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Josh Gibson

Josh Gibson
Gibson's plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born: (1911-12-21)December 21, 1911
Buena Vista, Georgia
Died: January 20, 1947(1947-01-20) (aged 35)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Batted: Right Threw: Right
Negro leagues debut
July 31, 1930, for the Homestead Grays
Last appearance
Career statistics
Batting average .359
Slugging percentage .648
Career highlights and awards
  • 12× All-Star (1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1939-Comiskey, 1939-Yankee, 1942-Comiskey, 1942-Griffith, 1943, 1944, 1946-Griffith, 1946-Comiskey)
  • Negro World Series champion (1943, 1944)
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Inducted 1972
Election Method Negro Leagues Committee

Joshua "Josh" Gibson (December 21, 1911 – January 20, 1947) was an American Negro league baseball catcher. Baseball historians consider Gibson to be among the very best power hitters and catchers in the history of any league, including Major League Baseball (MLB). In 1972, he was the second player after Satchel Paige who had played in the Negro leagues to be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.[1]

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 Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz. Gibson served as the first manager of the Santurce Crabbers, one of the most historic franchises of the Puerto Rico Baseball League.

Gibson was known as the "black Babe Ruth",[2] in fact, some fans at the time who saw both Ruth and Gibson play, called Ruth "the white Josh Gibson".[3] Gibson never played in the major leagues because of an unwritten "gentleman's agreement" policy that prevented non-white players from participating. He stood 6-foot-1 (185 cm) and weighed 210 pounds (95 kg) at the peak of his career.[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Baseball career and statistics 2
  • Death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Films 5
  • Miscellany 6
  • Career statistics 7
    • Negro leagues 7.1
    • Dominican League 7.2
    • Mexican League 7.3
    • Cuban (Winter) League 7.4
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life

A water tower in

Gibson was born in 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 was still a semi-professional team. The Crawfords, controlled by Gus Greenlee, was the top black semi-professional team in the Pittsburgh area and would advance to fully professional, major Negro league status by 1931.[6]

In 1928, Gibson met Helen Mason whom he married on March 7, 1929. When not playing baseball, Gibson continued to work at Gimbels, having 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 recruited by Cum Posey, owner of the Homestead Grays, which was the preeminent Negro league team in Pittsburgh; Gibson debuted with the Grays on July 31, 1930. On August 11, Gibson's wife, Helen, who was 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. The children were raised by Helen's parents.[6]

Baseball career and statistics

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.[7] 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 league games he hit 11 home runs in 52 games.[4][7]

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.[8]

Gibson's Hall of Fame plaque states he hit "almost 800 home runs in league and independent baseball during his 17-year career."[9] (This figure includes vs. semi-pro competition and in exhibition games.) His lifetime batting average, according to the Hall's official data, was .359.[7] 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. 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 Yankee Stadium. 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.[10]

There is no published season-by-season breakdown of Gibson's home run totals in all the games he played in various leagues and exhibitions.

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.[7] 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 in 56 at-bats against white major-league pitchers and 44 in 450 AB in the Mexican League.[11] John Holway lists Gibson with the same home run totals and a .351 career average, plus 21 for 56 against white major-league pitchers.[11] According to Holway, Gibson ranks third all-time in the Negro leagues in average among players with 2,000+ AB (trailing Jud Wilson by three points and John Beckwith by one).[11] 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.[11]

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.[7] Though this number appears very conservative next to the statements of "almost 800" to 1000 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 less than 60 games per year.[12] 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.

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.[13] 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, Gibson fell into a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After he regained consciousness, he refused the option of surgical removal and lived the next four years with recurring headaches. In 1944, Gibson was hospitalized in Washington, DC at Gallinger Hospital for mental observation.[14]

He died of a stroke in Pittsburgh in 1947 at age 35 just three months before Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history. Some believe the stroke was linked to drug problems that plagued him in his later years.[15] He was buried at the Allegheny Cemetery in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, where he lay in an unmarked grave until a small plaque was placed in 1975.[16]


Larry Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League a few months after Robinson broke it in the National League, stated at the time of Robinson's signing with a minor league team of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, "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[17]

In 1972, Gibson's accomplishments were recognized, along with Buck Leonard's. Gibson and Leonard became the second and third players, respectively, behind Satchel Paige, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their outstanding careers in the Negro leagues.[18] Gibson's Hall of Fame plaque claims "almost 800" home runs for his career.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a 33-cent U.S. commemorative postage stamp which features a painting of Gibson and includes his name.[19]

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.) That same year, he was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

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.

