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Joshua Gibson Sr.
(The Black Babe Ruth)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 1", Weight 210 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1972

BR Negro Leagues page

Contents

[edit] Biographical Information

"There is a catcher that any big league club would love. His name is Gibson. . . he can do everything." - Walter Johnson
"Yes sir, I've seen a lot of colored boys who should have been playing in the majors. First of all I'd name this guy Josh Gibson for a place. He's one of the greatest backstops in history, I think. Any team in the big leagues could use him right now" - Carl Hubbell

Josh Gibson is considered the greatest hitter and catcher in the history of the Negro Leagues, and among the greatest all time. As a catcher, he spent much of his career with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords and counted Buck Leonard and Satchel Paige among his teammates. He was inducted into the Mexico's Salón de la Fama in 1971 and into the American Hall of Fame in 1972 by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues.

Gibson is widely considered to be one of the best power hitters in baseball history, but he was never allowed to play in Major League Baseball as racial segregation excluded African-Americans from playing in the leagues during his lifetime. He won 12 home run titles not counting the winter leagues and also led his leagues in batting average, doubles, triples, RBI and slugging. Run and walk data are limited but it is highly probable he also led in these categories. There exists debate as to the records held by African American, White, and Hispanic players of that era due to the fact that neither played with each other, although, in the off-seasons they frequently played against each other. Gibson is known to have been the only player to ever hit the ball completely out of Yankee Stadium, in 1934. [1]

[edit] Youth

Gibson was born and grew up in Georgia and moved to Pittsburgh, PA when his father got a job at Carnegie-Illinois Steel. Josh studied to be an electrician but dropped out of school in 9th grade to work in an air-brake factory. He broke into baseball in 1929 with the Pittsburgh-area Homestead Grays.

[edit] Homestead home run hero

At age 18, Gibson hit .338 as Homestead's regular catcher in 1930. According to John Holway in his Complete Book of the Negro Leagues, Gibson established his legendary status in a post-season series versus the New York Lincoln Giants. In the second game, he hit the first ball to clear the 457' center field fence in Forbes Field and tripled in a 17-16 game. He added another homer two days later, on September 27th at Yankee Stadium, when he hit a shot that Judy Johnson said went over the roof. Others disputed that the ball actually cleared the Yankee Stadium roof, but whether it did or didn't, it must have traveled about 505 feet. He hit .368 in the series.

In 1931, Gibson batted .306 with 6 home runs (.308 and 14 according to Holway). In 1932 he hit a homer in game one of a postseason exhibition against the Kansas City Monarchs but only batted .212. Gibson played in an exhibition game against a team featuring Major Leaguers George Uhle and Dutch Henry and went 4 for 6 with two homers.

[edit] Pittsburgh powerhouse

The 20-year-old hit .303 in 1932 while moving to the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Gibson tied Oscar Charleston for the East-West League lead with 10 homers, led the loop with 16 doubles and was second to Charleston with 6 triples. He hit .333 in a series against a white team featuring Roy Parmelee, Larry French, Fred Frankhouse and Bill Swift as its pitchers.

In 1933, Gibson smacked 23 homers to beat out Charleston by one for the lead in the newly formed Negro National League - no one else had more than 13. Josh was second to Charleston in doubles (18) and triples (10), while batting .352. He took Sug Cornelius deep for a 512-foot blast during the regular season and was 2 for 5 in a postseason series versus the Nashville Elite Giants. He went 1 for 2 with an error for the East in the first East-West Game, backing up veteran Biz Mackey.

Gibson's 1934 campaign was another fine one. He hit only .295, but his 16 homers led the NNL by 3 over Turkey Stearnes and he also paced the league with 15 doubles. His 4 triples tied him for third. In the 1934 East-West Game, he started at catcher and hit 5th for the East, going 2 for 4 with a double and finishing the game in left field.

At the age 23 in 1935, Josh hit .355 with 16 homers (leading the league as usual, three more than Mule Suttles). Batting cleanup for the West in the 1935 East-West Game, Josh went 4 for 5 with two doubles, three runs, an RBI, an error, and a passed ball. In the bottom of the eleventh, the East manager decided to have Martin Dihigo intentionally walk Gibson to face Suttles - the strategy failed as Suttles homered to win it for the West. In a post-season series, Gibson hit .407 with a homer against the New York Cubans. He was 4 for 13 in an exhibition series against the Dizzy Dean All-Stars, taking Dean deep once.

In his last Crawfords season, Gibson hit .327 but failed to lead the league in homers for the first time in five years as his 14 were third behind Stearnes and Suttles. He did have a higher home run percentage than both with a rate of 72 HR/550 AB. He was 2 for 3 with two runs, an RBI, passed ball and stolen base in the 1936 East-West Game. In the Denver Post Tournament, he drove in 15 in 9 games for the winning club. He also was 3 for 14 in an exhibition series against Ted Lyons, Vern Kennedy, Earl Whitehill and Jack Knott in an off-tourney.

