Position: Catcher
Teams:
Homestead Grays; Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1930-1946

Possibly the best known of the Negro League sluggers, Josh Gibson’s tape-measure home runs rattled off the seats at a rate that could not be ignored.

Joshua Gibson (1911-1947) was born in Buena Vista, Georgia. Josh’s father, wishing to give his children a better chance in life, moved the family to Pittsburgh, where Josh grew up. Gibson maintained that the greatest gift his father gave to him was to let him grow up in Pittsburgh.

Josh Gibson was an all-around athlete.
Josh Gibson was an all-around athlete.

An outstanding athlete, he won medals as a swimmer before turning his full attention to baseball. Working at an air-brake factory at age 16, he was a star for an all-black amateur team.

Josh was playing semi-pro ball by 1929. He was watching a Homestead Grays game when their catcher injured a finger. They pulled Gibson, who had already acquired some small fame for his long hits, out of the stands and put a Grays uniform on him.

Within two years he was one of the team’s biggest stars. Though he was barely in his 20s, Gibson was hitting around 70 home runs a year. He was lured to the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932, where he caught Satchel Paige for five years.

Gibson had always been a catcher, but he was not polished during the early stages of his career. Since he played more than 200 games a year, with summer in the States and winter in either Mexico or the Dominican Republic, Josh became a veteran backstop in little time.

Walter Johnson said Gibson was a better receiver than Bill Dickey. “He catches so easy he might as well be in a rocking chair,” said the Big Train. Roy Campanella, though, called Gibson “not only the greatest catcher, but the greatest ballplayer I ever saw.”

Gibson reached distances in major-league parks undreamed of by the white players who played in them regularly. He is credited with hitting a ball out of Yankee Stadium, and his longest hits are variously estimated between 575 and 700 feet. His career total is uncertain, but even the lowest estimates put him ahead of Hank Aaron, with 800 to 950 career homers.

Gibson’s lifetime average is the highest in the Negro Leagues, at .354 or .440 depending on your source. Against major-league pitching in 16 exhibition games, he hit .424 with five homers.

Gibson went back to the Grays in 1936, but he began to suffer from headaches and began drinking more than was his habit, partly in a search for relief from what was finally diagnosed a brain tumor. He died in 1947, at age 35, after Jackie Robinson played his first game for Montreal in the Dodger farm system.

Here are Josh Gibson's Negro League totals*:

BAG
AB
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
.354439
1,820
644
110
45
141
17

*Note: Gibson's career statistics are incomplete.

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