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Josh Gibson

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Joshua Gibson (December 21, 1911 in Buena Vista, Georgia - January 20, 1947 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) was a catcher in baseball's Negro Leagues. He played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1930 to 1937 before moving to the Homestead Grays from 1937 to 1946.

Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 256 pounds at the peak of his career, Gibson is widely considered among the very best power hitters in baseball history, but never played in Major League Baseball as racial segregation excluded African-Americans during his lifetime. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, elected in 1972.

Baseball Hof
Josh Gibson
is a member of
the Baseball
Hall of Fame

Baseball Career and StatisticsEdit

The true statistical achievements of Negro League players are impossible to know, as the Negro Leagues did not compile complete statistics or game summaries. As such, it is difficult to separate truth from myth in regards to Negro League stars such as Josh Gibson. His Baseball Hall of Fame plaque says he hit "almost 800" homers in his 17-year career, although the estimates range anywhere from 200 to more than 1000. He is credited with several amazing years, slugging 69 home runs in 1934 and batting .467 with 55 home runs in 137 games in 1933. His lifetime batting average is said to be higher than .350, with other sources putting it as high as .384, the best in Negro League history. It was reported that he won nine home-run titles and four batting championships playing for the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. In two seasons in the late 1930s, it was written that not only did he hit higher than .400, but his slugging percentage was above 1.000. The Sporting News of June 3, 1967 credits Gibson with a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate. Although it has never been conclusively proven, Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall said Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of the House That Ruth Built.

Recent investigations into Negro League statistics, using box scores from newspapers from across the United States, has led to the estimate that, although as many as two thirds of Negro League team games were played against inferior competition (as traveling exhibition games), Josh Gibson still hit at least two hundred home runs in official Negro League games. Though this number appears very conservative next to the statements of 800 to 1000 homeruns, this research also credits Gibson with a rate of one home-run every 15.9 at bats, which compares favorably with the rates of the top nine home-run hitters in Major League history. Though these numbers are still based on incomplete evidence, this study does at least provide concrete proof that Josh Gibson was a power hitter of very high caliber.

Despite the fact that statistical validation continues to prove difficult for Negro League players, the lack of verifiable figures has led to various amusing "Tall Tales" about immortals such as Gibson. A good example: 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!"

In early 1943, Josh Gibson fell into a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He refused the option of surgical removal, and lived the next four years with recurring headaches. Gibson died of a stroke in 1947, at age 35, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 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 and alcohol problems that plagued his later years.

Gibson is buried in the Allegheny Cemetery in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville.


  • In 1996, Gibson was played by

Mykelti Williamson in the made-for-cable film Soul of the Game, which also starred Delroy Lindo as Satchel Paige, Blair Underwood as Jackie Robinson, Edward Herrmann as Branch Rickey and Jerry Hardin as Commissioner Happy Chandler.

  • 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.

References Edit

  • William Brashler. Josh Gibson: a Life in the Negro Leagues. Harper & Row, 1978.

External linksEdit

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