KANSAS CITY — Josh Gibson was the greatest hitter in Negro League Baseball. He hit more than 900 home runs in his career, more than anyone in Major League Baseball. His nickname was “the black Babe Ruth.”
“Some people say Babe Ruth should have been called the white Josh Gibson,” Cathie Moss said.
Moses Fleetwood Walker, not Jackie Robinson, was the first black to play baseball in the Major Leagues. He played for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884. Shortly afterward, blacks were banned from the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
In addition to hitting numerous home runs over 500 feet, Josh Gibson hit well over .300 for his career. He suffered a fatal stroke at age 35, just months before Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Satchel Paige was the oldest player to pitch in the Major Leagues at age 59. In 1971, Paige was the first Negro League player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1930, the Kansas City Monarchs played the first professional night baseball game in history, five years before the first Major League night game.
Moss was the tour guide for 30 boys and girls ages 7 to 10 from the Douglass Youth Baseball League who visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on Tuesday in Kansas City. The museum, established in the early 1990s, is the only museum in the world devoted to the Negro Leagues. Kansas City, home of the Negro League’s Monarchs, was the birthplace of the Negro National League in 1920.
Each team in the Douglass Youth Baseball League is named after a Negro Leagues team. But many of the players didn’t know much about the Negro Leagues, so Rod Kelly, president of the Douglass Athletic Association, thought the best way to learn was to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. He also hoped the visit would help the young players realize how tough life could be for blacks before their lifetime.
“These kids are so young, they don’t know about things like integration and separation and all that kind of stuff and why there had to be a negro league,” Kelly said.
Moss mentioned similar reasons for the importance of children visiting the museum.
“Hopefully they (the children) will understand some of the struggles they (Negro League players) had just to play baseball and the reasons why we had the Negro Leagues in the first place.”
Riding in style in a high-tech White Knight bus, the children were entertained with the movie “The Sandlot” on their way to Kansas City. Upon arrival at the museum, they watched a video about the formation of the Negro Leagues. The museum allowed them to learn about some of the greatest players to ever play baseball, such as Gibson and Satchel Paige, who won 104 of 105 games pitched one year for the Kansas City Monarchs.
“I’m learning more and more about the Negro baseball players,” Keyan Marshall, 8, said. “I found out that one player ran so fast it took 11 seconds just to run around the baseball field (around the bases).”
Keyan was referring to James “Cool Papa” Bell. Paige once said of Bell that he was so fast he could turn off the lights and be in bed under the covers before the room got dark.
The museum featured numerous exhibits, but many of the children spent their time on the Field of Legends, a mock baseball diamond with life-size statues of the greatest Negro League players at each positions.
For many of the children, the trip was just about having fun, but having grown up in an unsegregated society, as Kelly mentioned, the thought of separating races into different leagues just to play baseball seemed ridiculous to them.
“I thought it really wasn’t good that they had to (play separately),” Drew Turner, 8, said. “It’s never really good if you don’t try (to play together).”
“I’m kind of sad for (the black players) because you really want them to play somewhere and they really didn’t get to,” Keyan said.
In addition to the learning experience, Kelly wanted the trip to be something fun and memorable the children could do before school starts again.
“When you go back to school and you have to write those essays about what you did this summer, you can write about your trip to the Negro Leagues museum,” Kelly told the children after the trip. “You should get a good grade.”