[edit] 1937: A tale of three countries

Gibson lit up three leagues in 1937. In the 1936/1937 winter ball season, he hit .344 in the Cuban Winter League.

Back in the United States, Gibson returned to the Homestead Grays after Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee was forced to unload his stars. He was sent to his former club for $2,500 and two players. He batted .462 to lead the NNL by 79 points. He homered 21 times, five more than runner-up Mule Suttles and more than numbers three and four combined (Wild Bill Wright and Buck Leonard, both with 10). His five triples tied Wright for the league lead.

Gibson accomplished all of that even though he left Homestead during the year to light up the Dominican League. He batted .453 to take that batting title as well, 101 points ahead of runner-up Clyde Spearman. He led the league in RBI (21 in 30 games) and triples, at five, though he only homered twice for dictator Rafael Trujillo's club.

Returning to Cuba for the 1937/1938 winter season, he hit .342 with 3 homers in 61 AB for the Havana Reds, slugging .607 and producing 21 runs.

[edit] 1938-40: The third run with Homestead

Still just 26, Josh batted .358 for the 1938 Homestead Grays. He tied for the Negro National League lead with two triples and tied for second with 8 homers, trailing Suttles by six. Gibson then helped lead Santa Clara to the Cuban Winter League title by batting .356 and slugging .638. He set a CWL record with 11 homers in 163 AB, a mark that would not be broken until the schedule would be significantly expanded. He also led the league with 50 runs, a sign that he likely also drew many walks.

In 1939, Gibson batted .341 and returned to the leader spot in homers (17, five more than Suttles and more than double the third place total of Buck Leonard) and tied for third with two triples. More impressively, he did it while only playing 29 games. Gibson also hit .380 with 6 homers in the Puerto Rican Winter League, leading in homers and trailing only Perucho Cepeda in average. In the first East-West Game of the year, Gibson was 0 for 3. In the second contest, he drove in four runs as the East's cleanup hitter, tripling in 2 at-bats and scoring a run. He also walked twice and had a sacrifice. In the 1939-40 winterball season, Josh hit .380 with six homers in the Puerto Rican Winter League, placing him third in home runs behind Buck Leonard and Roy Campanella in an off-winter. Gibson only hit .167 for Homestead in limited action in 1940 before jumping to the Mexican League.

[edit] 1940-41: Mexican League legend - plus Puerto Rico dominance

Gibson was one of several Hall-of-Famers and other top stars brought to the Mexican League by the big bucks offered by Veracruz Blues owner-Jorge Pasquel. For the 1940 club, Josh hit .467/~.546/.989 with 22 extra-base hits in 22 games, 16 walks, 32 runs and 38 RBI. Despite only playing a quarter of the season, he tied Ted Strong for second in the Liga with 11 homers, one behind leader Cool Papa Bell.

In the 1940/1941 winter season, Gibson hit .480 to lead the Puerto Rican Winter League by 71 points over Willard Brown and over 100 ahead of Cepeda. Future Hall of Famers Monte Irvin and Roy Campanella hit under .300. Gibson's 13 homers were as many as the next two players combined though he said he wasn't aiming to hit homers. One home run reportedly traveled 600 feet, 64 feet more than the next longest in league history by Frank Howard.

In the 1941 Mexican League season, Josh batted .374/~.484/.754 with 100 runs, 33 homers and 124 RBI in 94 games, drawing 75 walks while only striking out 25 times. In average, he trailed only Wright, who edged him by three points in OBP as well. Gibson's slugging beat out Wright by 121 points and third-place Bus Clarkson by 156 points. He was fifth in runs, drove in 29 more than runner-up Santos Amaro, was third with 31 doubles, and was second in walks to Leslie Green. His 33 long balls were 14 more than Clarkson as the runnerup and nearly outhomered the second and third ranked hitters combined.

Prior to Josh's 33-home run season, the LMB record was Bell's 12 and in the following season, Monte Irvin would lead with 20. It would be 19 years and take a much-expanded schedule before Aldo Salvent broke his home run record. His RBI mark similarly stands out; Bell's 79 was the record and no one else drove in 100 until 1945. Gibson's RBI record would finally fall in 1960 with an expanded schedule as Al Pinkston broke it - and it would not be until 1984 with the lively Commando ball that another player would top the mark.

In his two seaons, Gibson hit .393/~.496/.802 in the Mexican League. In 116 games and 450 at bats, he had 44 home runs, 38 doubles, 162 RBI and 91 walks versus 31 strikeouts. Only Irvin would close to such production and other Hall of Famers like Roy Campanella were far less effective in the LMB. Unfortunately, it is presently the only time period of his career for which walk data is available, but it is clear that he had a superb batting eye and presumably led the league several times in walks.

