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Baseball Analysis  John Holway / Negro Leagues


By John B Holway


GibsonDid Josh Hamilton hit a ball over the bleachers and out of Yankee Stadium during the All Star home run derby?  For a breathless second, it looked like it on the TV screen. 

Almost 78 years earlier an 18 year-old kid came within two feet of conquering the House that Ruth Built, something that Ruth himself couldn't conquer.

His name was Josh Gibson.


John B Holway is author of Josh and Satch and The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues.


Once a name from the mists of baseball history, Gibson has now emerged from the realm of legends, and we know a great many details of the man behind the myth.

On Saturday, July 27, 1930 Josh had been in the league only a few weeks when he arrived in New York with the Homestead Grays for a playoff double-header against the New York Lincoln Giants.

There were no monuments in the outfield then, of course.  Leftfield really was “death valley.”  The bleachers stretched 481 feet away at their farthest point – it looked like 481 miles to the right-handed batters. 

The two runways between the grandstand and the bleachers were used as bullpens.  The bullpen gate in left-center was 405 feet from home.  That's where Brooklyn’s Al Gionfriddo ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­robbed Joe DiMaggio of a home run in the 1947 World Series – Joe never did hit a homer in New York in the World Series.  

A weak earlier Josh had smashed a ball over the centerfield wall in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, a target that only two big leaguers, Mickey Mantle and Dick Stuart, ever reached.  (Gibson himself would do it twice.)

In Philadelphia a few days later, Gibson had hit Lincoln pitcher Luther “Red” Farrell for a home run to rightfield – he often did that in the years ahead, one-handing outside pitches over the opposite fence.

Before the first game in New York, Lincolns’ catcher Larry Brown said, the team held a clubhouse session to go over each of the hitters with the starter, Farrell.  “Don’t give Josh nothin’ inside,” the players emphasized.   Rookie shortstop Bill Yancey was particularly emphatic on that point.  “He was deathly scared of Josh,” centerfielder Clint Thomas said.  “When Josh came to bat, Yancey played leftfield.”  Four straight times Farrell got Josh out. 

But in the ninth Red came out of the game, and Broadway Connie Rector (he didn't get his nickname by wearing blue jeans) went in.  A ten-year veteran, Rector was

3-1 that season with a dangerously high 7.02 runs per game – earned runs were not compiled.  But the year before, he had been the best black hurler in the country with a record  of 20-2.  He wasn't overpowering.  He walked as many men as he whiffed and completed only half his games, which was unusual for that day.  He pitched as hard as he needed to.   When the slugging Lincolns got him 18 runs, he won 18-12; when  they scored two runs, he won 2-1. 

Rector threw the most tantalizing slow ball in America.  Veteran George Giles, whose grandson, Brian, would play second base for the Mets 50 years later, said, “Rector’s pitch was slow.  The box one walked up to the plate.  The third one crawled up there.”  Batters grew frantic waiting for the ball to arrive.  How would the rookie Gibson handle the teaser?

Gibson swing newRector must have forgotten the clubhouse meeting, because he got one pitch a little too close.  Josh, with “those arms like sledge hammers,” supplied all the power himself and sent the ball whistling toward the bullpen like a golf drive. 

I talked to three eye-witnesses, each one with different perspectives of the blast.  

Hall of Famer William “Judy” Johnson was presumably in the visiting Grays’ dugout.  Mark Koenig, the last survivor of the 1930 Yanks, said the home team sat behind third base and the visitors behind first, just the opposite of the present arrangement.  Johnson, therefore, would have had a good view of the drive to left (unless he was coaching at third base).  Anyway, he said the ball “went out over the roof, over everything.”    

New York’s Bill Holland, in the third base dugut, said the ball flew over the third tier and came down against the back wall of the bullpen.  However, Bill’s view may have been blocked by the stands. 

Brown, the catcher, presumably had the best view.  He said the ball went over the roof and hit the back of the bullpen, about two feet from the top of the  wall. 

How far from home is the wall?  Even the Yankees’ public relations office couldn't tell me.   Using a scale diagram circa 1950, the wall was, as close as I can measure it, 505 feet from home (assuming that the plate hasn't  moved).

The newspapers are of no use.  White papers didn't cover the game; black  papers merely called it a “long” home run.  Gibson’s hometown Pittsburgh Courier said it went 430 feet into the bleachers, the longest blow in the Stadium that year.  But that would contradict  the players.

gibson- mrs louisGibson himself in 1938 told the Courier, “I hit the ball on a line into the bullpen in deep leftfield.”  Josh was known as a line-drive hitter, so we can assume that the ball did not go over the roof, though it might have gone over the corner of the upper deck. 

