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The Miami Herald from Miami, Florida • 610

The Miami Heraldi
Miami, Florida
Issue Date:
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

Qh SUNDAY AUGUST 11 1991 OH THE MIAMI HERALD NATIONAL NEWS The Yankee Stadium legacy: Going going goner -44-4 I fr N- A A 14lkVVv Josh Gibson played in them both But Josh Gibson hit no home runs In the neat rows of tiny numbers lay the literal truth: It happen It was faulty memory understandable yearning The who can recall Gibson and as he burst Limitation that old fan is remembering a wish not a happening The lid stays on The lid remains on Yankee Stadium Yet that diminish the star Gibson was To set the price of rightful admission to a place in our baseball allegory beyond the price demanded of Ruth Mantle' Lou Gehrig Joe DiMaggio and all the rest of the great white sluggers would be but a new twist on the old injustice And the heart of this story is that" at the sharp edge of Mortality Justice binds us all There is an outer edge no one can exceed another way of saying that all men are created equal That even the greatest home run can never leave The Park ately to learn the details So I searched At an archive in Harlem I found an excellent documentary film about the history of the Negro leagues Only the Ball Waslite Among the bittersweet images that moved across the screen was the elderly face of Jack Marshall once a star of the Chicago American Giants In convincing detail he described Samson monster blast that cleared the third deck of Yankee Stadium in the autumn of 1934 Numbers never lie More than eyewitnesses though I craved a box score The cryptic rows of numbers never lie never forget I searched old copies of The New York Times and New York Post Nothing Back I rattled on the No 2 subway to Harlem to a place where Gibson would be remembered And there in microfilm copies of The New York Amsterdam News the longest-lived black newspaper I found the crucial evidence Box scores from two Negro National League double-headers played at Yankee Stadium in 1934 sis of the "Tape-Measure Home What Babe Ruth could not do what Mickey Mantle could not do simply could not be done That was the received wisdom Yet there was a gaping hole in our baseball curriculum where the great black players of nearly a century disappeared men like Oscar Charleston and Judy Johnson Bud Fowler and Martin Hidalgo John Henry Lloyd and Smoky Joe Williams They were some of the finest players who ever crossed the chalk lines but we never learned their stones Even the most famous of them Satchel Paige was not held up to us as the best pitcher ever which he may have been but as a comic figure a sort of Stepin Fetchit in cleats Paige was every bit as fast and twice as resourceful as Feller on the mound but to us he was a charming little joke fned foods which angry up the he said and we chuckled look back may be on Josh Gibson was 18 years old in 1930 when he played his first game in the Negro National League He was a strapping young man born in Georgia raised in Pittsburgh There he caught the eye of Cumberland Posey the brains and engine of black baseball in that era Despite his tender age Gibson was immediately nicknamed because he hit the ball so hard and so far A trip to Mortality He was still 18 when he made his first trip to Yankee Stadium for a set of games against the Lincoln Giants It was the first time black teams played in the fabled park There was a Depression on rentals were down So even black business was welcomed Black newspapers dubbed the event World Series of Negro Baseball" and Gibson played brilliantly In the first game of a Sept 27 double-header he drove a long home run into the right-field bleachers then came back in the second YANKEE FROM 1A homer clean out of Yankee Stadium and generations of fans were raised without this knowledge it was simply because Gibson was black and what blacks accomplished didn't count That offhand quotation reprinted from The New York Times provoked a search for the facts amid the fiction that festers in baseball and racism Facts of baseball As baseball fans we were raised on a lot of facts Bob Feller threw his fast ball with such control he could smash a teacup without disturbing the saucer Ty Cobb sharpened his spikes with a file the better to intimidate infielders who might contemplate blocking his slides It hardly mattered if such stories were true They were symbolic markers for larger truths like figures in a medieval allegory In Piers Plowman for instance there are characters with names like Charity Truth and Death In our baseball drama Feller was Control Cobb was Desire And Yankee Stadium was Limitation Mortality No one ever hit a ball clean out of Yankee Stadium It was a way of saying that even the greatest players have their limits Mortality rests like a tupperware hd over the vast ball yard in the Bronx Baseball fans it is well known tend toward metaphysical excess in their devotions to the beautiful little game Certain ball fields are adored as if they were churches: Fenway Park Wngley Field and Tiger Stadium come to mind if only because they are the oldest the most Gothic of the holy places cathedral But if they are churches Yankee Stadium is baseball's cathedral Other parks can claim that no home run has left their environs They are not however House That Ruth Built" They were not home to Mickey Mantle the fabulous gene Associated Press ALMOST HISTORY: Mickey Mantle probably came the closest to hitting one out of Yankee Stadium In 1956 he hit a ball below the top of the right-field facade 6 inches short of leaving the stadium Please recycle this newspaper game with a homer to center On that spectacular beginning he built a spectacular career Over the next dozen years Gibson added more luster to his cloistered fame White America hardly knew him on the rare occasions that the mainstream press took notice they patronized Gibson as Black Babe Black America registered his greatness though the African-American press sometimes referred to Ruth as White Josh They say in Chicago he lodged a homer in the loudspeakers some 420 feet from the plate They say he drove a liner smack into an glove so hard the ball ripped through the leather and split the web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger They say he hit a ball one day in Pittsburgh that was caught the next day in A largeHruth It hardly mattered if they were true stories They were markers of a larger truth that ballplayers with dark skm could play just as well as ballplayers with light skin So simple and yet for nearly a century black men never had the chance to prove it Had there been a place for Josh Gibson in our baseball allegory he would have stood for Justice But Justice was not a significant character in the story we received Gibson died young 35 years old in 1947 He missed by a few months the debut of Jackie Robinson in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform the event that finally leveled despicable color barrier So much of what Gibson accomplished is lost to history When I discovered the reference to his history-making Yankee Stadium clout I wanted desper- esss you own it Requires service 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