The Bridge Builders
The Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates are turning back the clock to pay tribute to the stars of a bygone era. For one night the Tribe and Bucs will wear uniforms of the Cleveland Buckeyes and the Homestead Grays out of respect for some of baseball’s greatest players, many of whom never got a chance to play in Major League Baseball.
Josh Gibson, known by many as the "Black Babe Ruth", slugged nearly 800 homeruns in the Negro Leagues and was considered the greatest power hitter in black baseball. Gibson actually got his start with Homestead when he came out of the stands to replace the Grays injured catcher in July of 1930. Tragically, he died just 4 months before baseball was integrated by Jackie Robinson.
Not long after Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League with the Cleveland Indians. Doby, a power hitting center fielder, helped the Indians win the World Series in 1948 and AL pennant in ’54. Because Robinson was six weeks ahead of Doby, he was largely ignored by historians for his trailblazing efforts. Former teammate Bob Feller once said of Doby, "He was a great American, he served his country in World War II, and was a great ballplayer. He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, because he was the second African-American player in the majors."
The contributions of players like Robinson, Doby and Satchel Paige helped scores of young African-American players who followed in their footsteps. It reminds me of a poem I first read when I was in high school, titled "The Bridge Builder".
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you a bridge at the eventide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."
- Author: Will Allen Dromgoole