Josh was paid $6,000 to play for Veracruz. Homestead owner Cum Posey filed a $10,000 suit against him and a compromise was reached, allowing Gibson to return to the Grays.

[edit] 1942-46: The last Homestead stretch

Going back to the Grays once more, Gibson hit .347, 4th in the 1942 NNL, and led the league with 14 homers, one less than the next two players combined. He tied for fourth in the league with 8 doubles and was third with three steals. Gibson hit one home run 540' in Municipal Stadium. In the 1942 Negro World Series, Gibson was held to just 1 for 13 (.077) against Satchel Paige, Hilton Smith and Jack Matchett in a rare moment of struggling. He was 2 for 3 with an RBI and two walks in the first East-West Game of the year and 1 for 4 with a run, RBI, two walks and an error in the second.

At age 31, Gibson battled alcoholism, nervous breakdowns and possibly drug problems as well. He was frequently in a Washington, DC sanitarium in 1943. He still tore up the NNL for a .449 average (third in the league), 22 homers (more than the next three players - Lenny Pearson, Leonard and Larry Doby - combined), 33 doubles (13 more than runner-up Leonard) and 8 triples (tied for fifth). He went 1 for 3 with a walk in the 1943 East-West Game. In the 1943 Negro World Series, he hit .250 with a grand slam to win game five.

Gibson kept on smacking the ball in 1944, hitting .369 to take Homestead to another pennant. He was 4th in the NNL in average, homered 17 times (almost double runner-up Leonard's 9), hit eight doubles (fifth) and led the league with 12 triples, as many as the next two players (Leonard and Ray Brown) combined. He was 2 for 3 with a walk, double and run in the 1944 East-West Game. In the 1944 Negro World Series, he was 8 for 16 with a homer to lead the team past the Birmingham Barons.

In 1945, Gibson hit .323 to lead Homestead to the front of the NNL pack again. He was third with four triples and hit 11 homers, more than the runner-up Wild Bill Wright, with five, and either of the number three players (Leonard and Campanella), each with four, put together.

Gibson kept on chugging away in 1946. His .397 average was second in the NNL (trailing Frank Austin), his 17 homers again were more than the next two players combined, his 12 doubles led the league and his 4 triples tied him for second, two behind leader Doby. He went 1 for 5 with a walk in the two East-West Games that year. Overall, he hit .459/~.574/.622 in 12 East-West appearances. He is second all-time in the East-West contests in runs (8), tied for first in hits (17), second in doubles (4), first in walks (10), third in RBI (8), second in total bases (23), second in average, third in slugging though he never homered in his 37 East-West at-bats.

During the season he hit a 440-foot homer in Yankee Stadium, a 457-foot shot in Pittsburgh, one into the upper deck in the Polo Grounds, a shot estimated at 500' in Sportsman's Park and one over the roof at Shibe Park. Some people claim that Gibson's skills had declined significantly due to his drinking and poor health, citing that he couldn't even squat behind the plate, but it was clear that he was still the top black hitter in baseball.

Gibson would never play in another game after 1946, having dominated black and Latino baseball for seventeen years like no one else before.

[edit] Death

Gibson died of a stroke at age 35 on January 20, 1947 in Pittsburgh and was buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville. His death came just three months before Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history. The stroke is generally believed to be linked to drug problems that plagued his later years. Ted Page said that Josh was heartbroken over the fact that he didn't get to play in the majors.

His son Josh Gibson Jr. played for the Homestead Grays and in the minors after his father died.

[edit] Career Statistics

[edit] Regular season: Negro Leagues and Mexican League

The first official statistics for the Negro leagues were compiled as part of a statistical study sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and supervised by Larry Lester and Dick Clark, in which a research team collected statistics from thousands of boxscores of league-sanctioned games.[1] The first results from this study were the statistics for Negro league Hall of Famers elected prior to 2006, which were published in Shades of Glory by Lawrence D. Hogan. These statistics include the official Negro league statistics for Josh Gibson:

