named Gibson as the greatest pitcher ever.

April 15th of every years all teams and all players wear the #42 of Jackie Robinson.   I wish that only one player would wear that number and preferably a team’s best player.   I  believe that the Cardinals do the same thing each year.   A living memorial to players who clawed through the hell that players suffered through back then.

It will be a sad day for me when he dies.  A part of me will die with him and there are other teammates who were black that also inspired me, such as Lou Brock,  Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee.   I would adopt their personas playing baseball and softball.

Lou Brock 1

In high school I made an unassisted triple play which is a legacy that is still recognized today and that was many passes around the sun by the 3rd Rock from the Sun.

All I know is this is the day that we can make a difference.   Let us get outside of our comfort zone and look for redeeming qualities and I am sure we can.  I would hope that all peoples recognize the inherent beauty of each other and let’s not hate on each other for our race,  political party or skin color.