One Nation under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime

By John Florio; Ouisie Shapiro | Go to book overview

15

The deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy struck the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson especially hard. He and millions of other black Americans had looked to the two leaders as their best hopes for achieving racial justice.

For Gibson, it had been a long time coming.

He’d grown up in the projects in Omaha, Nebraska, with his widowed mother and six siblings. Until Gibson’s senior year at Omaha Technical High School, his skin color was considered too dark for the baseball team. So he turned to basketball, became the team’s first black player, and showed so much promise that he set his sights on playing hoops at Indiana University. But prejudice cut him down again when Indiana informed him that the school had already reached its quota of black players: one. Undeterred, Gibson stayed in his hometown and became the first black athlete to receive a basketball scholarship from Creighton University. As a star at Creighton, he broke every school scoring record.

After college, Gibson was still undecided between basketball and baseball, so he signed with the Harlem Globetrotters and the St. Louis Cardinals. He eventually chose baseball and made the Majors in 1959, which is when he ran into Cardinals manager and unabashed bigot Solly Hemus.

Aside from calling Gibson and other black players “nigger” as a motivating tool, the thirty-six-year-old Hemus told the young Gibson he wasn’t big-league material. He even suggested that going over opposing hitters was beyond his intellectual scope. Just when Gibson was on the verge of quitting, he got some career advice from batting coach Harry Walker.

“It wasn’t much,” Gibson recalled, “but it hit the right chord. [Walker told me], ‘Hang in there, kid. Hemus will be gone long before you will.’”

Sure enough, Hemus was fired in the middle of the ’61 season, replaced by coach Johnny Keane (who would be replaced by Red Schoendienst

-138-

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One Nation under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword Bob Costas vii
  • A Note to the Reader ix
  • 1 1
  • 2 8
  • 3 23
  • 4 31
  • 5 43
  • 6 51
  • 7 58
  • 8 65
  • 9 72
  • 10 86
  • 11 100
  • 12 111
  • 13 126
  • 14 129
  • 15 138
  • 16 150
  • 17 156
  • 18 164
  • 19 173
  • 20 180
  • 21 192
  • Epilogue- 1975 201
  • Acknowledgments 203
  • Bibliography 205
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