Year Age Team League G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB BA SLG
.
1930 18 Homestead Grays independent 21 71 13 24 2 0 5 17 0 5 .338 .577
1931 19 Homestead Grays independent 32 124 26 38 8 5 6 23 0 11 .306 .597
1932 20 Pittsburgh Crawfords independent 49 191 34 62 10 5 8 28 0 21 .325 .555
1933 21 Pittsburgh Crawfords NNL 38 138 32 54 6 2 8 31 1 9 .391 .638
1934 22 Homestead Grays NNL 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500
1934 22 Pittsburgh Crawfords NNL 52 190 39 62 14 3 11 27 2 19 .326 .605
1935 23 Pittsburgh Crawfords NNL 35 145 37 54 10 2 8 29 7 16 .372 .634
1936 24 Pittsburgh Crawfords NNL 26 90 27 39 3 2 6 18 1 13 .433 .711
1937 25 Homestead Grays NNL 25 97 39 41 7 4 13 36 1 17 .423 .979
1938 26 Homestead Grays NNL 28 105 31 38 4 1 3 9 1 13 .362 .505
1939 27 Homestead Grays NNL 21 74 22 27 3 2 10 22 3 20 .365 .865
1940 28 Homestead Grays NNL 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000
1940 28 Veracruz Mexican 22 92 32 43 7 4 11 38 3 16 .467 .989
1941 29 Veracruz Mexican 94 358 100 134 31 3 33 124 7 75 .374 .754
1942 30 Homestead Grays NNL 42 138 36 42 6 1 7 38 2 32 .304 .514
1943 31 Homestead Grays NNL 55 192 69 91 24 5 12 74 3 39 .474 .839
1944 32 Homestead Grays NNL 34 123 27 44 4 3 9 34 1 15 .358 .659
1945 33 Homestead Grays NNL 17 62 12 17 2 4 2 15 0 11 .274 .532
1946 34 Homestead Grays NNL 33 111 22 32 6 2 7 31 0 12 .288 .568
.
Negro Leagues totals 16 seasons 510 1855 467 666 109 41 115 432 22 255 .359 .648
per 162 g 3.15 162 589 148 212 35 13 37 137 7 81 .359 .648
Mexican Lg. totals 2 seasons 116 450 132 177 38 7 44 162 10 91 .393 .802
Overall 17 seasons 626 2305 599 843 147 48 159 594 32 346 .366 .678

Sources: Shades of Glory, Hogan et al., pp. 388–391, and The Mexican League, Cisneros, p. 151.

[edit] Winter leagues

Year Team League G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB BA SLG
.
1937 Ciudad Trujillo Dominican --- 53 --- 24 --- --- --- --- --- --- .453 ---
1937–38 Habana Cuban --- 61 11 21 3 2 3 13 --- --- .344 .607
1938–39 Santa Clara Cuban --- 163 50 58 7 3 11 39 --- 2 .356 .638
Totals - 279 (61) 103 (10) (5) (14) (52) .372 (.629)

Sources: The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues, Holway, and Cuban Baseball, Figueredo, pp. 222, 225.

[edit] Posthumous Honors

Josh Gibson was elected into the Salon de la Fama in 1971, one year before his Hall of Fame induction.

In 1996, Gibson was played by Mykelti Williamson in the made-for-cable film Soul of the Game.

In 1999, he ranked 18th on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, the highest-ranking of five players to have played all or most of their careers in the Negro Leagues. The others were Paige, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston. That same year, he was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

[edit] Feats

He has been credited with as many as 84 home runs in one season. His Hall of Fame plaque says he hit "almost 800" homers in his 17-year career. These statistics are unverified and include games against amateur and semipro teams. Based on research of historical accounts performed for the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, Gibson hit 224 homers in 2,375 at-bats against top black teams, 2 home runs in 56 at-bats against white major-league pitchers and 44 home runs in 450 AB in the Mexican League. John Holway lists Gibson with the same home run totals and a .351 career average, plus 21 for 56 against white major-league pitchers. According to Holway, Gibson ranks third all-time in the Negro Leagues in average among players with 2,000+ AB (trailing Jud Wilson by 3 points and John Beckwith by one. Holway lists him as being second to Mule Suttles in homers, though the all-time leader in HR/AB by a considerable margin - with a homer every 10.6 AB to one every 13.6 for runner-up Suttles.

[edit] Quotes and Anecdotes

Gibson has been the subject of many anecdotes and stories. Here are a couple:

In the last of the ninth at Pittsburgh, down a run, with a runner on base and two outs, Gibson hits one high and deep, so far into the twilight sky that it disappears from sight, apparently winning the game. The next day, the same two teams are playing again, now in Washington. Just as the teams have positioned themselves on the field, a ball comes falling out of the sky and a Washington outfielder grabs it. The umpire yells to Gibson, "You're out! In Pittsburgh, yesterday!"

While in Mexico, Gibson once went 4 for 4 with a double and triple. Owner Jorge Pasquel asked what was wrong? Gibson said he went 4 for 4. Pasquel replied "I got Wells and Dandridge for doubles and singles. I got you for home runs."

He had an eye like Ted Williams and the power of Babe Ruth. He hit to all fields. - Monte Irvin


[edit] Sources

[edit] Further Reading

  • Buckley, James Jr. "1,001 Facts About Hitters." DK Publishing, 2004.
  • Ribowsky, Mark. "Josh Gibson The Power and The Darkness." University of Illinois Press, Champaign, IL, 2004.
  • Snyder, Brad: Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, McGraw-Hill, 2004.

[edit] Related Sites

  1. Hogan, p. 381.

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