When Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard went into the Hall of Fame


“Wake up, Dad,” mentioned Josh Gibson Jr., “you just made it in.”

With these phrases in Cooperstown, N.Y. a half-century in the past Sunday, the youthful Gibson accepted the plaque that welcomed his late father, Josh Gibson, into the Nationwide Baseball Hall of Fame, together with one other Negro League star, Buck Leonard.

The 2 males, who performed for the Homestead Grays and have been referred to as “the Black Babe Ruth” and “the Black Lou Gehrig,” by no means obtained a shot within the main leagues. However in August 1972, they turned the primary solely Negro League gamers inducted into Cooperstown.

Gibson, the most effective Negro League hitter of all time, died of a stroke at 35 in January, 1947, simply three months earlier than Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier. Leonard, who turned 40 that season, retired a yr later.

“We in the Negro Leagues felt we could have and should have been in the majors, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Leonard mentioned in his acceptance speech on that cloudy summer season day 50 years in the past, a month earlier than his sixty fifth birthday. “ … We felt we were contributing something to baseball, too. We played with a round ball and round bats, and we loved it and liked to play — because there wasn’t that much money in it. My getting in is something I never thought would happen.”

Gibson, a catcher, and Leonard, a primary baseman, powered a “Murderers’ Row” Grays workforce, which dominated the Negro Nationwide League within the Thirties and ’40s. The Grays cut up their time between D.C. and Pittsburgh, typically outdrawing the Washington Senators in their very own ballpark, Griffith Stadium.

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The duo have been inducted with six different gamers, together with Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax and Yankees catcher Yogi Berra.

“They scarcely could have been more representative of Melting Pot USA,” the Sporting Information wrote on the time, describing the 5 dwelling inductees. “Humble and appreciative, they stood before a microphone in typically small-town USA. … A Jew from New York, an Italian from Missouri, a Scotch-Irish-Indian from Alabama, a Spaniard from California and a Negro from North Carolina.”

Gibson and Leonard have been simply the fourth and fifth Black gamers to make the Hall of Fame, following Robinson (1962), his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella (1969) and Satchel Paige, who in 1971 turned the primary participant inducted by the Committee on Negro League Veterans. (All three had performed within the Negro Leagues, however Paige was the one one of many three who performed most of his profession there.)

Some information protection that day characterised Gibson and Leonard as, at finest, supporting actors. In its story in regards to the induction, the New York Occasions reported, “In a perfectly appropriate blend of sentiment, humor and brevity, Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Gomez and five less glamorized figures were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame today.”

Fifty years later, it will be arduous for any baseball historian to think about Gibson and Leonard “less glamorized” than different Hall of Famers. In keeping with baseballreference.com, Gibson completed with a profession batting common of .374, a .720 slugging proportion and an off-the-charts 1.178 OPS. Leonard had a .345 profession batting common, and a 1.042 OPS.

“Josh was the greatest hitter I ever pitched to, and I pitched to everybody,” Paige mentioned in 1972, in line with the Occasions. “There’s been some great hitters — Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Mays, Mantle. But none of them was as great as Josh.”

Campanella, a star slugging catcher who performed eight seasons within the Negro Leagues earlier than becoming a member of the Dodgers in 1948, informed the Sporting Information, “Whenever I played on an all-star team in the Black leagues with Josh, he was the catcher. I played third base. Everything I could do, Josh could do better.”

‘Too bad this Gibson is a colored fellow’

Gibson and Leonard, in fact, didn’t come out of nowhere. Throughout spring coaching in 1939, former Washington Senators star Walter Johnson, among the best pitchers in baseball historical past, watched Gibson play in a sport in Orlando, then raved to Washington Publish sports activities columnist Shirley Povich, who quoted him:

“There is a catcher that any big league club would like to buy for $200,000. I’ve heard of him before. His name is Gibson. They call him ‘Hoot’ Gibson, and he can do everything. He hits that ball a mile. And he catches so easy he might just as well be in a rocking chair. Throws like a rifle. [Yankees star] Bill Dickey isn’t as good a catcher. Too bad this Gibson is a colored fellow.”

Povich added: “That was the general impression among the Nats who saw the game.”

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Senators proprietor Clark Griffith got here to the identical conclusion a number of years later, though he knocked the value down a bit. “There’s a catcher worth $150,000 of anybody’s money right now. If I could have had him I’d have gone after him some time ago!” he gushed to The Publish in 1942. Griffith recalled seeing Gibson hit 4 homers in a doubleheader the yr earlier than, certainly one of which was the longest ball ever hit at Griffith Stadium.

And but Griffith resisted strain from Black journalists comparable to Sam Lacy to signal Gibson and different Black gamers — and immediately enhance his mediocre workforce. Leonard recalled that someday round 1942, Griffith requested to fulfill with him and Gibson, in line with a 1988 Publish story by John B. Holway, tailored from his e-book “Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers.”

At that assembly, Leonard recalled, Griffith talked about the marketing campaign by Black sportswriters to place them on the Senators roster, and mentioned, “Well, let me tell you something: If we get you boys, we’re going to get the best ones. It’s going to break up your league. Now what do you think of that?”

Leonard mentioned they replied that they’d be pleased to play within the main leagues, however would depart it to others to make the case. In keeping with Holway, the duo by no means heard from Griffith once more.

Two years in the past, the Baseball Writers’ Affiliation of the America voted to take away former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s identify from MVP plaques. There have been no Black gamers within the main leagues throughout his lengthy tenure as the game’s first commissioner, from 1920 to 1944. Now the Josh Gibson Basis has a marketing campaign to rename the MVP for Gibson.

“We all know that Kenesaw Mountain Landis denied over 3,400 men an opportunity to play in the major leagues,” the group’s government director, Sean Gibson, Josh Gibson’s great-grandson, mentioned in a current phone interview. “So having Josh Gibson’s name on the MVP Award would not just represent Josh Gibson, but it would represent the 3,400 men who were denied the opportunity to play in the majors. This is bigger than just Josh Gibson. Josh is carrying those guys on his shoulders.”

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He added that it will be “poetic justice” for a participant denied the possibility to play within the main leagues to interchange a commissioner who had been an impediment.

Sean Gibson mentioned that his grandfather, who accepted the Hall of Fame plaque for Josh Gibson, at all times credited Boston Purple Sox star Ted Williams for opening the door to gamers comparable to Gibson to make the Hall. In his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech, Williams mentioned, “I hope that someday the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way could be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given a chance.”

“Five years later, Satch goes in in ’71,” Gibson famous. “The next year, ‘72, is Josh. My grandfather always gave Ted Williams credit, because he feels if Ted Williams does not mention Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige in his speech, he doesn’t know if that happens that fast.”

Gibson mentioned he that he thinks that Williams’s background — his mom was Mexican American — helped him really feel compassion for Negro League gamers. One other issue was Williams seeing Black gamers throughout barnstorming video games in opposition to Negro Leaguers.

“So he knew about the talent,” Gibson mentioned. “He knew how great these guys were on the diamond.”

“Ted spoke up; nobody else spoke up,” he added. “So we’re very grateful for that. His speech was only like three minutes long. And for him to include that small piece of the pie, of Josh and Satch, was huge for us.”

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