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Posts Tagged ‘Bob Gibson’

The Classic Bob Gibson Followthrough

This is an edited version of a blog entry from way back in 2009:

It’s that time of the year.

Catchers and pitchers are reporting to spring training. Baseball is in the air. Is there any better time of the year?

Baseball has always held a special place for me. Oh, I was no more than an average player– decent bat, lousy arm and a so-so glove– but there was pure magic in seeing the heroes of my youth and hearing the stories of the early legends of the game.

I remember my grandmother telling me of going with my grandfather to New York City on their honeymoon in 1921 and seeing Babe Ruth play with the Yankees. Ruth hit a double and a triple as she recalled.

I remember sitting with my grandfather, the mythological Shank, so called for the holds he would apply to his opponent’s legs during his time as a professional wrestler, and watching the World Series in the afternoons of 1968. I had my tonsils out and was still recuperating and we watched the St. Louis Cardinals play the Detroit Tigers, who won the series. It was great watching with my grandfather plus I was introduced a player who became one of the heroes of my youth, Bob Gibson, the Cardinal’s pitching ace.

Gibby was it for me. The toughest guy out there, one whose competitive fire was, and is, legendary. So dominating as a pitcher that baseball changed the mound height because they felt the hitters needed help since he was practically unhittable. I read his early autobiography, From Ghetto to Glory, numerous times as a kid and that made him an even bigger hero to me. He was eloquent and college-educated, a rarity for ballplayers of that era, and his story was compelling, going from abject poverty onto college then a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters then on to baseball stardom.

He remains a hero.

Baseball was always played at our house. My dad was a pretty fair pitcher who had promise as a youth. In subsequent years, I have uncovered numerous news stories in old newspapers about his exploits on the mound and in the field. But later, as a dad, he would occasionally play catch with me and my friends. Eventually, he would break out his knuckleball, a pitch he was known for in his younger days. It was practically uncatchable, having a spectacular drop that would appear to be entering your glove only to end up hitting you in the stomach. Or lower. I was never able to master the pitch but still appreciate the awkward grace and dance of a well thrown knuckler.

Other times, I would pitch to him and he would hit flies to my brother in the outfield. Periodically, he would hit hard liners back at me. They would bang off me or make me dive out of the way and he would cackle. I would then try to drill him with the next pitch, which would make him laugh even more because he had gotten my goat.

I would calm myself and wait until he would pitch to me, waiting for the perfect pitch when I could send a hard line drive back at him, making him duck or dive. At such times, after having to jump out of the way or  defend himself with his glove, he would yell out a Hey! and give me a harsh look. Then he would usually laugh because he knew that I was just paying him back for his earlier actions. Payback was just part of the game.

Even my work has been somewhat affected by my experiences with the game. I remember the first time coming out of tunnel during a night game at Shea Stadium in the late 1960’s and seeing the field spread out before me. I was stunned by the colors that were so rich and lush under the warmth of the lights. It was a feeling that I think I wanted to replicate in some manner which ultimately led me to art.

Over the years baseball has become my calendar for the passing of the year and is a comforting friend on the days when the world seems ready to implode. I am still captive to the numbers and legends of baseball, one of those romantics who see poetry in a game based in tradition.

To that end, here is a wonderful version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame from Harpo Marx, played on I Love Lucy. It is delicate and graceful.  It’s the essence of the memory of baseball for me…

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2016 Principle Gallery Wall shot aHad a very nice visit in Alexandria.  On Friday the weather always seemed on the verge of a huge thunderstorm, which had me a little apprehensive– even more than I normally be on the day of a show– about prospects for the opening reception of this year’s show, Part of the Pattern,  at the Principle Gallery on that evening.  However the storm never really hit with much force and the reception turned out well.

It was a really nice evening with a great crowd that kept me completely engaged throughout.  It was good catching up with folks who have been coming to the shows for many years now as well as greeting many new faces.  I can’t say “Thank You” enough to those who were able to come out on Friday and to our friends at the Principle Gallery–Michele, Clint, Pam, Haley, Pierre and Megan— who made it all possible. Oh, and special thanks to my canine friends at the gallery, Asher and Chase.

Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell

Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell

Word came out during our time there that Muhammad Ali had passed away.  Ali was a huge hero of mine when I was a child, part of what I consider the Holy Quartet of Heroes– Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Bob Gibson– who had much in common.  They were all dominant legends in their respective sports, the greatest winners of their times.

