In a scene that couldn’t have been scripted any better by Hollywood script writers, Josh “The Basher” Gibson's professional career began when he was pulled out of the stands for a Homestead Grays vs. Kansas City Monarchs game. Gibson was enjoying himself in the crowd when the Grays catcher Buck Ewing injured his finger and had to be removed from the game. Grays' manager, Hall of Famer, Judy Johnson had heard about Gibson's exploits for the semi-pro team and had noticed he was in attendance.
He approached the 19-year old Gibson with a proposition -- "I asked him
if he wanted to catch and he said 'yes, sir,' so we had to hold up the
game while he went and put on Buck Ewing's uniform," said Johnson. "We
signed him the next day."
Gibson finished that season with the
Grays and spent the 1931 season with them, hitting a reported 75 home
runs. Following the '31 season Gibson joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords
where he would play the next five seasons. During his time with the
Crawfords, Gibson won three home run titles -- hitting 69 in '34 -- and
teaming up with the legendary Satchell Paige for what may have been the
best battery combination in baseball history.
The secret to
Gibson's home run prowess was his short, compact swing that produced
incredible power. Max Manning, a former pitcher with the Newark Eagles
described it. "I never saw Josh take a leaving-the-ground swing," he
said. "It was always a smooth, quick stroke. A lot of guys would swing,
the ground would shake, the air would move, and their hats would fly
off. But, he'd just take that short, quick stroke, and that ball would
leave any ballpark."
Gibson's success wasn't limited to just the
Negro Leagues. In various All-Star games he hit .426 in 60 at bats
against the likes of Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Johnny Vander Meer, and
other white big league players.
His Hall of Fame plaque says
the slugging catcher hit "almost 800" home runs in his 17-year career.
Unfortunately, Josh Gibson's exact career statistics are not known, but
numbers only begin to describe the career of this all-time great. And
it all started when he made the most of a chance to step out of the
stands and into the pages of baseball history.