With today being the last day of Black History Month, it is time to recognize one of the most underrated black baseball players of all time – Josh Gibson.
Josh Gibson, catcher of the Negro League’s Homestead (Pa.) Grays, is the most underrated baseball player – if not the best black athlete ever. Gibson was given the moniker “the black Babe Ruth” in part because of his stocky 6-foot-1, 215 pound frame and because of his tape measure home runs.
Yet no matter how much people wanted to, and still, compare baseball’s two most prolific sluggers, there truly is no comparison.
In his best season, Gibson reported a .467 batting average and 55 home runs in 1933. Although statistics from Negro League era are sketchy at best, for any person to reportedly have numbers like that in a level beyond Little League is amazing.
However, statistics do not do Gibson justice in describing his near superhuman abilities at and behind the plate.
Gibson once hit 84 home runs in a season-without the help of steroids. His Hall-of-Fame plaque credits him with “almost 800” home runs. But the feat that blurred the line of truth and myth with Gibson was his rumored home run that left “The house that Ruth Built” – err Yankee Stadium -something even “the great” Ruth could not do.
There are no amount of columns or “ESPN Inside the Lines” documentaries that can give Gibson and the rest of the forgotten Negro League players their just due. As much as some may have loathed the throwback jersey revolution a couple years ago, it brought Negro League teams such as the Grays, Crawfords, Kansas City Monarchs and Indianapolis ABC’s back into the national consciousness.
It is a shame few people born after 1950 remember how much black talent never played in the major leagues because of their abundance of melanin. There are even stories that claim a few major league teams were interested in Gibson but declined a tryout because of his skin color.
Satchel Paige, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher who played into his 50s, once said Gibson “was the greatest hitter who ever lived.” Quite a compliment from anyone, but coming from the best pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues and a man who saw a pantheon of baseball greats in his half century in baseball, regardless of race.
It’s depressing Gibson died in January 1947 – just three months before Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, at 35 years old. For someone whose goal was to play in the major leagues, he undoubtedly would have enjoyed seeing the color barrier broken.
With his achievements, it would seem hard for any player to be a bigger in the game than Gibson was. But because of them, Gibson was the second Negro League player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall-of-Fame in 1972, behind one-time battery mate Paige.
As the entire baseball world is counting the home runs until one of Bonds’ bombs supplant Hank Aaron as the “all-time home-run king,” people should take the time to recognize baseball’s true king of swing, Josh Gibson.
Will Brown is a junior newspaper journalism student from Rockledge. He is the Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.