You Should Have Known Josh Gibson Before Major League Baseball Included His Stats
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You Should Have Known Josh Gibson Before Major League Baseball Included His Stats

The Negro League star Is now atop six MLB categories

Babe Ruth never did it; neither did New York Yankee slugger Mickey Mantle, though he did come close. Not the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, or Roger Maris. Frank Howard of the Washington Senators hit a ball called foul that cleared Yankee Stadium; some say it should have been called fair and a home run. Multiple witnesses have said they saw Negro League catcher Josh Gibson hit a home run out of old Yankee Stadium on three occasions, but Gibson himself said he didn’t. The Sporting News said he hit a ball within two feet of the top of the wall, measuring 580 ft. from home plate. Babe Ruth is still credited with the longest homer at Yankee Stadium at an “estimated” 575 ft. Statistics were somewhat fluid at the time.

In his career, Josh Gibson hit close to 800 home runs, some in the Negro League, others in the Mexican League, and even more, while “barnstorming,” best described as exhibition games, usually in small towns to promote the sport. You'll get the gist if you’ve ever seen Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, starring Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. James Earl Jones played Leon Carter, based on Josh Gibson.

The Negro Leagues evolved because Major League Baseball (MLB) refused to allow Black players to participate. Richard Pryor’s character in Bingo Long tried to beat the system by first pretending to be Cuban and then a Native American. The success of the Negro Leagues and the emergence of stars like Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige led to pressure to see the leagues compete. Integration was coming to America with Jackie Robinson in the National League and Larry Doby in the American League breaking the MLB barrier in 1947. Both did stints in the Negro League before being allowed into the majors. So did Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, and Ernie Banks.

Related: Why Jackie Robinson's Impact Still Hits in a League Light on Black Stars

The Negro Leagues were star-driven, and once MLB opened the door to Black players, it meant the end for the Negro Leagues. There was a time when many of the top players drafted into the NFL came from HBCUs until the SEC and other major conferences accepted Black players. In my first year in college, the number one overall pick was Ed “Too Tall” Jones from Tennessee State University. Integration was a plus for white colleges and MLB but diluted the talent in HBCUs and the Negro Leagues. Only one football player was drafted from an HBCU during the past three years. The same phenomenon destroyed the Negro Leagues.

In 2020, MLB accepted seven Negro Leagues as having the talent and professionalism to be accepted as part of the Major Leagues. In addition, 37 Negro League players were accepted into the Hall of Fame, including Josh Gibson. The original plan was to create a separate but equal wing, giving the players an honorary status. Satchel Paige, the first inductee, said he wouldn’t accept a second-class citizenship.

In his 1966 acceptance speech into the Hall of Fame, legendary hitter Ted Williams had this to say about his Negro League counterparts. “I hope that someday, the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given a chance.”

In May of 2024, MLB decided to include statistics from the seven previously accepted Negro Leagues, merging them with their records. Josh Gibson’s name went to the top of the leaderboard in six categories, including the highest career batting average at .372 and the highest single-season average at .466. Gibson never got a chance to play in the majors but is finally recognized as one of the best ever.

I wish he would have lived to see it.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of William Spivey's work on Medium. And if you dig his words, buy the man a coffee.