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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Josh Gibson Bronze; life size; in uniform; 5 feet 8 inches; sold for $46,000. Photo courtesy of Hunt Auctions.
They were baseball warriors. The Negro league players in the early 20th century needed to be warriors because they weren't permitted to play alongside other ballplayers like themselves. Even though they played as well and loved the game as much--they were black.

White players refused to play with them. That's all. And no one thought much of it at the time.

“They said I was the greatest pitcher they ever saw…I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t give me no justice," Satchel Paige the oldest rookie in Major League history and the most famous said.

Josh Gibson, called the greatest power hitter of his generation, died at age 35 in 1947 from a stroke. It was the same year Jackie Robinson arrived in Brooklyn to play for the Dodgers. Some say Gibson died of a broken heart beaten down because baseball refused to take him in the majors.

Stories like this abound.

Big league owners welcomed black fans to the ballpark but wouldn't hear of black players on the ball field.

Even so Negro league players would not be stopped. They played the game they loved more than anything else in the world anyway. It was a matter of pride--and the courage they demonstrated is the same quality every great warrior possesses.

They overcame hatred, segregation, and low pay to do it.

It was ironic. People could see how successful black athletes were in other sports. Jesse Owens' four gold medals in track and field in the 1936 Berlin Olympics was undeniable.

It was time. A small group of black sportswriters started the campaign to see black players in major league baseball.

Up until that point black ballplayers had a separate baseball history. The All-African American professional teams were formed in the 1910s. They paid their bills by touring and taking a percentage of the gate.

Satchel Paige started pitching professionally in 1926 and was still pitching 40 years later. He had one of baseball's great fastballs. He called it his "bee ball" because it hummed. Statistics from his era are sketchy but Paige figured he won 2,000 games, pitched about 100 no-hitters and played for 250 teams.

If the money was there so was Satchel. In the winter he pitched in Latin America. In the summer he pitched in the United States.

Josh Gibson was called the black Babe Ruth and the greatest slugger in the Negro leagues. Like Paige records for him are hard to come by. When he played for the Homestead Grays at age 19 he was credited with hitting 75 home runs. How many games that encompassed is unknown.

Like other Jim Crow institutions the Negro leagues died off. In 1948, a year after Jackie Robinson broke the color line the Negro National League folded. The Negro American league lasted until 1960 and ultimately served as a feeder channel for the majors.

On July 14, Hunt Auctions featured a selection of Negro league bronze statues on the block. They came from Legacy Square at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. They were commissioned by the Pirates to honor the Negro leagues.

Here are some current values.

Negro League Bronzes Outdoor Display

Cool Papa Bell; life size; in uniform; 6 feet 1 inch; $31,625.

Smokey Joe Williams; life size; in uniform; 5 feet 9 inches approximate; $31,625.

Oscar Charleston; life size; in uniform; 6 feet 4 inches; $28,750.

Satchel Paige; life size; in uniform; 6 feet 7 inches; $34,500.

Josh Gibson; life size; in uniform; 5 feet 8 inches; $46,000.

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