Biography of African-American Baseball Player Josh Gibson Part 1

About the famous home run hitter John Gibson, biography and history of the hero of the negro baseball leagues.


Josh the Great

The most prolific home run hitter of all time, Joshua "Josh" Gibson, never appeared in an official major league record book. His hitting exploits were hidden behind the blackness of a separate and unequal Negro league. It took a special committee, and the voice of Ted Williams, to get him elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

In a spectacular 17-year professional career, Gibson is believed to have hit well over 800 round-trippers. The exact number is unknown, due to sketchy statistics kept by the black teams. Yet, regardless of totals and conditions, many writers and fans of the era felt that he was at least a match for Babe Ruth, if not his better.

Gibson was born on Dec. 21, 1911. In 1924 his family moved from a small farm in Buena Vista, Ga., to Pittsburgh's North Side. Josh later called the relocation "the greatest gift Dad ever gave me." By age 16 he was playing catcher for the Gimbels Athletic Club, an all-black amateur team in Pittsburgh. He was already 6 ft. 1 in. and weighed 215 lb.

In 1929 Gibson was taken on by the Crawford Colored Giants, a semipro club that made its money passing the hat among an admission-free crowd. Josh's per-game cut was only a few dollars. Knowing that the Pittsburgh Pirates of the white leagues were out of his grasp, he dreamed instead of joining the Homestead Grays of the Negro American League.

Gibson's fantasies became reality in a most theatrical manner. On July 25, 1930, the champion Kansas City Monarchs, starring Satchel Paige, came to play a series with the Grays. They brought a portable lighting system with them, which afforded Forbes Field its first night game.

The light the system provided was so poor, however, that the Homestead catcher was unable to handle the blinding fastballs of pitcher Joe Williams. When he walked off the field, the Grays manager, Judy Johnson, plucked an 18-year-old hopeful, Gibson, right out of the stands and threw him into the game. Josh went hitless that night but remained a member of the professional Homestead team.

The gifted young pro married in 1930, but his wife died a year later giving birth to twins. Gibson's sister raised the children while he grew to superstar quality. In 1931, his first full season, Josh appeared in approximately 200 games and was credited with 75 homers.

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