Josh Gibson was such a good baseball player, he was often called “the black Babe Ruth.” In fact, he was so good, some question whether Ruth should have been called the “white Josh Gibson.”
Thursday night Raymond Doswell, the curator and education director for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, spoke in front of about 25 people at the Columbia Public Library about Gibson and other African-American players and the contributions these players made.
“Even if you don’t like baseball, we want you to understand that this is an important part of American history,” Doswell said.
With photos of teams like the New York Black Yankees, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Chicago American Giants behind him, Doswell covered the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues, spun tales of past greats like Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson and John “Buck” O’Neil and emphasized the importance of reading — something the museum has a vested interest in.
The museum holds a “Reading Around the Bases” event twice a year. During the event, Kansas City celebrities — including representatives, deejays and Kansas City Royals players — read to children as they sit on the baseball diamond in the museum.
The forum also served as a registration station for Columbia’s Douglass Bulldogs Baseball League. The league has provided Columbia youth with T-ball and baseball summer leagues since 1996.
John Kelly, president of the Douglass Athletic Association Board, has been a part of the league since it formed, first as an umpire and later as a member of the board of directors.
Kelly came out not only for the Bulldogs, but also to learn more about the league that has captured his imagination — he’s been to the museum in Kansas City three times. What interests Kelly is not the statistics, it’s the people.
“They have every reason to be bitter old men,” Kelly said about the players, “but all of them love the game so much that they kind of transcended the hatred, the racism they dealt with.”
Wanda Cason brought her two grandsons to give them a glimpse of the game their grandfather played and to show them part of history.
“The one thing that brought me out,” Cason said, “(is that) I wanted my grandsons to know how important blacks have been to baseball and that they had their own leagues and their own star players.”
Doswell asked the crowd for their favorite current players. Children shouted out names such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez. Doswell was quick to relate these icons to the barriers shattered by the Negro Leagues.
“Can you imagine a world without being able to see those three players?” Doswell asked the audience. “Can you imagine not seeing them on the playing field?”