On this day in 1939 in Yankee Stadium, Josh Gibson had one of his finest moments in the annual East West All Star Game. This was the second all-star game of the year, one of the best catchers and power hitters in Baseball reached base three times and drove in 4 runs. The game was a box office dud, as fans considered the game in Chicago to be the legitimate one. Paid attendance was estimated at a meager 12,000 fans. The game was one sided with the East team winning 10-2.
Gibson is the hitter of the day because of his monumental 400 ft. triple that netted three runs.
He lived a heroic and tragic life from 1911 to 1947. He died from a stroke which could have been related to unoperated brain tumor, just three months before Jackie Robinson took the field in Brooklyn. This brain tumor was perhaps the reason why he was misdiagnosed as suffering from mental illness and institutionalized on more than one occasion. He was also noted for being a heavy drinker, which might have been a means of self-medicating the ill-effects of the tumor.
Elected in to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, Gibson’s hitting prowess is both documented and legendary. He hit .426 in integrated games between Negro League Teams and Major League all-star teams. And he was noted for hitting a 580 foot home run in Yankee stadium as reported by the Sporting News in 1937. His incomplete statistics indicate his career batting average was over.350 and he hit somewhere between 800 and 900 home runs in his baseball career. Bill Veeck was quoted in the Baseball Hall of Fame page on Gibson as “Josh Gibson was, at the minimum, two Yogi Berras.” In the Washington DC paper Afro-American of June 3rd 1944, quoted Washington Senators greatest player and pitcher Walter Johnson as “one of the game’s greatest catchers.” Clark Griffith was quoted as saying that Josh hit more home runs at the old park in Washington than the entire American league. Fromdeeprightfield.com ranks him the #11 best offensive player in baseball tied with Rogers Hornsby. Seamheads.com has him ranked as the best Negro Leagues hitter.
His fluid, compact, and powerful swing was no match for the cavernous outfields of Forbes Field and Griffith Stadium, which helped create numerous legends and tall tales of his mammoth home run shots. One such story goes like this:
In the last of the ninth at Pittsburgh, down a run, with a runner on base and two outs, Gibson hits one high and deep, so far into the twilight sky that it disappears from sight, apparently winning the game. The next day, the same two teams are playing again, now in Washington. Just as the teams have positioned themselves on the field, a ball comes falling out of the sky and a Washington outfielder grabs it. The umpire yells to Gibson, “You’re out! In Pittsburgh, yesterday!”
Born in Georgia and as child moved to Pittsburgh with his family, he became a fixture on company league teams and semi-pro teams in the Pittsburgh area. His joining of the Homestead Grays is one of great legend. He was attending the game as a fan, and when the Grays catcher went down with an injury, Gibson was summoned by the players to leave the grandstand and finish the game as their team’s catcher.
He played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, and summers and winter ball in Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. There is a discrepancy of the years played with both Pittsburgh teams, The Hall of Fame has it noted as Pittsburgh Crawfords (1930-1937), Homestead Grays (1937-1946); while his Wikipedia page notes 5 seasons with the Crawfords, 10 seasons with the Grays, one with Dragones de Ciudad Trujillo (Dominican Republic) and two with Azules de Veracruz (Mexico).
The Homestead Grays played home games both in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. Thankfully, today Gibson’s talents and influence are recognized in both cities. There is a statue of him outside the along with Walter Johnson and Frank Howard at Nationals Park. In Pittsburgh, the old Negro Leagues field park was renamed in his honor, and the Pirates organization has honored his legacy by collaborating with the Josh Gibson Foundation in a number of initiatives and events.