Sports This Week - The story of a near-forgotten baseball star

If you are a baseball fan in Canada you will be aware that Canadian players making the major leagues are rather a scant few.

The number worthy of the label ‘star’ are fewer still.

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So when a book comes out on a Canadian who excelled at the top level of the game it is worthy of some interest.

Such was the case with the release of ‘George “Mooney” Gibson: Canadian Catcher for the Deadball Era Pirates’ by Richard C. Armstrong, and Martin Healy Jr.

Who is George Gibson you might ask, I know his name was not one I was familiar with, and I do tend to dig around at times looking at Canucks who have played in the majors?

Well, of course that was why a book was needed, to shed some light on a player from this country who in his era was held in high regard as a catcher.

Interestingly, this rather deeply researched book was a first for the two authors.

“The idea (for the book) was born out of wanting to read a biography about George Gibson, but none existed,” offered Armstrong in an email.

“Around May of 2016, Marty emailed me (Richard) and asked if I thought there was enough content to write a book. I felt there was, we agreed to collaborate on writing a book, and immediately started doing research.”

It became apparent rather quickly there was a story to be told.

“George was an important figure in the Canadian baseball landscape between 1905 and 1934,” said Armstrong. “He starred in the World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1909, helping them defeat the Detroit Tigers in seven games.

“He went on to coach, scout and manage for many years as well.”

Back home Gibson’s career has been marked by the sport.

“He (Gibson) was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1958, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987 and the London Sports Hall of Fame in 2002,” said Armstrong.

In 1950 he was named the Canadian Baseball Player of the first half century.

“He is held in high regard in Southern Ontario, especially London and the surrounding areas, as that is where he was born, raised, and spent many off-seasons. He returned to the London area when his professional baseball career was over,” continued Armstrong.

“We just felt that people would love to hear the story of a mostly forgotten Canadian baseball legend.”

Not surprisingly the authors are also from Ontario. Armstrong was born in Cambridge, ON., currently living in Guelph, Ontario.

“However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that for eight months during university in 2002, I lived in Prince Albert, and it was an excellent experience,” he noted.

Healy was born and raised in Hamilton living there all of his life.

With neither man having a background as writers, the book quickly became a challenge.

“We had no idea how much work writing a book is or was,” said Armstrong.

“We just set out to gather as much information as we could find, and then tried to assemble it in a meaningful way.

“We spent hours and hours at many different libraries, searching through microfilm from newspapers as far back as 1896.

“We read dozens of books, and collected over 5,000 different articles.”

Modern technology did help is gathering materials from a century earlier, or at least is sharing it with each other.

“Google Drive was a huge help for us, as we don’t live in the same city, but were able to use it to collaborate quite well,” said Armstrong.

“Newspapers.com was a very helpful tool as it gave us access to many US newspapers over the Internet.”

And those with an interest in history were willing to pitch in.

“We were also really impressed with how helpful historical societies, Halls of Fame, libraries and museums were,” said Armstrong.

“Many people went out of their way to help us find answers, research materials, old photos, etc.”

The challenge became the time a project of the scope the book took required.

“It was easy to want to do research and write, but life can get busy, and finding time wasn’t always easy,” said Armstrong.

“Being new to this, learning the process to do the research -- how to find and access materials, for example -- was tough.

“With help from many librarians we did figure it out, though, and it became fun instead of intimidating.”

Certainly as a reader I can confirm the detail in the book. As a long-time newspaper man I appreciated the direct clips from old editions, the wording far more flowery than sports writer of the current era.

That said, I will add that for some the detail might become a bit redundant too. This is a book chronicling a career, gathering together material into one story, or one player of note, but it might be almost too scholarly for some based on the detail.

One source of the detail comes from a previous effort.

“Luckily, we were able to get access to Lawrence Ritter’s tapes from when he interviewed George Gibson for his book, ‘The Glory of Their Times’,” said Armstrong.

“Those interviews were conducted in 1963 and 1965, and though George didn’t remember every detail perfectly, we were able to use the tapes to direct our research and corroborate much of what Gibson said through period newspaper accounts.

“We were also very fortunate to make contact with a number of George Gibson’s relatives, and relay their stories and memories, as well as get access to many family photos that you will also find in the book.”

“Between the two of us we put thousands of hours into curating this story, hoping to deliver something that would serve as a fitting tribute to Gibson,” said Armstrong.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and we hope that his family is happy with what we’ve produced. We want baseball fans who knew of Gibson to enjoy reading about him, and for folks that are just finding out about Gibson to enjoy learning his story too.”

As a history of a man, they have aced the book. Readers will get a real feeling for Gibson on the field.

Armstrong said they recognize their audience will primarily be sports fans.

“If you’re a fan of baseball, baseball history, Canadian athletes or Canadian historical figures in general, we believe that you would enjoy reading this book,” he said.

And more may be coming from the duo.

“About two-thirds of the way through our Gibson book we already started talking about writing another book,” said Armstrong.

“We both find the deadball era (1900-1920) very interesting to research, and there are many other Canadians who played during this time, whose stories have yet to be told.”

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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