“A Perspective On Baseball” opened at Firestorm Cafe on August 12, 2016. The show included five portraits, two landscapes and printed commentary. At the opening, I read a piece of historical fiction from the setting of the show’s content. It concerned an original character named Transcendent, a reluctant prodigy, socially outcasted for its blackness and towering distinction.
Black players were never officially not allowed to play in Major League Baseball,* but it wasn’t until 1947 that they did. The Negro Leagues was a collection of independent organizations intent on providing black players an alternative, professional level of play. Their seasons were dominated by a more lucrative schedule of barnstorming and exhibition games, whose dynamic has continued to cloud the standards of statistical record-keeping. After integration, the Negro Leagues fell. Players’ contracts were disregarded by what was referred to as “Organized Baseball.” In 2008, Major League Baseball did a weird thing in drafting several players from the era in respect to their exclusion, including Emilio Navarro, who at the time, was 102 years of age. *Women however, were from 1952-1992.
A video documentation of the collection and its commentary can be seen here.
(Left) Rumor has it John McGraw hired Rube Foster to teach Christy Mathewson his fadeaway. Because he was not allowed to play in the same league as John McGraw and Christy Mathewson, Rube Foster decided to create the Negro National League so some of baseball’s very best players could continue on to the professional level. He led the Chicago American Giants to its first three pennants as player, manager and owner. After his mental health began to wear the spiraling effects of an accidental gas leak in his home, he was taken from his team to an asylum. There are reports of Rube hallucinating his call to the Major Leagues on his death bed. Major League Baseball would not integrate for another 17 years.
(Center) Satchel Paige wrote rules by which to keep young, a foreseeing constitution considering he was not allowed into Major League Baseball until he was 42 years old. His undoubted success would have challenged both the depth and legitimacy of the status quos of his time. Age was one of many details he was expected to carry, often replying, “If someone asked you how old you were and you didn’t know your age, how old would you think you were?” Satchel was universally popular, playing everywhere for everyone. After throwing a single unhittable fastball for 15 years, he resorted to throwing every other pitch for another 15. People said his pitches “didn’t look right.” “They weren’t legal or illegal.” He embodied the extent the individual has in the game, once directing his infielders to sit down behind him as he struck out the side. Always, he kept cool.
(Right) Three months before Jackie Robinson broke the “gentlemen’s agreement,” Josh Gibson died at the age of 35. He was commonly referred to as “The Black Babe Ruth,” but for those who saw them both play, Ruth was rather “The White Josh Gibson.” He hit the furthest homerun ever hit in Yankee Stadium (aka “The House That Ruth Built”), and is rumored to have been the only person to hit one entirely out of the park. Gibson hit .467 with 55 homeruns in 137 games in 1933. In Puerto Rico ten years later, he hit .480. Some say his lifetime average was .384 with over 900 total homeruns. Some also say those numbers don’t count for reasons that have nothing to do with him, but for the fantastical rationales of accountability, institution and race.
Although Earl Weaver was not a good enough second baseman to play Major League Baseball, he’s been referred to as its most colorful character. He was thrown out of over a 100 games during his 17 seasons managing the Baltimore Orioles. On three different occasions, he was ejected from both games of a doubleheader. Umpire Roy Luciano tossed him from eight games himself, twice before the game had even started. In 2014, I wrote and illustrated a comic called, “Burden.” It exploited the story of Earl’s antagonism as assuring leadership, asking, “Would your boss do that for you? Would it embody the greater confidence of the whole? Or would it instead submit its purpose to the petty defenses of its own and bow like an everyday coward?” After an opposing team declined his request to move a tarp he thought hazardous to his players, he pulled them from the field and accepted the only forfeit in Orioles history. He believed in 27-out baseball and refused the art of the sacrifice.
Mamie “Peanut” Johnson used to practice her pitching by knocking birds off a fence with balls made of stones, twine and masking tape because neither the girls of the boys would play with her. She wasn’t aware of segregation until being denied access to try-out for the All-White All-American Girls League. “Whatever,” she said. “They knew they weren’t no better than me.” Mamie also detested the distinction of her womanhood. She was a ballplayer, and for three years in the Negro Leagues with the Indianapolis Clowns, she proved it with a 33-8 record and a .268 career batting average, becoming one of the best pitchers the Negro Leagues ever produced. Not only did Major League Baseball ban the signing of women to contracts during her rise, but its integration essentially killed the demand of the Negro Leagues, and consequently her future in baseball. In 1953, Mamie walked away from the game to pursue what became a 30-year career in nursing.
A run of digital prints (including an unrelated juxtaposition of Mike Mussina’s careers with both the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees) were made available for sale and continued exhibition.