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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The House in Homestead

In 1994, a non-profit corporation established a Foundation in the community of Homestead ... seven miles from downtown Pittsburgh that provides after-school tutoring for inner-city youths, computer skills training, college scholarships, and little league baseball and field renovation programs. Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh provide tutors. The foundation also provides motivational training to show the children of the area that there is a larger world full of opportunities for them. Community leaders work with the students to show them that they have options for their futures, and that they have career options. They are encouraged to pursue their education to improve themselves. Gone is the "House That Ruth Built" ... it's been replaced by a home run haven that makes a mockery of the Babe's fantastic feats. They say that nobody ever hit one out of Yankee Stadium ... well, save one ... Josh GibsonJosh Gibson is credited with having hit a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate. That was close ... certainly cigar worthy! Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall is among those having said that Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of Ruth's old house. Belting home runs of more than 500 feet was not unusual for Gibson ... another, in Monessen, Pa., reportedly was measured at 575 feet. Teammate Satchel Paige said, "He was the greatest hitter who ever lived" ... WalterJohnsonwhile Walter "Big Train" Johnson said, "He hits the ball a mile!" He was so good that some referred to Babe Ruth as"the white Josh Gibson". In various publications, Gibson has been credited with as many as 84 homers in one season. Reports vary regarding the number of home runs Josh Gibson hit, with some estimates as high as 962 ... his Hall of Fame plaque says he hit "almost 800" homers and a lifetime batting average of .359 during his 17-year career. Other sources indicate higher numbers with one putting his average at .384, best in Negro League history. Josh in BronzeThe records indicate that he won nine home-run titles and four batting championships playing for the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. In two seasons during the late 1930s, it was written that not only did he hit higher than .400, but his slugging percentage was above 1.000. Josh GibsonOfficially, Josh Gibson was a catcher in the baseball's Negro Leagues. He was born Dec. 21, 1911 in Buena Vista, Ga. and died in 1947. He played from 1930 to 1946 and elected to the baseball hall of fame in 1972. A bronze statue of Gibson was erected this year in Nationals Park in Washington D.C. In the 1998 Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players rankings, Josh Gibson is number 18 ... just behind The Mick ... not too bad to have never played in the Majors! Josh & Babe PaintingPerhaps Josh Gibson's best and most lasting contribution will be The Josh Gibson Foundation ... the house that Josh Built still stands! Since 1994, Josh Gibson's Great Grandson, Sean, has dedicated himself to increasing the awareness of his famous Great Grandfather and the other great Negro League Players who lead the way for the great Jackie Robinson. Had there been no Satchel Paige, no Cool Papa Bell, no Josh Gibson ... In 2004, at a chance meeting at a wedding in Scottsdale, AZ, Sean Gibson and Brent Stevens (great grandson of The Babe) met and got to talking about their famous great-grandfathers. They didn't believe that The Babe and Josh Gibson had ever met in real life but what if the baseball playing field had been a level one back then? That's when they decided to jointly commission this painting theorizing a relationship between the black Babe Ruth and the white Josh Gibson.