A few years ago I watched a movie called “The Soul of The Game”. The movie was so good that I ordered it and kept it in my collection. The move was about the Negro baseball leagues and it centered on the movement that got guys like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and other African –American players to the major leagues.
Growing up we saw how great a player Jackie Robinson was. Although I never saw him play (since I was not born yet) I heard the stories of his greatness. However we lost the fact that there were players more polarizing than Robinson who paved the way but they didn’t have his background so they didn’t get the chance to play with the white players until they were at the end of their careers.
The most polarizing figures in the Negro leagues were a power hitter Josh Gibson and a pitcher Satchel Paige. Gibson was a freak of nature how he could hit the ball and his hand eye coordination was second to none.
A strong and agile catcher at 6' 1", 215 pounds, Gibson was the Negro Leagues' greatest home run hitter and one of the most feared sluggers of any era. Called by many "the black Babe Ruth," the serious, dour-faced Gibson used a short, compact stride and a massive upper body to crush line drive home runs in ballparks all over North and South America.
If you have never seen the movie check it out below:
Gibson's build and quickness made him a superb catcher, but it was his bat that drew attention. In 1930, Gibson was 18 and playing for the Crawford Colored Giants, a semi-pro team loaded with young talent, when he caught the eye of Cum Posey, co-owner and manager of the powerful Homestead Grays of the Negro National League. The Grays were talent deep, but Posey needed a solid substitute catcher and told Gibson to be ready to join the Grays at any time.
Gibson's first appearance with the Grays is a source of an oft-repeated myth, one of many told of Gibson's feats. The myth is that during a Grays-Kansas City Monarchs night game, Gibson was in the stands eating hot dogs and was pressed into service when Buck Ewing, the Grays starting catcher, split a finger. The true account is that Ewing did split his finger, but it was in a game against a semipro team. Manager Posey sent a cab for Gibson who was playing across town for Crawford Colored Giants and a few innings later Josh was unceremoniously put into the Grays' lineup.
Gibson batted for a phenomenal .461 average in his rookie year and was a key factor in the Grays' win over New York's Lincoln Giants in the playoffs for the Eastern Division championship. In one of the games played in Yankee Stadium he slammed a home run into the left field bullpen that traveled more than 500 feet. Fans for years after would claim it as one of the longest drives ever hit in that ballpark.
The lure of a fatter contract and the prospect of playing for what promised to be the best team in all of Negro baseball moved Gibson to sign with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. Greenlee, a flamboyant Pittsburgh racketeer and restaurateur, assembled a team of stars including Gibson, Satchel Paige, Judy Johnson, and Coach Oscar Charleston. For the next five years the Crawfords dominated Negro League play. Gibson slugged long home runs -- 69 in 1934 -- and recorded astoundingly high batting averages. In 137 games with the Crawfords in 1933 he batted .467 with 55 home runs.
Unfortunately for Gibson the stress of wanting to be in the majors and lifestyle caught up with him and he died from a stroke at age 35. He was such a polarizing player that had he played in the majors, he would have been one of the all time greats. In exhibitions against the MLB players he hit balls that exited Yankee stadium and the next two years, MLB pitchers would walk him instead of pitching to him.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. One thing is for sure, Josh Gibson is an all time great.
Stay Breezy ~ I’m Out!