Josh Gibson: The Devastating Story

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 16, 2008

Josh Gibson was the best power hitter in the Negro Leagues. Some people believe had he been in the majors during his time, he would've broken Hank Aaron's home run record. But according to a Negro League historian, he hit nearly 800 home runs, including 75 in one season.

Unlike Babe Ruth's moon shots, Gibson's were line drives. Gibson was born in 1911 in Buena Vista, Georgia. His lifetime batting average was .359 and his lifetimes slugging percentage was an amazing .658. In 1929, he made his debut with the Cumberland Posey's Homestead Grays. Gibson, at the time, was a bench warmer. However, Grays catcher Buck Ewing injured himself.

This gave Gibson an opportunity.

Gibson was just 18 years old, but he decided to step up and play catcher. He said "If I hit a homer a day, it'll boost my pay." He boosted his pay all right. He hit 75 home runs in 1931.

In 1932, he jumped from the Grays to Gus Greenlee's famous Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Grays were in the NNL (Negro National League). Gibson teamed up with Satchel Paige, the best battery of all time in the majors and negro leagues, in my mind. Satchel would strike out 15 and Josh would hit two homers, and it was all good in Pittsburgh.

In 1933, he had 55 home runs and 239 RBI! And he did that for $400. The Grays decided to bring Gibson back. They traded for him and received two Hall of Famers: Gibson and third basemen Judy Johnson. In return, they got two and a half grand.

One of the greatest pitchers of all time, Walter Johnson once said "There is a catcher any big league club would like to buy for $200,000. His name is Gibson. He can do everything. He hits the ball a mile. And he catches easy, might as well be in a rocking chair. Throws like a rifle. Bill Dickey isn't as good a catcher."

I second that.

There are rumors that Johnson's words interested manager Clark Griffith. The then Senator manager wanted to sign Gibson in 1943, but decided not to.

Gibson played with the Grays in 1942, but didn't seem the same. He had a very different behavior. Gibson was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1943.

He continued to play-and better then ever. He hit .393 in 1945. In 1946, he led the league again by hitting .331, but he developed a drinking problem and his weight went all the way up to 230 pounds.

Gibson died the next year of a headache.

Gibson is a true heartwarming story. As a kid from the ghetto in Georgia, he was into drugs and alcohol, and baseball got him away from it.


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