Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Happy 100th birthday, Josh GibsonPosted by Chris Jaffe
Today marks the 100th birthday of one of the most famous players never to play major league baseball: Josh Gibson.
Gibson was a leading slugger in the Negro Leagues, but you probably already knew that. With the exception of Satchel Paige, no name is more closely associated with the Negro Leagues than that of Gibson. When Cooperstown began inducting Negro Leaguers, Gibson was one of the very first ones they brought in.
He broke into the Negro Leagues in the early 1930s, mostly with the Homestead Grays, and gained a reputation as a fearsome slugger. His power became mythic, in part because hard data for the Negro Leagues is difficult to pin down.
Yet, an effort to collect as many boxscores as possible from the Negro Leagues came up with 510 games in which Gibson played. He belted 115 homers with a .359 batting average and .648 slugging percentage. The home run totals may not live up to the lore, but it’s still some rather nice power. Gibson's numbers are also affected by his leaving the country to play ball in the Dominican Republic and Mexico during his prime.
Gibson died very young, at age 35, of a brain tumor. In fact, he died in early 1947, just a few months before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. Despite dying before Robinson’s Brooklyn debut, Gibson is actually a little younger than another famous Negro Leaguer, Buck O’Neill, who died just a few years ago. Gibson died fewer than two weeks before Nolan Ryan’s birth.
What was the world like when Gibson was born? Well...
The month he was born, China was in the midst of a revolution that overthrew the last imperial dynasty (the Qing) and established a short-lived republic. In the midst of that confusion, Mongolia declared independence eight days after Gibson’s birth.
There were only 46 stars on the American flag. A month later, New Mexico made it 47, and Arizona became number 48 shortly after that.
Are you familiar with the old movie character actor Lee J. Cobb? He played the mob boss in On the Waterfront, the bad guy juror in 12 Angry Men, and the cop in The Exorcist. Well, Cobb was 13 days older than Gibson.
Speaking of movies, ever seen Titanic? Sure, who hasn’t. Titanic the ship was still in port when Gibson was born. It hit the iceberg when Gibson was five months old.
Gibson was born in Buena Vista, Georgia on Dec. 21, 1911. That same day, halfway across the state, a black man was lynched in the town of Donald for murder. It was one of four lynchings that month in America. A month later, there was a lynching on an accused black rapist in Cordele, Georgia, which is 60 miles from Gibson’s place of birth.
Ever driven a Chevy? The first Chevrolet hit the roads a month before Gibson did. It was an attempt to compete with the new popular Model T Ford.
Gibson is older than Eva Braun, Hitler’s longtime mistress. He’s older than Woody Guthrie, the famous folk singer who died in the 1960s. Gibson is also a hair older than Kim Il Sung, the long-dead dictator of North Korea whose son, Kim Jong Il, is the recently deceased dictator of North Korea.
Flipping the above paragraph around, the following individuals were still alive when Gibson was born: Civil War nurse Clara Barton, Dracula novelist Bram Stoker, Underground Railroad “engineer” Harriet Tubman, and Martha, the world’s last known surviving passenger pigeon.
Aside from that, many days celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim them.
3,000 days since one of the greatest days in the history of the postseason as two separate great games occur.
First, the Red Sox, facing elimination while trailing Oakland two games to none in the ALDS, rally to beat the A’s, 3-1, in 11 innings. Oakland blows the game due to some bad base running and an uncalled fielder interference.
That same day, Florida advances to the NLCS by beating San Francisco, 7-6, in Game Four of the NLDS. It’s 5-5 in the middle of the eighth, and Florida scores twice in the bottom of the eighth for the lead. In the top of the ninth, San Francisco rallies by scoring once, and the game ends with the would-be tying run thrown out at the plate.
5,000 days since Ken Griffey belts his 300th home run. It’s just 23 months since No. 200.
5,000 days since Lee Stevens, Texas Ranger, swats three homers in one game.
6,000 days since umpires eject the public address announcer for the Abilene Prairie Dogs. He read a commercial for LensCrafter eyeglasses right after the umpire ejected a player.
9,000 days since nominal free agents are forced to sign with their old teams one month into the 1987 season. They couldn’t find any takers in the offseason due to collusion. The main free agents are Montreal’s Tim Raines, New York’s Ron Guidry, California’s Bob Boone, and Montreal’s Bill Campbell. All had to miss the entire first month of the season.
20,000 days since Cleveland rejects a million dollar offer the Red Sox made the day before for pitcher Herb Score.
25,000 Coakler Triplet of the Phillies engages in some memorably bad base running. He tries to steal an occupied base, and when the teammate notices it, he takes off as well and gets caught stealing. Realizing what he’s done, Triplet gets sick of himself and stomps off back to his original base—and is tagged out.
25,000 days since Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi belts a walk-of homer off of Paul Derringer in the 10th inning.
1887 Cy Williams, centerfielder, is born.
1891 Boston obtains centerfielder Hugh Duffy, who is under league control.
1912 The Yankees select first baseman Frank Chance off waivers from the Reds, who claimed Chance from waivers just a month earlier from the Cubs.
1925 Bob Rush, pitcher, is born.
1927 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher Stan Coveleski.
1948 Dave Kingman is born.
1952 Joaquin Andujar, workhorse pitcher with volatile emotions, is born.
1957 Tom Henke, closer nicknamed “The Terminator,” is born.
1960 Andy Van Slyke, centerfielder part of one of great outfields alongside Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla in Pittsburgh, is born.
1960 The Cubs announce their dreadful College of Coaches idea.
1960 Roger McDowell, pitcher, is born.
1970 Houston Astros star centerfielder Jimmy Wynn is stabbed by his wife in a domestic dispute. He will need abdominal surgery but will start the season.
1971 Atlanta releases former AL MVP Zoilo Versalles.
1972 Dustin Hermanson, pitcher, is born.
1972 LaTroy Hawkins, reliever, is born.
1976 Baltimore releases their one-time star starting pitcher, Mike Cuellar.
1982 San Diego signs free agent first baseman Steve Garvey.
1984 Marge Schott becomes owner of the Reds.
1987 Minnesota releases outfielder Don Baylor.
1987 Oakland signs Dave Henderson as a free agent. That same day, they release Tony Phillips.
1988 Houston cuts veteran infielder Buddy Bell.
1988 St. Louis cuts third baseman Bob Horner, ending his career.
1988 Willie Kamm, former infielder, dies.
1995 Baltimore signs free agent second baseman Roberto Alomar.
1995 Boston signs free agent pitcher Tom Gordon.
1995 Kansas City trades Wally Joyner to the Padres for Bip Roberts.
1995 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher David Cone.
1999 Major league baseball fines the Dodgers $50,000 and bans them from signing Dominicans for a year for signing Adrian Beltre when he was just 15 years old.
2001 Hideo Nomo returns to Los Angeles, as the Dodgers sign him as a free agent.
2001 Boston signs free agent centerfielder Johnny Damon, previously of the A’s.
2004 Los Angeles signs free agent Jose Valentin.
2005 Ellie Hendricks, former Orioles catcher, dies.
2005 The Angels trades Steve Finley to the Giants for Edgardo Alfonzo.
2007 Cincinnati trades the newly resurgent Josh Hamilton to Texas for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.
2007 The Yankees sign free agent LaTroy Hawkins on his 35th birthday.
2010 Oakland signs free agent starting pitcher Rich Harden.
2010 Boston signs free agent relief closer Bobby Jenks.
2010 Toronto signs free agent outfielder Corey Patterson.
2010 Washington signs free agent outfielder Rick Ankiel.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.