Baseball is called America’s national pastime, as it has been a sport that has been a staple in America for over 100 years. Over that span, the world has been able to witness some incredible feats by some of the game’s greats, who have held records that have lasted for decades. Due to the fact that baseball has been around for so long, it’s hard for players to go unnoticed when they accomplish big feats.
But imagine a time where Major League Baseball did not allow African Americans to play. Can you imagine what baseball would be like if this were the case in today’s game? I know I certainly cannot. What I do know is that the game just wouldn’t be the same. What some people may not know is that the MLB did not have any African American players until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Prior to Robinson’s entry, African American players would showcase their talents in a league called the Negro League. This league saw the likes of many great African American players who were able to still play competitive baseball in a league of their own. Some of the most known players were guys like Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Willie Mays. Part of the reason they were so known was because of how successful they were once they got to the MLB.
One guy who may have been better than all of the legends that were previously listed that is sometimes forgotten about because he never got to play in the MLB was catcher Josh Gibson. Someone who was one of the greatest power hitters and catchers that baseball has ever seen. On his Hall of Fame plaque, it states that Gibson hit almost 800 home runs, had a .365 batting average, and was the Negro League Batting Champion from 1936-38 and 1942-45. Unfortunately, in 1947, Gibson died from a stroke at the age of 35.
When you hear people talk about Josh Gibson, you understand why he’s held in such high regard. Monte Irvin a former Negro League player and Hall of Famer said, “I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron. They were tremendous tremendous players. But they were no Josh Gibson.”
Carl Hubbell, a Hall of Fame pitcher, when talking about Gibson said, “He’s one of the greatest backstops in the history of baseball, I think. … Boy can [he] throw. And he can hit. But with all that, the thing I like about him the best is that he’s as fast as greased lightning.”
This is another aspect of Gibson’s skill set that puts him on a pedestal above many of the greats because catchers are almost never known for their speed on the basepaths. Bill Veeck, the Hall of Fame owner, said that “Josh Gibson was, at the minimum, two Yogi Berras.” Praise like this is not given amongst anybody when you compare a catcher to Berra, and then to talk about how he was like two Berras shows just how incredible Gibson was on the field.
One of the great stories about Gibson was how he got his start in the Negro League. The story goes, one night in 1930, the Kansas City Monarchs were playing the Homestead Grays in Pittsburgh. This was during a time when night games were rare, and players were worried because the lighting was not very sufficient.
“Smokey” Joe Williams was pitching for the Grays, and he was someone who threw hard and was a challenge for catchers. The starting catcher that night broke a finger, and the backup catcher Vic Harris was in the outfield and did not want to catch Williams under the dim lights.
As a result, the owner of the Grays, Cumberland Posey, went into the stands and took an 18-year-old kid who had been garnering attention from playing in the Pittsburgh Industrial League. Posey said to the kid, “Son, you are now our catcher.” That kid was Gibson.
There were many great stories of Gibson during his playing days, where he would do things that didn’t seem possible. Some examples of that are times where Gibson managed to hit towering home runs out of some ballparks. In the old Yankee Stadium, Gibson hit a ball 580 feet from the home plate which landed two feet from the top of the bleacher wall.
He also managed to hit home runs out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. This was all at a time where baseball stadiums were much bigger than they are now; making it even more impressive to hit home runs that exited an entire stadium.
Another incredible story about Gibson was in 1932 when the New York Black Yankees decided to intentionally walk Gibson twice, first in the ninth inning and then again in the tenth inning with one of those times with the tying run on base, and the other time with the winning run on base.
Imagine facing someone that was such a formidable hitter that the opposing team would rather walk in a run then even try and get someone out. This is just another great example of just how brilliant Gibson was during his career.
Gibson is the kind of individual who has a story that needs to be told in the form of a sports documentary. Many people would be very intrigued by a story like this, and young fans of baseball, who may have no idea who Gibson is, must learn about him so that his story can last a lifetime. It’s important that people know the history of baseball, so they can see how much the game has evolved over the years.
Another reason why a documentary about Gibson would be beneficial is so people can learn about the segregation that was present in baseball so many years ago. In addition to how segregation was something that held back many great black players like Gibson who never got a chance to play in the MLB. Something that the documentary could talk about is what if Gibson got to play in the MLB, and how would that have changed his career? This would be something that would definitely generate a surplus of interesting discussions.
Though it may be hard to find a surplus of information on Gibson since he passed away 73 years ago, along with the fact that there is no footage of his games, and many people that did see him in person are either very old or have passed on. Despite all of that, people have been able to collect data on people or things that were around way before Gibson’s time, and if someone felt the need to tell this story, people would be able to get a sense of one of the greatest baseball players that ever stepped foot on the diamond. That has simply been forgotten because he never got the chance to play on the biggest stage.