Josh Gibson MVP campaign comes to Chicago

On April 17, our Chicago SABR chapter had the pleasure of hosting three terrific baseball luminaries:

Sean, Tom, and Ted treated our virtual audience, including several members from other chapters, to a rich look at Josh Gibson’s life and legacy, encompassing not only his tremendous baseball accomplishments but also insights into the man Gibson was off the diamond. While Josh needs no introduction to many baseball fans as a prodigious home run hitter, Tom shared equally eye-popping numbers in areas Gibson is less known for like batting average and on-base percentage. Sean meanwhile shared quotes from other players, Black or white, attesting to Josh’s great ability. He also gave us a glimpse into Josh’s personal life, including providing shelter for the homeless.

Toward the end of the presentation, Sean provided an update on the Josh Gibson MVP Award campaign, which as the name suggests, is an effort to name Major League Baseball’s MVP Awards after Josh. (They had been named for Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis through the 2019 season, but his name was removed during the 2020 season.) Powerfully, Sean noted the “poetic justice” of a man Landis kept out of Major League Baseball ultimately succeeding him as the award’s namesake. (Ah, and speaking of awards, Sean brought out Josh’s actual 1941-42 Puerto Rican League MVP trophy to share with our audience. Definitely NOT something you see everyday!)

In my own discussions with baseball fans, I’ve met many who would be thrilled to see Josh’s name grace today’s MVP awards. However, I’ve also encountered fans who either prefer the award nameless or suggest that another player would be an even stronger candidate. However, the BBWAA votes, I will simply note the following–

  • Many of Baseball’s most significant awards bear the name of a player or executive. Obvious examples include the Cy Young Award, the Roberto Clemente Award, and the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. Other examples include the Hank Aaron Award (outstanding offensive player) and the Willie Mays (World Series MVP).
  • In December 2020, Major League Baseball announced its formal recognition of several thousand Negro Leaguers as Major Leaguers as well as its intention to incorporate the records and statistics of seven different leagues active between 1920 and 1948.
  • Naming the MVP Award for Josh is a very simple, and tangible, and lasting way to recognize the Negro Leagues, which otherwise remain invisible at least so far as Major League Baseball’s awards go. (True, Robinson, Aaron, and Mays played in the Negro Leagues but only briefly, and it would be hard to argue that the trophies in their names reflect their Negro League accomplishments.)

When the Josh Gibson MVP Award campaign began, a common refrain was “but Josh wasn’t even a Major Leaguer.” Well he is now, and an MVP trophy renamed in his honor takes away any ifs, ands, or buts. He was a player without peer, and we have a rare opportunity to recognize him as such.

by Jason A. Schwartz, SABR Chicago (Emil Rothe chapter)

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