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The Life of Josh Gibson in the Shadows of the Game

by Mark Ribowsky

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-80402-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 An accomplished chronicler of baseball's Negro Leagues (Don't Look Back: Satchel Paige in the Shadows of Baseball, 1994, etc.) attempts to reclaim from myth the true character of a man best known as the ``Black Babe Ruth.'' Between 1928 and 1946, a time that featured such greats as Leroy ``Satchel'' Paige, Judy Johnson, and ``Cool Papa'' Bell, Josh Gibson was possibly black baseball's greatest attraction. Gibson's career spanned what, for all black players, were times of famine, feast, and, later, uncertainty arising from the major leagues' eradication of the color barrier. Through careful and facile use of a wealth of first- and second-hand accounts (including interviews with the slugger's son Josh Jr.), the author exposes to a wide audience for the first time how Gibson hid his indiscretions behind the massive shadow of his own fame and imposing physique. Persistent image-mongering by the black and white media of the `30s and his bosses, team-owners Cumberland ``Cum'' Posey of the Homestead Grays and W. Augustus ``Gus'' Greenlee of the Crawfords, kept Gibson's drinking, drug use, and womanizing out of the spotlight until they finally overwhelmed him, contributing to this death in 1947 from a stroke; he was 35. Ribowsky places the roots of Gibson's self-destructiveness in his inability to face emotional crises--including his wife Helen's sudden death in childbirth in 1930 and the manipulation by black and white organizers and promoters throughout his career--as defiantly as he faced the best pitchers of the day. The temptations of life on the road were also a factor (when not playing in the Negro Leagues, Gibson barnstormed off-season and played winter ball in Latin America). Ribowsky lays bare Gibson's ``tortured soul.'' This exemplary and long-overdue work demonstrates that Gibson took himself out of the game, or as the author writes in his closing, ``like Achilles, he had no defense against his own mortal flaw: himself.''