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Story Archives: The real Joe Black
|The real Joe Black|
"Meet the Real Joe Black" is an entertaining and enlightening book about an inspiring baseball player and person and is also a great insight into an historical time in Major League Baseball.
The book, written by Steven Michael Selzer and published, by iUniverse Inc., is the story of Joe Black, the first black pitcher to ever win a World Series game.
Black was a roommate of Jackie Robinson while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and was named 1952 National League Rookie of the Year, unheard of back then for a relief pitcher.
The book tells of how Black dealt with racism and breaking the barrier.
Black said Robinson, "withstood the pressures of high and tight pitches, attempted spikings, a black cat tossed on the field, and shoes held high with the exclamation, 'Shine these shoes, boy.'"
One intriguing fact I found from the book is that it wasn't just a case of racial hate that led to all types of name-calling and prejudice, although that was certainly a factor.
Black believed a lot of the hate came from marginal players who felt threatened because they knew black players would be replacing them on major league rosters.
Black credited former teammate Pee Wee Reese, who would later serve as a pallbearer at his funeral, for helping accept blacks into baseball.
"Reese's Christian faith, belief in democracy and compassion for his fellow man motivated him to take a negative attitude toward the petition (signed by members of the Dodgers to not allow blacks to play and handed to owner Branch Rickey) and extend the hand of friendship to Jackie Robinson," Black was quoted as saying.
Black's stay in the pros did not last long. Apparently, Dodger Manager Charlie Dressen wanted Black to learn a third pitch, which was difficult because Black was born with stretched tendons on the index and middle fingers of his pitching hand.
Black tried to change his form, which ultimately messed up his rhythm and confidence, which he never regained.
Despite encouragement from teammates and opponents such as Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Joe Garagiola, Black did not win a game in 1954 and was out of the Majors in 1957 after injuring his arm.
The book chronicles the life of Black, from major league baseball player to public school teacher to vice-president of Greyhound.
The author first met Mr. Black when he came to Hubbard Junior High School as a teacher and baseball coach and their 40-year friendship continued until his death in 2002.
Many of Black's friends, acquaintances, and former colleagues contributed stories for this book; among them are Bill Cosby, Sandy Koufax, Bob Costas, Joe Garagiola, Dusty Baker, Jerry Reinsdorf, Jerry Colangelo, John Teets, former CEO of the Greyhound Corporation, and many others.
There was the humorous story of when Black played for Baltimore Elite Giants and they faced the Homestead Grays with legendary Negro League star Josh Gibson.
Black said Gibson walked up to Baltimore coach Felton Snow and asked who was pitching. Snow pointed to Andy Porter. Gibson walked over to Porter and told him, "You see this black bat, Porter? I'm going to hit you over that fence, that fence, and that fence."
Gibson homered over the centerfield and leftfield wall.
Black carried the class he showed on the diamond to his teaching job at Hubbard Junior High in New Jersey.
"It was our responsibility to give our best efforts to all of the students," Black said. "Our ability to make the students feel that they were 'somebody' was an important factor in attaining a high attendance and low truancy record."
There are some great stories and great lessons for life in "Meet the Real Joe Black." And his former student, Steven Michael Selzer, does a great job of passing them on.