|Born: December 21, 1911|
Buena Vista, Georgia
|Died: January 20, 1947 (aged 35)|
|Negro leagues debut|
|July 31, 1930, for the Homestead Grays|
|Runs batted in||725|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Election method||Negro Leagues Committee|
Joshua Gibson (December 21, 1911 – January 20, 1947) was an American baseball catcher primarily in the Negro leagues. Baseball historians consider Gibson among the best power hitters and catchers in baseball history. In 1972, he became the second Negro league player to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Gibson played for the Homestead Grays from 1930 to 1931, moved to the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1932 to 1936, and returned to the Grays from 1937 to 1939 and 1942 to 1946. In 1937, he played for Ciudad Trujillo in Trujillo's Dominican League and from 1940 to 1941, he played in the Mexican League for Azules de Veracruz. Gibson served as the first manager of the Cangrejeros de Santurce, one of the most historic franchises of the Puerto Rico Baseball League.
Gibson was known as a spectacular power hitter who, by some accounts, hit close to 800 career home runs. He was known as the "black Babe Ruth"; in fact, some fans at the time who saw both Ruth and Gibson play called Ruth "the white Josh Gibson". Gibson never played in the major leagues because of the unwritten "gentleman's agreement" that prevented non-white players from participating. He stood 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) and weighed 210 lb (95 kg) at the peak of his career. He was the first player since Oscar Charleston to win consecutive batting Triple Crowns (leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, batting average) and no batter has achieved the feat since.
On December 16, 2020, Major League Baseball announced that it will recognize Negro league records, giving Gibson the second-highest single-season major league batting average at .466 (1943).
Gibson was born in Buena Vista, Georgia, to Mark and Nancy (Woodlock) Gibson and had a younger brother, fellow Negro leaguer Jerry, and sister. In 1923, Gibson moved to Pittsburgh, and his father found work at the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Company. Entering sixth grade in Pittsburgh, Gibson prepared to become an electrician, attending Allegheny Pre-Vocational School and Conroy Pre-Vocational School. His first experience playing baseball for an organized team came at age 16 when he played third base for an amateur team sponsored by Gimbels department store where he found work as an elevator operator. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited by the Pittsburgh Crawfords, which in 1928 were still a semi-professional team. The Crawfords, controlled by Gus Greenlee, were the top black semi-professional team in the Pittsburgh area and would advance to fully professional, major Negro league status by 1931.
In 1928, Gibson met Helen Mason, whom he married on March 7, 1929. When not playing baseball, Gibson continued to work at Gimbels after he had given up on his plans to become an electrician to pursue a baseball career.
In the summer of 1930, the 18-year-old Gibson was picked up by the Memphis Red Sox for a game in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Despite going 2 for 4, Red Sox manager Candy Jim Taylor was not impressed by Gibson and said afterward that he would never be a catcher.
He was then recruited by Cumberland Posey, owner of the Homestead Grays, which were the preeminent Negro league team in Pittsburgh; Gibson debuted with the Grays on July 31, 1930. On August 11, Gibson's wife, pregnant with twins, went into premature labor and died while giving birth to a twin son, Josh Gibson Jr., and daughter, Helen, named after her mother. Helen's parents raised the children.
The Negro leagues generally found it more profitable to schedule relatively few league games and allow the teams to earn extra money through barnstorming against semi-professional and other non-league teams. Thus, it is important to distinguish between records against all competition and records in league games only. For example, against all levels of competition, Gibson hit 69 home runs in 1934; the same year, in 52 league games, he hit 11 home runs.
In 1933, he hit .467 with 55 home runs in 137 games against all levels of competition. 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. In 2021, it was announced by Major League Baseball that the Negro Leagues (1920–1948) would formally be recognized as a major league. Ongoing research by Baseball Reference tabulated that Gibson led his league three times in batting average and once for all major leagues, most notably hitting .417 in 1937. He also led six times in on-base percentage and slugging percentage eight times.
Gibson's Hall of Fame plaque claims he hit "almost 800 home runs in league and independent baseball during his 17-year career." This figure includes vs. semi-pro competition and in exhibition games. According to the Hall's official data, his lifetime batting average was .359. It was reported that he won nine home run titles and four batting championships playing for the Crawfords and the Grays. It is also believed that Gibson hit 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 (180 m) from home plate. 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 Yankee Stadium. There is no published or film account to support this claim. Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith once said that Gibson hit more home runs into Griffith Stadium's distant left field bleachers than the entire American League. A 2020 article published by the Society for American Baseball Research provides the supporting details for his homers in major league parks.
