I arrived early at Nationals Park for Game 4 of the NLCS and did a lap around the stadium to see the sights. I discovered three statues near the home plate entrance, and as a student of baseball history anticipated two of the honorees—Frank Howard and Walter Johnson. But I confess that the Josh Gibson statue was a most pleasant surprise.
Not that Gibson, the greatest home run hitter in baseball history, does not deserve a statue. Quite the opposite. Gibson hit more home runs than anyone, including the longest home run in the history of Yankee Stadium. Some called him “the black Babe Ruth,” while others preferred to refer to Ruth as “the white Josh Gibson.” No, I was surprised to see the statue since Gibson, simply because of the color of his skin, was never allowed to play a Major League Baseball game.
Sadly, Gibson died of a stroke at age thirty-five. Three months later Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball.
In certain ways there has been undeniable progress in race relations in this country, thanks in part to baseball and the heroism of players like Jackie Robinson. When the team from our nation’s capital takes the field tomorrow night in their first ever trip to the World Series, their roster will feature players from Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela—and the United States. And from the United States, alongside white, European-Americans you will find African-Americans, a Japanese-American, and a Mexican-American. It is a beautiful thing to witness.
But do not be deceived. Progress is simply signage on the road to somewhere, and the destination most assuredly remains on the farthest horizon.
Josh Gibson’s statue outside a Major League Baseball stadium in our nation’s capital honors one of the greatest baseball players of all time. At the same time, it reminds us that he was never allowed on the team. Both deserve remembering.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged babe ruth, baseball, frank howard, jackie robinson, josh gibson, nationals park, negro leagues, playoffs, race relations, racism, remember, statue, walter johnson, washington nationals, world series
“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” – George F. Will
Baseball is back, and I am happy. Somewhere in the lazy sunshine, major league teams are taking the field for the first games of spring training, and all is right in the world. Who am I kidding, all is not right in the world, but when you need a distraction because the world may be going to Crazyland—and reports are that it may have already boarded the plane—some opt for pictures of cute puppies and others choose a stiff drink, but I prefer baseball.
My team is the St. Louis Cardinals. Tomorrow, 2,685 miles away in Jupiter, Florida, my beloved Redbirds will take on the Miami Marlins for their first game of the new season. It is so far away from my house that it might as well be on the planet, Jupiter, but all I need to know is that baseball has awakened and that a new season is on the way. I love how baseball wakes up with the sun in the early spring, hits its stride in the summer heat, reaches its conclusion in the picturesque fall, and hibernates through the dark winter. So today, as far as I’m concerned, despite the calendar, spring has sprung.
Now truth be told, our mortal enemy, the Chicago Cubs, remains World Series champions, and they have the best lineup in baseball—again. But this is baseball, and hope springs eternal. You just never know what might happen. Heck, listen to me, the Chicago Cubs are reigning World Series champs. It is undeniable that anything is possible.
That anything is possible may be my favorite way that baseball reflects life. So on this glorious weekend, wherever you happen to be in the seasons of life, remember that spring is somewhere in the rotation. Where anything is possible.