Joshua “Josh” Gibson was a powerful 215-pounder with features vaguely suggestive of an African American Babe Ruth. And his batting skills, by the estimation of many, were even greater than The Bambino’s. The leading homerun hitter of the Negro Leagues era, Gibson was credited by some baseball historians for “bashing” out as many as 962 career long balls.
“The Basher’s” greatest legacy, however, was blazing a trail for other African American players into the major leagues, and serving as a role model for future generations. Sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post maintained that Josh Gibson would be worth his weight in gold to any Major League baseball club. The immortal Walter Johnson once valued Gibson at $200,000, an unheard of amount of money in the 1940’s.
It was rumored that Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bill Bensawanger signed Josh to a Major League contract in 1943, a full four years before Jackie Robinson entered the league, but Major League Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Landis allegedly would not allow Gibson to play.
Former Crawfords teammate Judy Johnson boasted, "If Josh Gibson had been in the Big Leagues in his prime, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron would still be chasing his home run record.”
The Basher’s legacy is kept alive through The Josh Gibson Foundation, a private 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that was created in 1994 to establish a history and learning center in Homestead, PA, and to reach out to the families and youth of the community on which Josh Gibson left his mark.
With the organizational Motto: “Obtaining a great education feels as good as winning, because it helps one win the game
of life,” it’s no surprise that the programs supported by the Foundation is primarily focused on after school reading, tutoring, and computer skills training. The Foundation provides students with academic help, as well as, life skills training through both individualized and group learning settings. It also partners with Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh to bring volunteer tutors to the recreation centers, where the volunteers facilitate reading remediation, subject area tutoring, and computer training.
More Josh Gibson “Fun Facts”
Despite never playing Major League Baseball, Gibson was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1972 based on a painstaking review of all official written game records and anecdotal records provided by numerous reputable sources.
Josh led the Negro National League in home runs for 10 consecutive years; while playing catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.
Gibson is credited with hitting 75 home runs in 1931.
Belting home runs of more than 500 feet was not unusual for Gibson. The Sporting News (June 3, 1967) credits Gibson with a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate.
Although it has never been conclusively proven, Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall said Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of “the house that Ruth built.”
During Gibson's career, he played ball with Hall of Famers Oscar Charlston, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and Satchel Paige.
The Homestead Grays won an unprecedented nine consecutive Negro National League pennants with Gibson behind the plate, and he was named the Negro National League MVP.
During his career, Gibson never played on a losing team.
In 1938, playing against the Memphis Red Sox, he connected for four home runs in a single game, a feat matched only by fellow 500 Home Run Club honorees Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt and Sadaharu Oh.