Josh Gibson autographs are among the great rarities in the hobby. Gibson not only failed to sign often during his career, but his early death further contributed to the clear lack of authentic examples in the marketplace. On legal documents, such as contracts from his playing time in Cuba, the legendary slugger would often sign "Joshua" Gibson in more formal fashion. On other mediums, such as album pages, photos, or baseballs, you may see either "Josh" or just the initial J in place of his full first name. Much like the autographs of fellow baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson, Gibson autographs are desirable and valuable regardless of the medium as advanced collectors are often trying to fill the hole created by such a scarce signature.
Gibson died in 1947 at the age of 35.
Joshua Gibson (December 21, 1911 - January 20, 1947) is said to be the greatest power hitter of the Negro Leagues, let alone any other league. Though born in Georgia, Josh and his family moved to the Pittsburgh area when he was a boy as his father took a job in the Pennsylvania steel mills. It was there that Gibson began playing baseball as a teenager while working for Gimbels department store as an elevator operator. In 1928, he was recruited by his local Pittsburgh Crawfords, but still working at Gimbels in the off-season. In 1930, Cum Posey, owner/manager of the Homestead Grays, added Josh to his already potent lineup that included future Hall of Famers Oscar Charleston, Smokey Joe Williams, Judy Johnson and Cool Papa Bell. During the 1930s and 1940s, Negro League teams were less apt to play league games as opposed to barnstorming and playing teams on multiple experience levels in order to maximize profits. So, unfortunately, many of Gibson’s accomplishments on the field and more specifically, at the plate are estimations at best, given the lack of proper record keeping of player statistics. Unofficial reports indicate that Josh potentially hit 75 home runs in 1931, 55 in 1933 and 69 in 1934 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame estimates he clouted more than 800, at all levels of competition, over the course of his 17-year career. He was referred to as the “black Babe Ruth” due to his extraordinary power, and in 1934, fans witnessed the catcher blasting a titanic home run out of Yankees Stadium, approximately 580 ft. from home plate. However, Gibson also hit for average batting an unofficial .359 for his career.
Josh played in the Negro Leagues, primarily, but also played in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico and in 1941-1942, playing for the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League batted an astonishing .480, setting a league record that stands today. According to the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, Josh Gibson played for the Homestead Grays (1930-1931, 1937-1939, 1942-1946) and Pittsburgh Crawfords (1932-1936), was selected to ten Negro League All-Star appearances and was a member of two Negro League World Series champion Homestead Grays teams (1943, 1944). He was a hero within the African-American community of ballplayers and was widely considered the best ever. Hall of Famer Monte Irvin called him the “most imposing man I’ve ever seen as a hitter … All black players will tell you that Josh was our best.” Cleveland Indians’ Larry Doby, the first African-American to play in the American League after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, stated “One of the things that was disappointing and disheartening to a lot of black players at the time was that Jack was not the best player. The best was Josh Gibson.” And, sadly, Josh Gibson never saw an African-American in a Major League uniform as he died on January 20, 1947, only months before Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was 35 years old. The Negro Leagues Committee elected Joshua Gibson to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
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