As you might recall, a few weeks ago I visited Josh Gibson's grave in Pittsburgh. Gibson's grave hadn't been well-tended, not lately anyway, and I was spurred to once again suggest that some Hall of Famers be interred in Cooperstown, where their graves would be both well-tended and well-attended by those making the pilgrimage to baseball's reputed birthplace.
Sure, it's sort of a crazy idea. It's not morbid (as some of you suggested) or disrespectful (ditto); human remains are disinterred and reinterred all the time, for various reasons. Sometimes it's because the local expressway needs a new on-ramp, sometimes it's because a father wants his son buried closer to home, and sometimes it's for some other perfectly reasonable reason. Granted, maybe giving a Hall of Famer his due respect isn't reasonable enough. But the very notion of moving a set of remains is not automatically crossing some sacred line.
And as I wrote last time, I enjoy seeing old markers in their original spots, in all their glorious diversity. In the same Kansas City cemetery, you may find Hall of Famer Zack Wheat's modest, rarely visited marker and Satchel Paige's relative grand monument. If the Hall of Fame were to somehow adopt my idea, I would like to see them move everything -- the remains, yes, but also the markers -- but that's not what they'd do. Everything would probably be standardized, and thus less interesting.
Okay, so for now let's agree it was a ridiculous idea, and figure out something else.
First, I think we probably can agree that the final resting places of our great baseballers should be marked with ... something, right? Until 1975, Josh Gibson's was unmarked. In 1975, Negro Leagues star Ted Page helped locate Gibson's grave and -- with financial help from Willie Stargell and Bowie Kuhn -- a modest stone marker was installed. Page seems to have led a successful life following his baseball career, which ended all the way back in 1935 ... and then, bizarrely, his ultimate fate resembled Gibson's:
After an injury forced his retirement in 1935, he eventually became an owner of Hillview Lanes and later a partner in Meadow Lanes in Pittsburgh. For years, he wrote a bowling column for the Pittsburgh Courier. He later worked as a public relations consultant for the Gulf Oil Corporation. Page was inducted to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1977. Retired, he was brutally beaten to death by a handyman in his home, at age 81, in 1984. He was interred at Allegheny Cemetery in an unmarked location — not far from Hall of Famer Josh Gibson's final resting place in the same cemetery.
How Page went from successful businessman to an unmarked grave, I don't have the slightest idea. But Saturday, nearly 30 years later, a marker will be dedicated:
Since 2004, the Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project has worked to identify the graves of Negro Leagues Baseball players, and raise funds to place markers on those discovered unmarked. As a section of the Negro Leagues Committee of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), this marker is the fourth placed in the Pittsburgh area.
Attendees should gather at 10:30 a.m. on August 17 at the Allegheny Cemetery office, 4734 Butler Street in Pittsburgh, and will be directed to Page’s grave by cemetery staff.
Any questions can be directed to project leader Jeremy L. Krock. For more information on the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project, visit LarryLester42.com.
To make a tax-deductible donation to help the Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project, click here.
Page's grave is actually close to Gibson's, so we can only hope that the mowers treat both graves a bit more kindly than they did before my recent visit. Placing the markers is a great first step, but a good second step is actually maintaining the markers, which essentially means ensuring that they're easily located by respectful fans, and that they're not covered in mud or weeds.
That latter might seem a simple thing, but a number of major leaguers have modest markers set flush into the ground, and it doesn't take long for nature to encroach. I will tell you that tidying up Josh Gibson's marker gave me a great deal of satisfaction; I felt that we'd done something good, something worth doing. A trifle, yes. But there's a good place in this world for trifles. A day or two later, someone -- I'm sorry, I can't find his tweet -- posted before-and-after photos of a ballplayer's gravestone that he had just cleaned up, and he seemed to feel good about what he'd done, too.
So until the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball or (God forbid) the Players' Association does something, probably best thing we can do is ... well, do something. Between Baseball-Reference.com and Find a Grave, it's not difficult to track down the burial spots of deceased players. Poke around. Find someone near you. Take a few minutes, and see if the marker's easy to find and well-tended. Especially if it's a modest stone. Bring along a pair of pruning shears, and maybe a small tool that allows you to scrape dirt from the inscribed lettering. You'll be amazed by how much good you can do with five minutes and just a little elbow grease. You'll be amazed, too, by the sense of satisfaction when you've finished your chore.
What happens after that, I don't know. Maybe you'll go back every month. Maybe we'll eventually have legions of like-minded souls, adopting graves in their local jurisdictions. Maybe it's as simple as visiting your great-grandmother's grave every month or two, and taking a few extra minutes to check on a baseball player's marker, too. But whatever you do, please take photos and keep us posted. Maybe we can all turn this into something.