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Negro Leaguers don’t get proper recognition – that should change.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are joining Sean Gibson’s campaign to rename Major League Baseball’s MVP awards after his great-grandfather, Negro League catching great, Josh Gibson, the Pirates tweeted on Tuesday.
For over 75 years, the AL and NL MVP awards donned the name of ex-MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a known racist who kept the game segregated. Landis was commissioner from 1920 until he died in 1944. Jackie Robinson wouldn’t integrate the game for another three years.
However, in October 2020, Landis’ name was removed from baseball’s MVP plaques after 89 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted to remove his name.
Since then, Sean has made a strong push to rename the MVP awards after his great-grandfather. Sean is the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation.
The foundation’s goal is “to carry on the legacy of greatness and accomplishment embodied by Josh Gibson, by developing programs that help children of every level of ability reach their potential, and to create opportunities that set The Josh Gibson Foundation apart from other organizations and provides value for our communities.”
Josh Gibson’s talent at and behind the plate was perhaps the greatest in history
Gibson, known as “the Black Babe Ruth”, played for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Although Josh’s career statistics are incomplete, in his 17-year career. He hit roughly 800 home runs and won four Negro League batting titles. He made 12 All-Star teams, won two-Negro League championships and batted .461 his rookie year and .486 in 1943.
Not only was Gibson a Pittsburgh Negro League icon, but after he was born on Dec. 21, 1911, in Buena Vista, Georgia, Gibson and his family moved to Pittsburgh’s North Side when he was about 10-years-old, as his father found work in the city’s steel mills. He made a name for himself in town as a star athlete playing for amateur teams in the sandlots.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the Pirates are one of the first teams to officially join Sean’s campaign.
Gibson made his remarkable debut in 1930 when Grays’ manager Judy Johnson needed a catcher and spotted Josh in the stands. Johnson knew of his local sandlot play and asked him to catch that day for the Grays. Josh agreed and voilà, the birth of a baseball legend began.
If he played in the MLB, along with many other Negro League stars such as Oscar Charleston and “Cool Papa” Bell, there’s no doubt that they would be widely recognized as some of the game’s greatest players. Landis denied many of that opportunity.
“How ironic would it be for someone who denied African-Americans the opportunity to play baseball to be replaced by one of the same guys that he denied?” Sean Gibson said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettein November.
In December 2020, the MLB added Negro League players and statistics would be recognized as major league stats. This makes Gibson among 3,400 others to be recognized as major leaguers. However, there is still plenty of work to be done for many Negro League stars to get the same recognition as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
In 1947, the same year baseball’s color barrier was broken, Gibson died unexpectedly at age 35, cutting his life and career short and denying him the opportunity to ever break into the MLB, as Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron and Willy Mays eventually did.
The Pirates and Major League Baseball rightfully honor the legacy of another young Pittsburgh legend who died tragically – Roberto Clemente. Since 1971, The Roberto Clemente Award — originally named the Commissioner’s Award but renamed in ’73 after Clemente died — is given every year to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
If Gibson was allowed to play for Pittsburgh’s Major League franchise rather than the city’s Negro League team, would there already be an award named after him too? Well, 74 years after Gibson’s death, the MLB has the chance to right a wrong.
If more teams follow the Pirates’ lead to help etch one of the greatest hitters of all time in mainstream baseball history forever, it will not only finally recognize one of the greatest hitters of all time, but it will also raise awareness of the social injustice that once stained, and in some cases continues to stain America’s pastime.
“Josh was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1972, despite never wearing a Major League uniform,” Sean Gibson notes on jg20mvp.com. “However, renaming the MVP in memory of Josh Gibson is not just about him. It speaks to the redemption of the Negro Leagues and the salvation of its stars who were denied their dream of playing ball at the highest level. All they wanted to do was compete against their peers. For those from 1947 onward, this was their legacy. For those who came before, the Josh Gibson MVP Award would be an act of redemption. And poetic justice.”
A petition to rename the MVP award and more information on Gibson’s life can be found at jg20mvp.com.