John Holway / Negro Leagues
JOSH GIBSON'S FAMOUS YANKEE STADIUM HOME RUN
By John B. Holway
I've been asked about Josh Gibson's famous Yankee stadium home run. Details are in my books, Josh Gibson, Josh and Satch, and The Complete Book.
It was 1930, Josh was 18, and it was the playoff for the Eastern title between Gibson's Homestead Grays and the NY Lincoln Giants.
In the opening doubleheader, Josh hit one over the centerfield wall at Forbes Field, home of the Pirates. I believe it's the first ball ever hit over that fence at the 457-foot mark.
A week later he hit one an estimated 505 feet to the back of the old Yankee stadium bullpen between the grandstand and the bleachers.
The only other hitters I know of to do it were Oscar Charleston, Mantle, Dick Stuart, and Gibson again in 1946, just before his death. Frank Howard hit a ball high up against one of the light stanchions. One report says Josh's second one went over with 100 feet to spare, but you can take that with as much or little skepticism as you like.
The Yankee Stadium homer, a week later, was hit against Broadway Connie Rector, a slow-ball pitcher. I used four sources.
Gibson's teammate, Judy Johnson, was in the home team dugout, which I THINK in those days was on the third-base side; if so, his view may have been blocked. He says it "went over the stands, over everything."
The Lincolns' Bill Holland said it went into the old bullpen, now a runway between the grandstand and the bleachers. If he was sitting in the first-base dugout, he would have had a better view. He said it hit two feet from the top of the back wall. Using a modern park diagram, that's 505 feet away, as I estimate it.
NY catcher Larry Brown, with the best view of all, confirmed Holland's account.
A few years later Josh gave a laconic interview, saying simply, "I hit it on a line into the bullpen." He was known as a line-drive hitter, not a high-fly hitter, incidentally.
If you go to the extreme end of the mezzanine overlooking the bullpen, you'll get an appreciation for how hard it must have been hit.
Frank Howard probably hit one over the old grandstand roof in 1970. It was a misty night, and no one saw where the ball landed, but no one inside the Stadium ever found it. The third base ump held his hands four inches apart and called it foul. I doubt if he would have called it foul against Mickey Mantle.
In 1934 Josh hit another into the BP, which, according to NY outfielder Clint Thomas, bounced into the 17th row of the bleachers. NY SS Jake Stephens also witnessed the drive. Thomas took the ball in a taxi downtown after the game for an interview on the old Ed Sullivan radio show, and gave it to Ed.
In the modern majors, Bobby Grich and Dave Winfield also hit balls deep into the old BP, but I don't believe either one hit the back wall.
Josh spent his career in possibly the two toughest parks for right-handers in the majors, Forbes Field and Washington's Griffith Stadium. In the latter the distance down the LF line was 408 feet, about 388 to the power alley because of the acute angle of the foul line and bleachers. One year (off-hand I think it was 1944) American League batters hit one ball into the bleachers in 77 games. Josh hit seven in about 11 games.
I believe Josh and/or Mule Suttles would have broken Babe's 60-homer mark in the 1936-39 era. If I'm right, Babe's mark would have lasted hardly a decade in an integrated league. Why is that hard to believe? If Roger Maris could do it, why couldn't Josh and Mule?
And what if you had put Gibson and Suttles in Ebbetts Field, or Fenway?!
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For a personally autographed copy of "Josh and Satch" by John B Holway, send $22 to: Craig Tomarkin / 2333 Congress St / Fairfeld, CT 06430. Postage is free. Mention whom you would like John to autograph the book to.