Josh Gibson never got a chance to play in MLBBut he left an indelible legacy in baseball history. An immeasurable presence both behind the plate and at bat, Gibson is considered one of the most fearsome sluggers to ever step on a diamond. A star of the Black Leagues In the decades before racial integration, Gibson terrorized pitchers wherever he played, including throughout Latin America in the winter ball.
Here are some key points to know about Gibson, who was born on December 21, 1911 and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
• In the course of baseball history, how many fans sitting in the stands have yelled that they would do better than that ‘suitcase’ on the field, if only given the chance? Very few, if any, have been right. But someone stepping out of the stands and becoming a star may not be unprecedented.
In 1930, the story goes, Gibson was watching a game in which Homestead Grays wide receiver Buck Ewing suffered an injury. Gibson, just 18 years old but already with a well-earned reputation in semi-professional games, was called in as a replacement. And thus a great career as a baseball player was born.
• Gibson earned the nickname “the black Babe Ruth” and like the great Bambino, his prodigious cannon shots were legendary. That’s both in terms of the distance the hits traveled and their questionable veracity. Did Ruth really announce in the middle of the shift that he was going to hit a home run? Did he really hit a 587-foot cannon during preseason in Tampa, Florida? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s fun to believe they did.
The myth around Gibson is even greater, due to the fact that his exploits were in the Negro Leagues, where official data is limited due among other things to changing schedules and the variety of competitors.
There are plenty of stories of how Gibson made old Yankee Stadium look small, supposedly by hitting a 580-foot ball to the top of the stands, or taking the ball out of the park entirely. There may be some exaggeration in those tales, as was often the case with events leading up to the advent of modern television broadcasts and the official notation. But there’s no question that Gibson could crush the ball.
• A major difference between Ruth and Gibson: Everyone knows the exact number of home runs for the Bambino in his best season (60) and lifetime (714) in the majors. No one knows how many balls Gibson drew during his illustrious career. His Hall of Fame plaque reads that he “gave nearly 800 home runs between leagues and independent circuits during his 17-year career,” though only a small percentage of those numbers are official. Other estimates are lower or higher – including over 1,000 – but the actual number is a mystery.
• The late Buck O’Neil spent his entire life in the world of baseball, including as a player and manager in the Negro Leagues, and as a coach and scout in the Big Top. O’Neil said several times in interviews that there was a certain sound – of the ball hitting wood – that he heard a few times. The first was from Ruth. Gibson’s second. And O’Neil didn’t hear it again until Bo Jackson came on the scene in the ’80s.
“Extraordinary hitter. The best hitter I’ve ever seen, ”O’Neil told documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. “He had the power of Ruth and the hitting ability of Ted Williams. That was Josh Gibson. He would have had a tremendous career (in the majors). I would have rewritten the record books when it comes to home runs. “
Andrew Simon MLB
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MLB: Josh Gibson’s Most Impressive Facts, The Black Babe Ruth