Ammon Field at 2217 Bedford Ave., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was renamed Josh Gibson Field in his honor and is the site of a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker.[20]

His son, Josh Gibson, Jr., played baseball for the Homestead Grays.[21] His son also was instrumental in the forming of the Josh Gibson Foundation.[22][23][24]



  • Gibson played baseball in the United States, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico, with a lifetime batting average of .354 - .384, depending on which statistics are counted.[25]
  • Barry Bonds referred to "Josh Gibson's 800 home runs" in his post-game press conference after hitting his 756th MLB home run.[28]
  • An opera based on Josh Gibson's life, The Summer King, premiered May 8, 2014, in Portland, Maine.[29]

Career statistics

Negro leagues

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.[7] 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:

1930 Homestead 21 71 13 24 2 0 5 17 0 5 .338 .577
1931 Homestead 32 124 26 38 8 5 6 23 0 11 .306 .597
1932 Pittsburgh 49 191 34 62 10 5 8 28 0 21 .325 .555
1933 Pittsburgh 38 138 32 54 6 2 8 31 1 9 .391 .638
1934 Homestead 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500
1934 Pittsburgh 52 190 39 62 14 3 11 27 2 19 .326 .605
1935 Pittsburgh 35 145 37 54 10 2 8 29 7 16 .372 .634
1936 Pittsburgh 26 90 27 39 3 2 6 18 1 13 .433 .711
1937 Homestead 25 97 39 41 7 4 13 36 1 17 .423 .979
1938 Homestead 28 105 31 38 4 1 3 9 1 13 .362 .505
1939 Homestead 21 74 22 27 3 2 10 22 3 20 .365 .865
1940 Homestead 1 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000
1942 Homestead 42 138 36 42 6 1 7 38 2 32 .304 .514
1943 Homestead 55 192 69 91 24 5 12 74 3 39 .474 .839
1944 Homestead 34 123 27 44 4 3 9 34 1 15 .358 .659
1945 Homestead 17 62 12 17 2 4 2 15 0 11 .274 .532
1946 Homestead 33 111 22 32 6 2 7 31 0 12 .288 .568
Total 16 seasons 510 1855 467 666 109 41 115 432 22 255 .359 .648


Dominican League

Year Team AB H BA
1937 Ciudad Trujillo 53 24 .453


Mexican League

1940 Veracruz 22 92 32 43 7 4 11 38 3 16 .467 .989
1941 Veracruz 94 358 100 134 31 3 33 124 7 75 .374 .754
Total 2 seasons 116 450 132 177 38 7 44 162 10 91 .393 .802

Source:[30] , p. 151.

Cuban (Winter) League

1937/38 Habana 61 11 21 3 2 3 13 .344 .607
1938/39 Santa Clara 163 50 58 7 3 11 39 2 .356 .638
Total 2 seasons 224 61 79 10 5 14 52 .353 .629

Source:,[31] pp. 222, 225.

See also


  1. ^ National Baseball Hall of Fame, Josh Gibson [1] Retrieved April 16, 2015
  2. ^
  3. ^ Brashler, William (1978) Josh Gibson: A Life in the Negro Leagues. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. ISBN 1-56663-295-1
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b c d e f g
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d e
  12. ^ 1939 in baseball#Negro National League final standings
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ *
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ [2] Archived January 23, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ The following article includes a photo of a poster-size copy of the postage stamp.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ Vázquez, Edwin; ''Beisbol De Ligas Negras''-''James "Cool Papa" Bell Beisbox Caribe''; December 22, 2006 Archived August 16, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Winter pro baseball's proudest heritage passes into oblivionBjarkman, Peter C.; Archived November 7, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^

Further reading

  • Brashler, William. Josh Gibson: a Life in the Negro Leagues. Harper & Row, 1978.
  • Buckley, James Jr. 1,001 Facts About Hitters. DK Publishing, 2004.
  • Figueredo, Jorge. Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History. McFarland & Company, 2003.
  • Holway, John. The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues. Hastings House, 2001.
  • Lester, Larry. Black Baseball's National Showcase. University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
  • Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White. Gramercy, 1970.
  • Ribowsky, Mark. Josh Gibson The Power and The Darkness. University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  • Riley, James. The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Carrol & Graf, 1994.
  • Rogosin, Donn. Invisible Men. Atheneum, 1983.
  • Snyder, Brad. Beyond the Shadow of the Senators. McGraw-Hill, 2004.
  • Treto Cisneros, Pedro. The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics. McFarland & Company, 2002.

External links

  • Josh Gibson at the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Negro league baseball statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference (Negro leagues)
  • Josh Gibson page at Pace University
  • Georgia Sports Hall of Fame
  • News article on 2004 compilation of Negro League statistics - Includes home run to at-bat ratio comparison.
  • ESPN Sportcentury article on Josh Gibson
  • Josh Gibson at Bullpen
  • An opera about Josh Gibson in the Wall Street Journal
  • Josh Gibson at Find a Grave
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