There are names that come up when you
talk about the all-time great baseball players in history. Babe Ruth’s
name always comes up pretty fast. Other historical names include Ty Cobb
and more modern names include Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. There’s one
name, however, that eclipses them in the hearts of many. His name was
Josh Gibson, and he played during an era when African Americans were not
welcome in the big leagues. He has become known as "The Black Babe
Ruth" to many historians who say that Josh Gibson was one of the best
players to ever pick up a bat and one of the best catchers who ever put
on a glove.
Gibson spent his entire career playing in what was called the Negro Leagues at the time. He started his career playing for the Homestead Grays from 1930 to 1931. He then moved over and played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1932 to 1936. He then returned to the Grays to play from 1937 to 1939 and then again from 1942 to 1946. He also spent time playing in the leagues that played in South America, where integration was not something to be feared, playing for the Ciudad Trujillo in the Dominican League from 1940 to 1941. He then played in the Mexican League for the Rojos del Aguila de Veracruz. Even when he stopped playing on the field, he became a manager for the Puerto Rican team known as the Santurce Crabbers.
Gibson was a big man. He stood six-foot-one and weighed around 210 pounds. He played catcher and was one of the best the game had ever seen. He was a 10-time all star player while in the Negro Leagues. He was also a two-time Negro League World Champion, in 1943 and 1944.
There are rumors that Gibson may have hit over 800 home runs in his career. The problem is that many of the stats kept in the Negro Leagues were faulty. It was common for teams and players to show up in a town and play a local semi-pro team in an exhibition game. Players and managers made more money doing this than playing regular season games. As such, many of the home runs that Gibson hit were not in "official" games. Even in those official games, many times the records were not kept as accurately as they might have been in the majors. As such, the exact number of home runs that Gibson hit remains in dispute.
Despite this controversy, there are few who would argue that Gibson was one of the best players the game has ever known. Had he not been born into a world filled with as much prejudice as the one in which he played, he would easily rank up there with Ruth and Aaron and Maris and others. Instead, there are those who still tell the tales, some of them rather tall, about the big man who tore up the Negro Leagues, and played the position of catcher better than just about anyone else.