They were all strong and smart black men who were not afraid to go against the grain, to take a stand outside the world world of sports and say things that were not always popular nor politically correct.  They seemed to understand that that their sports were secondary to the state of the world.  They all transcended their sports and became cultural heroes and symbols, something more than mere performers on the athletic stage.

Ali was certainly a standout in that last category.  He was arguably the most widely recognized person on earth, a sports figure whose image was widely known throughout the world  decades after his time as an athlete had ended.  I remember reading, I think it was in Wilfrid Sheed‘s biography of Ali, about Ali’s picture hanging in mud huts in Africa.

He was so  much more than a boxer.   I have a hard time watching boxing today but I watched a lot of it when I was a kid and it was mainly because of Ali.  It was no less brutal a sport then but Ali made it seem like there was an air of poetry and gracefulness in it.  In my mind, I can still see his seemingly effortless movements around the ring, dancing lightly on the toes of his white shoes around plodding opponents.  It was a thing of beauty to see this big man move like he was being carried by the breeze as the other man would dive at him, often flailing away at a target that was there then gone in a flash.

He was the rarest of birds.  Style and substance.

Sorry to see him go.

Well, this song doesn’t have a lot to say about Ali but it is about a boxer and it is a beautiful song.  Below is a version of the great Simon and Garfunkel song as perfomed by Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and dobro-master Jerry Douglas.

Thanks for stopping in today and have a great Sunday.

PS:  TODAY IS THE LAST FULL DAY — this event ends MONDAY, June 6, promptly at 12 noon–to take part in the event to raise funds for the Soarway Foundation‘s efforts in Nepal.   Your donation, which will help immensely, also gets you a chance at winning a painting of mine valued at $5000 plus a signed poster.  What more can you ask?  You get the pleasure from helping others, a tax deduction and a chance to win something fairly valuable.

 

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jackie-robinson-1956_April 15 means a couple of things to some people.  Of course, there is the unpleasant connotation of it as being Tax Day, the due date for income tax filing here in the USA.  But for the baseball fan, it is a date that marks the first day a black player took the field as a major leaguer, when a special player ran out to play first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1947.   This young black man was athletically gifted, smart and tough-minded.

That player was of course Jackie Robinson.

Major League Baseball now honors him on this day every year, Jackie Robinson Day, with every player on every team putting aside their own uniform numbers to wear his number 42, which is now retired throughout baseball. Currently, only Mariano Rivera wears the number 42 on his back  and after he retires at the end of this season, no player will ever wear the 42 on their back again outside of this day each year.

Retiring a number is a sacred thing in baseball.  A player’s number has an almost mystical connection with the fans.  Growing up, everyone knew that Babe Ruth was 3,  Lou Gehrig 4, Mickey Mantle 7, Willie Mays 24, Hank Aaron 44 and on an on.  Whenever I see the number 45 all I see is my hero Bob Gibson on the mound. And everyone , even Mariano Rivera fans like myself, knows that the 42 belongs to Jackie Robinson.

There is also a new movie out that bears that number and it tells the story of Robinson’s initial turbulent year with the Dodgers.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t really comment other than to say that it is a story that every child should know.  It is a remarkable story of self restraint and strength in the face of institutionalized hatred, one that made possible the  broader changes that took place in our country in the civil rights movement in the decades after Robinson’s first day on that field in 1947.

From what I have read, the biggest complaint is that the movie doesn’t really give a full accounting of Robinson’s life. Jackie was a legendary collegiate athlete at UCLA, lettering in four sports– football, basketball, track and baseball.  He was the NCAA champion in the Long Jump and could have easily played professional football.  Of course, that was impossible because  the NFL was segregated at that time as well.

Nor does it detail his military career which is of interest mainly for Robinson being court martialed for refusing to sit in the back of an Army bus at Ft. Hood, Texas.   He was eventually acquitted of all charges by an all-white panel of officers  but it was an incident that foretold of his strength and willingness to enter the fight in taking on the segregated major leagues.

Nor does it address the health problems that led to his early death.  He suffered from diabetes and was nearly blind when he had a heart attack that ended his life at the age of 53.  It was much too early for this remarkable man’s story to end.

As I said, it’s a story that every child should know and celebrate.

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