"The Black Babe Ruth"
Twenty three year old Josh with friends Leroy Matlock and Jimmie Crutchfield
Photo taken in Philadelphia
|Josh Gibson, born December 21, 1911, was the son southern
steelworker Mark Gibson and his wife Nancy Gibson. Josh spent his formative
years in Buena Vista, Georgia. In 1921, when his father could no longer
find work in the South, his family migrated to Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. Unknowingly, in reference to baseball, the move would benefit
Gibson for the rest of his life.
After finishing fifth grade in Georgia, Josh attended Allegheny Pre-Vocational School. At this time Josh began to emerge as an all-around athlete. He played baseball, football, basketball and swam. Every sport he attempted, he did well in and won. The game Josh loved most was baseball. In order to improve his game Josh began watching older more experienced players. He attended sandlot, industrial, and Negro League games. He believed if learned the basics of the game by watching others, he would be able to improve so one day he could play the game. Josh was approached by Harold Tinker to play for the sandlot Crawfords. By this time Josh had matured to his full height of six feet two inches, and weighed two hundred pounds. Slim and muscular Josh had the body and strength to make him one of the greatest ballplayers of all time.
As one of the strongest hitters in the league, Josh caused pitchers to quake in fear when he came up to bat. His strength and gracefulness are depicted in this photgraph.
Josh played in his first Homestead Grays game in July of 1929. The stories of how he entered the game, since he was not on the team, are disputable, but he did play. From that point on Josh worked hard to improve his catching and be a better all-around player. In the 1931 season with the Grays, Josh hit over 75 homeruns. After the 1931 season, Gus Greenlee approached Gibson and offered him more money to play for the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Josh stayed with the Crawfords until 1937. During that time he won the 1932, 1934, and 1936 batting titles. Josh spent the 1937 season playing for the Homestead Grays and then went to Santo Domingo. Josh returned to Pittsburgh for the Grays's 1938 season. Josh played with the Homestead Grays for the 1938, 1942, 1943, and 1946 seasons. During the 1939, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1946 summer league seasons, josh opted to play in Mexico and Puerto Rico. He was a legend there-they respected him and considered him a star, something that was not happening in the United States. In 1943, Josh was hospitalized for the first time for his brain tumor. He told no one, and resolved to not let anyone know how sick he was.
The Pittsburgh Crawfords big five in the 1932 season.
From l to r: Oscar Charleston, Rap Dixon, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Jud Wilson.
Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords
Hitting over 800 homeruns in 17 years, 75 of them in the 1931 season.
Hitting the longest homerun in Yankee Stadium history.
|In October of 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by signing a contract with Branch Rickey's Brooklyn Dodgers. Josh's health had been failing-diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, Josh had refused treatment and surgery. Over the years his behavior had become more erratic. He fell in and out of depression, there were times he was malicious, and other times he would just cry. His weight ballooned and then fell dramatically. On hearing that Jackie Robinson had broke the color barrier, Gibson became extremely depressed, and no one could rouse him out of it. On January 20, 1948 Josh Gibson had a stroke and never regained consciousness. His funeral was held at Macedonia Baptist Church, a few yards from where he first began playing baseball. The reason for Gibson's sudden death remain a mystery and many of his friends had their speculations. The most memorable coming from his close friend Ted Page. "Josh knew he had great ability and he wanted to be the one to break the color barrier. When the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, he knew it was over for him. He wasn't going to be able to make the big leagues, and he also knew that because of his health and his bad knees his career with the Grays was about over. He didn't know what to do with his life. He had no options" (Banks 56). Josh Gibson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Whether the white owners and players respected his abilities then, no longer matter. The statistics have show the greatness of Josh Gibson-the ability and strength that him better than the Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickie Mantle.
Photograph of Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell