Josh Gibson was an African-American Negro league baseball player who achieved an almost mythical status. Perhaps one of the greatest power hitters and catchers in history, he has often been referred to as the “black Babe Ruth”. At that time, racial segregation and oppression of civil rights in USA prevented Gibson and other black athletes from playing in ‘Major League Baseball’. Yet he managed to create an unparalleled legacy for himself in the Negro baseball leagues. He also played in the Mexican leagues and Cuban leagues. Estimated to have hit over 800 home runs, Josh Gibson has played for teams like ‘Homestead Grays’, ‘Pittsburgh Crawfords’, ‘Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo’, and ‘Azules de Veracruz’ as well. Additionally, he was also a twelve-time All-Star player at the ‘East-West All-Star Game’ of the Negro league baseball. In addition, Josh was a two-time ‘Negro World Series’ champion. In recognition of all his achievements, he was ultimately inducted into the ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’. However, it is widely speculated that Gibson died a heartbroken man because he could not break the American League color barrier that Jackie Robinson was able to break.
Childhood & Early Life
Josh Gibson was born on December 21, 1911, in Buena Vista, Georgia, USA. His father was Mark Gibson and his mother was Nancy Woodlock Gibson. He had two siblings, Annie and Jerry.
In 1920, the family moved to Pittsburgh and Mark became a steel miner. The young Josh went to attend the ‘Allegheny Pre-Vocational School’ and ‘Conroy Pre-Vocational School’. At the age of 15, he started working alongside his father as a steel miner.
He was introduced to organized baseball at the age of 16. He joined the ‘Gimbels A.C.’ while working as an elevator operator for the ‘Gimbels’ department store.
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Josh Gibson started playing semi-professional baseball in 1929 for the ‘Pittsburgh Crawfords’. His reputation as a player and hard-hitter capable of hitting massive home runs started to spread in Pittsburgh.
On July 25, 1930, he was watching a ‘Homestead Grays’ match from the stands when the team catcher Buck Ewing got injured. He was invited to replace Ewing and thus began his journey in Negro league baseball. As the league did not compile complete game statistics or summaries, his true achievements have been lost to history.
Josh Gibson played for the team ‘Homestead Grays’ from 1930 to 1931. In 1930, he scored more than 13 runs in 71 at-bats, and more than 5 home runs, with a batting average of .338.
He re-joined the ‘Pittsburg Crawfords’ in 1932 after becoming one of their highest-paid batters. He remained with them until 1936. He recorded official stats of 162 runs in 733 at-bats and 38 home runs, with a .362 batting average.
Gibson was recruited by the ‘Homestead Grays’ again in 1937. He spent the next three years with them until 1940. During this time, he scored more than 88 runs in 268 at-bats and 23 home runs, with a .308 batting average.
In 1937, he also played for the Dominican league team ‘Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo’. He recorded 24 hits in 53 at-bats and ended up with a batting average of .453.
He played in the Cuban winter league (1937-39) as well. In 1937-38, he played for ‘Habana’ and ended with a batting average of .344. In 1938-39, he played for ‘Santa Clara,’ averaging .356.
Josh Gibson made his presence felt in the Mexican league as well. He played for ‘Azules de Veracruz’ (1940-41). He scored 132 runs in 450 at-bats, had 177 hits, 44 home runs, and a batting average of .393.
From 1942 until the end of his career in 1946, he played for the ‘Homestead Grays’ again. He scored 163 runs in 621 at-bats and 35 home runs, with a batting average of .343. The team also won the ‘Negro World Series’ twice in 1943 and 1944.
Recent investigations keep revealing more of his achievements in the Negro baseball leagues. So far, recorded and verified data show that he scored more than 480 runs in 1957 at-bats and 113 home runs, with a batting average of more than .359, and a record-breaking .648 slugging percentage.
Gibson was inducted into the ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’ in 1972 for his achievements in the Negro baseball leagues.
Family & Personal Life
Josh Gibson married Helen Mason on March 7, 1929. On August 11, 1930, a pregnant Helen went into premature labor and gave birth to twins, son Josh Gibson Jr., and daughter, Helen. Tragically, his wife died while giving birth. His son also played baseball.
In 1943, Gibson was diagnosed with a brain tumor after falling into a coma. Once he regained consciousness, he refused surgical removal of the tumor. He survived with recurring headaches.
He passed away on January 20, 1947, from a stroke, at just 35 years old. He was buried in an unmarked grave until 1975 when a small plaque was placed.