Tuesday, May 27, 2008

(4) Josh, Biz and Roy of the Negro Leagues

Josh Gibson was born on December 21, 1911 and left us on January 20, 1947 at the very young age of 35.

He played for the Homestead Grays (1930-31; 1937-39; 1942-46) and the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-36).

Known as the "black Babe Ruth."

Walter "Big Train" Johnson, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Washington Senators, considered the top righthander in the white game by most, said it all:

"There is a catcher that any big league club would like to buy for $200,000. His name is Gibson. He can do everything. He hits the ball a mile, he catches so easily he might as well be in a rocking chair, throws like a bullet. Bill Dickey isn't as good a catcher. Too bad this Gibson is a colored fellow."

He had a terrible time with pop flies but Josh's bat was so powerful the Grays had to make room for him in the lineup. He became the home run threat the fans loved to watch. That he was no Biz Mackey as a catcher or a Bruce Petway, either, no one ever argued.

Cool Papa Bell rates Gibson as a "good" catcher, with a strong arm, and a good handler of pitchers, but said he was poor on pop-ups. Teammate Buck Leonard had an unwritten rule that he'd take every pop up, fair to foul, he could reach. But it was wood , not leather, that put Gibson in the Hall of Fame (in 1972).

In 1942, he suffered severe headaches and had blacked out a few times. Medical examinations determined the presence of a brain tumor, but Gibson was afraid of the results of such an operation and refused to submit to the knife. After banging up his knees as a result of so many plate collisions, when runners came high and hard with spikes flashing, he slowed down as a runner. From one of the team's fastest base runners, he became a lumbering giant the last few seasons. On the evening of January 20, 1947, Josh came home and predicted his own demise, telling his mother that he was going to have a stroke. One version, by Robert W. Peterson in Only the Ball was White, tells of a fun and laughing night as Gibson lay in his bed. He asked for all his trophies to be assembled at his bedside. Once this was accomplished, he laughed, sat up in his bed, then fell over dead.

James Raleigh "Biz" Mackey............Born 7/27/1897 Died 9/22/1965
Regarded as black baseball's premier catcher in the 1920s and early 1930s. His superior defense and outstanding throwing arm were complimented by a batting skill which placed him among the Negro Leagues all-time leaders in total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage while posting a lifetime batting average of .322.

During his career he played for: Indianapolis ABCs (1920-22); New York Lincoln Giants (1920); Hilldale Daisies (1923-31); Philadelphia Royal giants (1925); Philadelphia Stars (1933-35); Washington & Baltimore Elite Giants (1936-39); and Newark Dodgers/Eagles (1935, 1939-41, 1945-47, 1950).

Biz mentored a youthful Roy Campanella. Campanella recalled:
In my opinion he was the master of defense of all catchers. When I was a kid in Philadelphia, I saw both Mackey and Mickey Cochrane in their primes. For real catching skills I don't think Cochrane was the master of defense Mackey was. When I went under Mackey's direction, in Baltimore, I was 15. I gathered quite a bit watching how he did things. The way he blocked low pitches, how he shifted his feet for an outside pitch, how he threw with a short, quick and was accurate without drawing back. I got all of this from watching Mackey at a young age.

Biz is the grandfather of -former Denver Bronco tight end, and 4-time pro bowl player, #88,- Riley Odoms.

Both Gibson and Mackey never played in the major leagues because under the unwritten "gentleman's agreement" policy, they excluded non-whites during these two players' lifetime.

The baseball color line, sometimes called the "Gentleman's agreement," which excluded African-Americans from organized baseball in the United States before 1946. As a result, various Negro Leagues were formed.

Prominent players such as Hall of Famer, Adrian Constantine "Cap" Anson, steadfastly refused to take the field with or against teams with African Americans on the roster. (Anson was researched by Dennis Yuhasz, and seen as a man of high moral standing, a very religious man and yet he was also a bigot.)

During his term in office as the first baseball commissioner, Keneshaw Mountain Landis, has been alleged to have been particularly determined to maintain the segregation, of keeping
African-Americans out of baseball. It was why he was voted in as baseball's commissioner by the majority of the owners during that time. Some of the owners were just as much to blame as they too didn't want some of their players to lose their jobs to African-Americans.

He used the then-existing constitutional doctrine of separate but equal institution.
Seperate but equal is a set phrase denoting the system of segregation that justifies giving different groups of people separate facilities or services with the declaration that the quality of each group's public facilities remain equal.

Although Landis was acredited with serving an important role in helping to restore the integrity of the game, after the 1919 World Series/Black Sox scandal, his unyielding stance on the subject of baseball's color line was a barrier that separated Landis from those owners who wanted to improve their ballclubs and knew the signing of African-Americans would be their best way of achieving such a feat.

Proof of this was that Landis died late in 1944 and Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, with new commissioner, Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler not being so narrow-mindedly focused on keeping the color line in tact.

(thanks to Wikipedia, Baseball-Almanac and The Sporting News Hall of Fame Fact Book)

Kevin Marquez