I pitched in a period of civil unrest, of black power and clenched fists and burning buildings and assassination and riots in the street. There was a country full of angry black people in those days, and by extension – and by my demeanor on the mound – I was perceived as one of them. There was some truth to that, but it had little, if anything to do with the way I worked a batter. I didn’t see a hitter’s color. I saw his stance, his strike zone, his bat speed, his power, and his weaknesses.
The men of that team were as close to being free of racist poison as a diverse group of twentieth-century Americans could possibly be. Few of them had been that way when they came to the Cardinals. But they changed. The initiative in building that spirit came from black members of the team. Especially Bob Gibson. . . . It began with Gibson and me deliberately kicking over traditional barriers to establish communication with the palefaces.
“How about coming out for a drink after the game?” Hoot [Gibson] would ask a player who had never gone to a bar with a black man in his life. He was turned down more than once. So was I. But the spirit was infectious. After breaking bread and pouring a few with us, the others felt better about themselves and us. Actual friendships developed. Tim McCarver was a rugged white kid from Tennessee and we were black, black cats. The gulf was wide and deep. It did not belong there, yet there it was. We bridged it. We simply insisted on knowing him and on being known in return. The strangeness vanished. Friendship was more natural and normal than camping on opposite sides of a divide which none of us had created and from which none of us could benefit. . . .
Towards the end of From Ghetto to Glory, Gibson wrote, “I would much rather be known as Bob Gibson, great American, than Bob Gibson, great baseball player.” Here’s to you, brother.
It was baseball on a new level. On that team, we cared about each other and shared with each other, and face it, inspired each other. As friends, we had become solicitous of each other’s ailments and eccentricities, proud of each other’s strengths. We had achieved a closeness impossible by other means.
There we were, including the volatile [Orlando] Cepeda, the impossible [Roger] Maris, and the impenetrable Gibson – three celebrated noncandidates for togetherness. There we were – Latins, blacks, liberal whites, and redeemed peckerwoods – the best team in the game and the most exultant. A beautiful little foretaste of what life will be like when Americans finally unshackle themselves.