Josh Gibson was born and played during a
time when the baseball leagues were segregated. In a much later day and
age, his performance behind the plate would have made him a much sought
after commodity on any major league baseball team. However, Gibson was a
man of his time and he, instead, played in the Negro Leagues, spending
most of his career playing for the Homestead Grays. Just how good was
he? Well, some called him the “Babe Ruth” of the Negro
Gibson was born in Georgia in December of 1911. When he was young, Gibson and his family moved to Pittsburgh. He was training to become an electrician when he got his first taste of the game of baseball. That first game was when he was just 16-years-old and for a semi-pro team sponsored by a local Gimbels department store. He also worked at the store as an elevator operator. While playing for the Gimbel’s team, he was recruited for the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
In 1930, Gibson was all of 18, and he was recruited by Cum Posey to play for the Homestead Grays. The Grays were the dominant Negro League baseball team in the Pittsburgh area at the time. Gibson made his debut in a Grays uniform on July 31, 1930. Just days later he would experience tragedy when his wife went into premature labor and died while giving birth to his son Josh Gibson, Jr.
As for the stats involved in the Negro Leagues, things get a bit muddy. It was more profitable, for example, for players in those leagues to go on side trips and “barnstorming” tours through various small towns to play exhibition games than it was to play regular season games. Therefore, much of Gibson’s stats are unknown.
Some things are known, however. In 1934 Gibson hit 69 home runs against all levels of competitors that he faced. In league games, he hit only 11 of those homers, however.
Gibson had an overall batting average of .359. He had a slugging percentage of .648. When he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was determined that his total home run output was somewhere around an astounding 800. He played for a total of 17 years in the Negro Leagues, never once playing for a Major League team.
In recent years, baseball statistics fans have gone back to look at the Negro League box scores. Although the numbers are still unsure, the total number of home runs that Gibson hit in official Negro League games is probably somewhere around 150 to 200. Prior to this analysis, some guessed that he may have hit almost 1,000 home runs total. In total, he may have come close, but many of those might have come from playing inferior teams in exhibition games.
Even with that reduced rate indicated by official league stats, his home run output was impressive. Gibson was likely hitting a home run once every 15.9 at bats. That rate ranks right up there with some of the most prodigious home run hitters in the majors.