Earlier today, Major League Baseball announced that the Negro Leagues is now officially elevated to Major League status. This means that MLB will recognize the statistics of roughly 3,400 players between 1920-1948.
One of those players includes Josh Gibson, considered by some to be the greatest hitter of all time. He unofficially has “over 800” career home runs, more than the current home run leader, Barry Bonds. Which begs the question, will he now be considered the new all time home run leader?
MLB historians and statisticians are still working on the process of transferring the stats in the record books. The main problem is that during the time, home runs were only recorded when reporters were present. For example, in 1934, Gibson is credited for hitting 10 home runs in 201 at bats the Negro Leagues, but other sources say he hit 69 home runs that year in 137 games. Records of all the games Gibson played in don’t exist. If you check a site like Baseball Reference, it shows low home run totals for Gibson, ranging from 6 to 10 per season.
With all of the uncertainty in the statistics, it’ll be hard to imagine that the MLB will recognize him as the home run leader. Barry Bonds, on the other hand, once said, “In my heart it belongs to Josh Gibson… Why doesn’t that count? Why don’t any of those statistics count? … If Josh Gibson is the home run king, recognize it.” The current recognized home run king recognizes Josh Gibson as the real home run king, so that certainly says something.
Gibson is even credited with 800 home runs on his hall of fame plaque in Cooperstown.
Even if MLB doesn’t put him at the top, Josh Gibson’s name will still be in the record books.
It’s widely believed that Gibson homered once every 15.9 At-bats, which would land him in the top 10 in MLB history.
He played ONE game in Yankee Stadium during his career and he is the ONLY player to ever hit a ball OUT of the stadium.
In his first two years playing for the Negro League’s Homestead Grays, Gibson reportedly hit 65 home runs in 1930, and 72 in 1931.
From 1932-1936, Gibson hit for an average of .362, with an OPS of 1.028. In 1934, he reportedly hit 69 total home runs, 12 of them in 52 league games.
In 1943, Gibson hit .486, which would replace Ted Williams as the last person to hit over .400.
According to the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues, the records for the Negro League show that, in 1936, Gibson hit 84 home runs, which would be the single season home run record.
He is credited with 9 home runs titles, 4 batting titles, and 12 all-star appearances.
Satchel Paige, another Negro Leagues player that will soon see his name in the MLB record books, pitched against Gibson in the Negro Leagues World Series in 1942. He said, “Josh was the greatest hitter I ever pitched to, and I pitched to everybody. There’s been some great hitters – Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Mays, Mantle. But none of them was as great as Josh.”
It will be interesting to see the final numbers that the MLB will recognize as Josh Gibson’s stats. Many believe he is the rightful home run king, others believe it’s not fair to recognize him as such since he was in a different league. Nevertheless, it’s about time the MLB makes this move. There are many deserving Negro League players, like Gibson, that deserve their names in the record books.