~ Foreword ~
I hadn’t seen Joe for about two and a half months and wondered why. Now I know the answer as to why.
I acquired my private mail box on Shea Boulevard in 1996 and while most of the folks remained private for one reason or another, I was soon introduced to Joe Black – for the second time in my life.
The first was in 1955, when I was seven years old and was just learning about the national pastime. I spent summers in Eagle, Wisconsin – I was a Milwaukee Braves fan – County Stadium was my ‘home away from home’. Joe Black left the Brooklyn Dodgers that year and signed on with the Cincinnati Red Legs – and brought with him quite a legacy – the first black pitcher to bring his team a pennant. Joe spent the rest of his life bringing the winning pennant home to whatever endeavor he tackled.
I never broke bread with the man – but we broke the silence of two people with little in common – and I never asked him for his autograph. May you rest in peace sweet man.
Without Apology I am,
‘Ambassador for the Game and Life’
Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Joe Black died of prostate cancer Friday morning at the age of 78, passing away at an aftercare facility in Scottsdale.
“At moments like this, when we’re worrying about other things within the game, it really doesn’t mean too much,” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “I’ve known Joe Black a long time. He loved the game and was so willing to always be helpful. He was one of those rare individuals who was willing to give of himself unconditionally. You just don’t find people like that, especially in professional sports.”
Black leaped into the national spotlight in 1952 when he became the first African-American pitcher to win a World Series game, beating the New York Yankees 4-2 in a complete-game victory in Game 1.
“He was one of the best, most fair and strong men that I knew,” said San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker, who often confided in Black. “I know I’m going to miss him.
“When I had anything to talk about, I could always talk to him. Whenever you had a problem, he knew to call you. I may not have talked to him for three months and I needed to talk to someone, and there he was. It was like an instinct with Joe. He always had the right answers. He was so giving of himself.”
Two years removed from his days in the Negro Leagues with the Baltimore Elite Giants, Black was already in his prime as a 28-year-old rookie for Brooklyn in 1952. He was 15-4 with 15 saves and a 2.15 ERA in 56 games (54 of them as a reliever) and easily captured National League Rookie of the Year honors.
Upon learning of his rookie award, Black bought a case of champagne and sent it up to the writers in the press box, which momentarily infuriated then-Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who grew to love Black.
“A great man has left us,” said former big-league general manager Buzzie Bavasi, who was responsible for purchasing the contracts of Black, Jim Gilliam and John Farrell for $11,000 from the Elite Giants in 1950. “The Dodgers don’t come close to winning the pennant in 1952 without Joe Black.”
Though Black spent the season as a reliever, the Dodgers decided to start him in Game 1 against the mighty Yankees because “We needed a starter, and Joe was the best available,” Bavasi said.
“He was high-spirited and always positive,” said Milwaukee pitching coach Dave Stewart, who first met Black as a teenager in the Dodgers system in the late 1970s. “He’s one of the best people I’ve ever come across. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say anything negative. Ever.”
But it was away from the ballpark, once his career had ended in 1957 after brief stints with Cincinnati and the Washington Senators, that Black began building a legacy that would last a lifetime. He became the first Black executive of a transportation company when Greyhound elevated him to vice president in 1967.
When Greyhound and the Dial Corp. merged and moved their headquarters from Chicago to Phoenix, Black came west and continued his never-ending work in the community.
“Jackie Robinson once said the way you measure the importance of a life is by the impact that person had had on other people,” Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. “By that standard, Joe Black had a great life. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who did more than Joe Black. I loved the man. The guy had life figured out. I don’t know how I’m going to replace Joe in my life.
“There are going to be times when I’ll want to pick up the phone and call him, and now I can’t. He never took, he just gave.”
Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry Colangelo hired Black to be a part of the club’s community relations department and often called on Black to speak on the virtues of baseball and education.
“I came to appreciate who he was as a caring person,” Colangelo said. “To say that there is a void that’s been created with his death is an understatement. He represented a corporation and a race of people and spoke about opportunity and fulfilling dreams. He was a traveling ambassador for the game and life.”
Black is survived by his two children, Joseph (“Chico”) and Martha Jo. The family is planning a cremation with services in Black’s home state of New Jersey. Further services are pending.
“This really hits me,” said Joe Garagiola Sr., one of Black’s many close friends. “He was a good man, a compassionate man. He always cared about people having their dignity. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Meet Joe Black
Born: Plainfield, N.J., Feb. 8, 1924.
Children: Son Joseph (“Chico”) and daughter Martha Jo.
Academic honors: B.S. from Morgan State (Md.) College, honorary doctorate from Shaw (N.C.) University.
Athletic honors: All-Star pitcher in 1952 and ’53. Rookie of the Year in 1952, posting a 15-4 record with the Brooklyn Dodgers; also pitched for Cincinnati and Washington. Pitched for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro Leagues, 1944-’50.
Athletic distinction: First African-American pitcher to win in the World Series, Game 1 against the New York Yankees in 1952.
Originally written by Pedro Gomez for the The Arizona Republic
The above post was published on the original Federal Observer in September 16, 2003. ~ J.B.
~ Author ~
A veteran of Viet Nam, student of history (both American and film), Jeffrey Bennett has broadcast for nearly 29 years as host of various programs and has been considered the voice of reason on the alternative media – providing a unique and distinctive broadcast style, including topics such as health and wellness, news, financial well-being, political satire (with a twist), education and editorial commentary on current events through the teaching of history. In addition, he is the CEO of Kettle Moraine, Ltd.