Game Changer: Josh Gibson, The Negro League Home Run King Known As The Black Babe Ruth

Written by Rewindingblack

by Morgan Williams

Joshua “Josh” Gibson (12/21/1911 – 01/20/1947) was a baseball catcher in the American Negro Leagues.  Gibson is considered by baseball historians to be one of the best catchers and power hitters of any league. In 1972, Gibson joined Satchel Paige as the second Negro League player to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Gibson played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, Ciudad Trujillo in the Dominican League, and Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz in the Mexican League from the years of 1930 – 1941. Gibson was never allowed to play in the major leagues due to a policy that prevented non-white baseball players from competing.

Gibson was born on December 21, 1911, in Buena Vista, Georgia. In 1923, he moved to Pittsburgh, PA where he planned on becoming an electrician and attended vocational school. Gibson first started playing baseball on an amateur team that was sponsored by the department store he worked for when he was 16. After showing much promise, Josh was recruited by the Pittsburgh Crawfords semi-pro team in 1928. The following year Gibson married his wife, Helen Mason. Gibson continued to work in the department store and play baseball. In 1930, he gave up his career plans of becoming an electrician to play for the Homestead Grays, which was the biggest Pittsburgh Negro league team. Shortly afterward Gibson’s wife died giving birth to twins.

It ‘s hard to compute the real statistics of Negro league players because the Negro Leagues did not keep accurate statistics. However, historical accounts have stated that Gibson hit close to 800 home runs in both independent and league baseball throughout his career. It’s told that his batting average was over .350.

In 1943, Gibson sustained a brain tumor and fell into a coma. When Gibson came out of his coma, he opted out of the surgical removal of the tumor. He lived the remaining four years of his life with headaches. In 1947, Gibson died of heat stroke in Pittsburgh at the age of 35. Gibson died only three months short of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in the major leagues. Gibson is buried in the Lawrence neighborhood at the Allegheny Cemetery.

Gibson has been recognized many times for his achievements. In 2000, The Sporting News listed him as the 18th greatest baseball player of all time and nominated as a finalist on the MLB’s All-Century team that same year.





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