Josh Gibson

Here’s a list of a dozen things you should know about Josh Gibson:

1. He was born in 1911 in the South, but moved to Pittsburgh when still young.

2. He played in the Negro Leagues for the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

3. He also played in the Dominican, Mexican and Puerto Rican Leagues. Some sources claim he was even better there than in the Negro Leagues.

4. With him behind the plate, the Grays won the Negro League World Series in both 1943 and 1944. How much World War II changed Negro League rosters, I don’t know.

5. He married in 1929 and his wife died in childbirth the next year. She had twins, both of which survived.

6. Although sources vary, the most common numbers I could find list him as 6′ 1″ and 210 pounds.

7. Negro League statistics, when they exist, are all over the place. Gibson’s are no exception. When MLB decided to add a bunch of Negro League players to the Hall of Fame in 2007, they had researchers compile stats on as many Negro League players as they could find. This included Gibson. While admittedly incomplete, the numbers they found indicate he hit .359, slugged .648 (but no on base percentage is available, so no OPS or OPS+ is known), played 510 games in 16 seasons peaking at 53 in 1934 (an average of 39 per season), had 666 hits, 109 doubles, 41 triples, and 115 home runs for 1202 total bases. He knocked in 432 RBIs and scored 467 runs with 22 stolen bases.  Let me point out that with barnstorming, games against white teams, and against Major League players, Negro League seasons were considerably shorter than Major League seasons.

8. In 1943 Gibson developed a cancerous brain tumor. His 1944 season is still good, but the last two years are evidently effected by the illness.

9. He was angry that Jackie Robinson was chosen over him to integrate Major League baseball. In Robinson’s defense Jackie was considerably younger.

10. Gibson died in 1947 of a stroke. He was 35.

11. The 1996 movie Soul of the Game, which dealt with the signing of Robinson, featured Gibson as one of the two major figures Branch Rickey was looking at (Satchel Paige was the other) when he opted for Robinson. The movie is highly fictionalized.

12. In 1972 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.


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5 Responses to “Josh”

  1. William Miller Says:

    So he had a brain tumor, but he died of a stroke? Ken Burns Baseball posits that Gibson actually died from a broken heart, due to never having received an opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.
    Apparently his mortality, like his career stats, are of questionable veracity.
    Interesting, Bill

  2. Vinnie Says:

    The numbers, while exceptional, do call into question just how well they would translate against the better competition of the major leagues and with the grind of the longer schedule.
    As I think I mentioned before, he probably would have put up numbers similar to Gabby Hartnett, which is no meant to diminish his great talents, but in effect to point out that while he wouldn’t have been Babe Ruth in shin guards, he would probably have been one of the top ten best catchers of all time.

  3. William Miller Says:

    Vinnie, I think that’s a pretty fair analysis. Bill

  4. vinnie Says:

    Given the numbers we have to play around with, and from what we can tell must have been less than big league quality pitching, perhaps instead of comparing him to Ruth, a better question might be, what kind of numbers might Mike Piazza have put up playing against that competition level?
    An interesting comparison might be to look at some of the numbers Willie Aikens put up after he left the big leagues, both in the minor league and in the Mexican league. The Mexican league may be the actual talent level of the old negro leagues.

  5. The Baseball Idiot Says:

    G 162
    AB 589
    R 134
    H 190
    D 31
    T 12
    HR 32
    RBI 124

    avg .323

    TB 341

    slg .579

    SB 3

    Those are his 162 game averages, minus 10% for shits and giggles. I don’t know if thats accurate or fair, but its not unreasonable.

    Either way, he can play on my team any day.

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