Richard Armstrong’s love of baseball has turned him into an author.
A lover of the game and of its history, the Guelph man spent three years researching and writing a book on one of the greatest Canadian baseball players that few know about, George ‘Mooney’ Gibson.
The book, George ‘Mooney’ Gibson: Canadian Catcher for the Deadball Era Pirates, is a joint project with friend Martin Healy Jr. of Hamilton.
Mooney was a local legend in his hometown of London and caught the eye of someone with major league connections while playing a friendly game across the border one weekend.
He would go on to have a 14-year major league career as a catcher, playing in over 1,200 games. He would spend seven more seasons as a manager plus more coaching and scouting.
Most winters he would return home to London, marrying a local woman and eventually becoming a farmer in Mount Brydges after retirement.
He played a huge role in the first ever Pittsburgh Pirates World Series crown in 1909, the same year he set what was then a record for games caught in a season at 133.
Mooney was known as a defence-first catcher with a cannon of an arm.
“He played in an era where in order to be in a catcher you had to be a tough guy. You had to take a beating. You had to be determined. You had to be physical. I think he was a tough guy in a tough era,” said Armstrong.
“I’m a huge baseball fan,” Armstrong said. “Anyone that knows me would describe me in one word as ‘baseball,’”
Doing some historical baseball reading, Armstrong came upon the story of the Canadian defence-first catcher with the cannon arm who was considered a real leader on the field.
The idea for the book belongs to his friend Healy Jr.
“I’m a fan of the Canadian game going back 100 years and a few years ago a friend of mine who is a like-minded individual approached me. We were both aware of George Gibson because we are both fans of Canadian baseball,” said Armstrong, a manager at the Ontario Universities' Application Centre.
“He said, ‘hey, do you think there’s enough here to write a book?’ and I said ‘yeah, absolutely I do.’
“Armed with the right amount of ambition and ignorance, I just said ‘yeah, let’s go for it.’ I had no idea what we were getting into.”
Armstrong said what intrigued him about ‘Mooney’ Gibson was that not much was known about a Canadian who played such a major role in a World Series championship.
“I said to myself ‘how did I not know about this?’” Armstrong said of his reaction when he read about it in another book.
“The more I read about him, the more intrigued I got. Why doesn’t everyone know about him?”
Countless hours of research went into the book. Old newspapers, and a gem they found at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – nine hours of a recorded interview someone had done with Gibson.
“We got our hands on them. Nine hours of audio. That was a huge step for us, to be able to use that,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong has plenty of thanks for the staff at the Guelph Public Library, who made it their mission to help him find research materials and bring them in from all over.
He admits it would have been a very difficult project to do without the wonders of the internet.
Then there was some luck.
Armstrong and Healy Jr. were put in touch with some of Gibson’s family, which led to a connection with his 90-year-old granddaughter in Texas, who kindly sent a stack of family photos for the authors to use in their book.
Armstrong, who said he would consider authoring another book if the opportunity arose, said the hardest part was learning how to do research properly.
“Then how do you organize all this information in a way that makes somebody else want to read it?”
At one point they had amassed over 5,000 different articles.
“I’m pretty impressed with what we did and I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished. It was a way cooler experience than I expected, for sure.”