The true statistical achievements of Negro league players may be impossible to know as the Negro leagues did not compile complete statistics or game summaries. Based on the 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, two in 56 at-bats against white major-league pitchers, and 44 in 450 at-bats 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.[page needed] According to Holway, Gibson ranks third all-time in the Negro leagues in average among players with 2,000+ at-bats (trailing Jud Wilson by three points and John Beckwith by one).[page needed] 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 at-bats to one every 13.6 for runner-up Suttles.[page needed]
Recent investigations into Negro league statistics, using box scores from newspapers from across the United States, have 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), Gibson still hit between 150 and 200 home runs in official Negro league games. Though this number appears very conservative next to the claims of "almost 800" to 1,000 home runs, 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. The commonly cited home run totals in excess of 800 are not indicative of his career total in "official" games because the Negro league season was significantly shorter than the Major League season; typically consisting of fewer than 60 games per year. The additional home runs cited were most likely accomplished in "unofficial" games against local and non-Negro league competition of varying strengths, including the oft-cited "barnstorming" competitions.
In nine of his seasons played in the Negro Leagues, he was selected to the East–West All-Star Game twelve times, which included double duty appearances in 1939 (playing at Comiskey Park and Yankee Stadium), 1942 (Yankee Stadium and Griffith Stadium), and 1946 (Griffith and Comiskey).
In early 1943, Gibson fell into a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After regaining consciousness, he refused the option of surgical removal and lived the next four years with recurring headaches. In 1944, Gibson was hospitalized in Washington, D.C. at Gallinger Hospital for mental observation. On January 20, 1947, Gibson died of a stroke at 35 years old in Pittsburgh. He was buried at the Allegheny Cemetery in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where he lay in an unmarked grave until a small plaque was placed in 1975.
Even though Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history in April 1947, Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier that July, felt that Gibson was the best black player in 1945 and 1946. Doby said in an interview later, "One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of the black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson. I think that's one of the reasons why Josh died so early — he was heartbroken."
In 1972, Gibson and Buck Leonard became the second and third players, behind Satchel Paige, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame based on their careers in the Negro leagues. Gibson's Hall of Fame plaque claims "almost 800" home runs for his career, although this number cannot be substantiated.
Although validation of statistics continues to prove difficult for Negro league players, the lack of verifiable figures has led to various amusing tall tales about players such as Gibson. An example of such: In the bottom 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, 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 falls out of the sky, and a Washington outfielder grabs it. The umpire yells to Gibson, "You're out! In Pittsburgh, yesterday!"
The U.S. Postal Service issued a 33-cent U.S. commemorative postage stamp which features a painting of Gibson and includes his name.
In 2000, 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 Satchel Paige, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston.) He was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in the same year.
At PNC Park, home of Pittsburgh's Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates, an exhibit honoring the city's two Negro league baseball teams was introduced in 2006. Located by the stadium's left field entrance and named Legacy Square, the display featured statues of seven players who competed for the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords, including Gibson. In 2015, without any public announcement, the Pirates removed all seven statues from the Legacy Square area. Ultimately, they were donated to the Josh Gibson Foundation and sold at auction to benefit the Foundation. Most of the statues that were originally located at Legacy Square in PNC Park, including Gibson's, are now displayed at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 2009, a statue of Gibson was installed inside the center field gate of Nationals Park along with ones of Frank Howard and Walter Johnson.
He was named to the Washington Nationals Ring of Honor for his "significant contribution to the game of baseball in Washington, D.C" as part of the Homestead Grays on August 10, 2010.
Ammon Field in Pittsburgh was renamed Josh Gibson Field in his honor and is the site of a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker.
His son, Josh Gibson, Jr., played baseball for the Homestead Grays. His son also was instrumental in the forming of the Josh Gibson Foundation.
An opera based on Josh Gibson's life, The Summer King, by composer Daniel Sonenberg, premiered on April 29, 2017, in Pittsburgh.
According to the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, Josh Gibson's Negro official league stats were as follows: Total years played: 16. Total games played: 501. Total career at bats: 1679. Total career hits: 607. Total career 2B hits: 89. Total career 3B hits: 35. Total career HR: 146. Total career SB: 11. Career batting average: .362.
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. 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:
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The Josh Gibson Foundation ... will host the Josh Gibson Centennial Negro League Gala on Aug. 13 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh. The event will honor the 100th anniversary of the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords slugger's birth in 1911.
... Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Hall of Famer Josh Gibson and the head of the Josh Gibson Foundation in Pittsburgh.[permanent dead link]