The balls Josh Hamilton hit in the contest this summer were suspect.  I cannot believe they were regulation major league balls.  By contrast, Gibson was batting against a cheaper  Wilson ball, not the Reach and Spalding balls used in big league games then.  “If Josh had been hitting regulation balls,” the ebullient Double Duty Radcliffe laughed, “he would have killed somebody.”

Several years later Gibson hit another monster shot into the bullpen.  I have found no newspaper that mentioned it.  Jack Marshall of the Chicago American Giants told author William Brashler he saw it during a four-team double-header in 1934.  Marshall’s team had finished its game, and he stayed to watch the second, featuring Gibson’s Pittsburgh Crawfords against the Philadelphia Stars.  Box scores of the double-header in 1934 have been found.  The only problem is, Gibson went 0-for-4 that day.

          I talked to two other men who saw the shot, New York shortstop Jake Stephens and leftfielder Clint Thomas, most probably in 1935. 

Thomas said the ball landed in the bullpen and bounced into the bleachers, 17 rows up.  I said, “Jesus Christ!  I ain't never seen a ball hit like that before!”

Clint’s buddy, Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, had run over from centerfield.  “Neither did I, Roomie,” he whistled.

A white fan caught the ball. “You want it?” he called to them. 

“We said, ‘Yeah.’  He threw it down.  After the game we took a cab to radio station WOR and Ed Sullivan [Daily News columnist and later a top TV personality] and gave him the ball on the radio.  He gave us $50.  I don't know what happened to the ball.”







If you think you've read everything about Ted Williams, think again.  I knew him for 65  years since we were friends in high school, and I've never read any book like this one.  Holway has new facts and statistics and pictures on almost every page.  He spent hours talking to Ted and found out things Ted never told anyone else.  Most people don’t know that he was half-Mexican or how his uncles taught him to play, and even I didn't know that he called his shots on at least 17 home runs.  There’s a lot of new stuff on his battles with the writers, his famous All Star Game home run, Joe DiMaggio’s streak, and about Cobb, Sisler, Hornsby, and other .400 hitters.  This book really brings the man and that era to life.  It’s a box seat ticket to history.”  Bob Breitbart, director, San Diego Hall of Champions.


“Well done.   There were plenty of people who racked Ted up and wanted to bring out the bad in the guy.  He had a lot of pressure on him, but he was a really compassionate guy.  Holway has told it like it is.”  Bobby Doerr, Hall of Fame, Red Sox 1938-50.


 “The ballplayers all loved Ted.  He was a great hitter, a great human being, and a great friend.  Holway’s book captures the spirit of those years – absolutely.  Reading it is like being there in person.  Every serious baseball fan should have it in his library or on his coffee table.”  Bob Feller, Hall of Fame, Indians, 1936-56.


 “Holway is the John Wayne of the keyboards.”  John Thorn, editor, “Total Baseball.”


About The Last 400 Hitter(1001)


 “Holway’s accounting of the miraculous 1941 season is a joy to read.  Thoroughly researched and carefully detailed, it is an affectionate tribute to a ballplayer, a season, and an era.”  Lawrence Ritter, author,The Glory of Their Times.”


 “I entered baseball at just about the same time Ted did, so it was great fun reading about Ted’s life, and it brought back many memories.  John B Holway has skillfully revived a remarkable period in baseball history, as well as the turbulent world surrounding it.  I thoroughly enjoyed reliving those times through this delightful book.”  Jean Yawkey, former Red Sox chairman of the board.



$35 + $4 s&h,  soft cover.  Scorpio Books, Box 1574, Springfield Virginia 22151




            18 new stories, many new pictures, and exclusive never-before published statistics span more than a century of history and bring to life an era that will never return.

            Ted Williams recalled that in his rookie year of 1939, at each city the veterans pointed out, “Josh Gibson hit one there…. That's where Josh Gibson hit one.”  “Well,” said Ted, “nobody in our league hit ‘em any farther than that.”

            Read about:

            Doc Sykes, who hurled a no-hitter, out-raced KKK night-riders, and watched a cross being burned on his lawn.

            Laymon Yokely, who whiffed  Jimmie Foxx and Hack Wilson; Hack handed him his bat, saying, “Here, you take it, it’s no use to me.”

            Frank Duncan, who started a riot and later sent Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers..

            Connie Johnson, who reached the majors and tells of dueling Williams at the plate.

Piper Davis, who dazzled  Globe Trotter fans and taught a teen-age rookie to get back up after a beaning.

 “You taught me to survive,” Willie Mays told him.  “You were the pioneers, you made it possible for us.”


Blackball Tales, Holway’s third series of oral compilations relates the joys, travails, and aspirations of members of the Negro Leagues.  Holway has done as much as anyone to chronicle the story of segregated baseball.  Highly recommended for general libraries.”  Library Journal.


$30 + $4 s&h softcover


Save $8.  Buy both books for $65, and we pay the s&h



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