GIBSON’S LEGACY SECURE IN PITTSBURGH
The hardships Josh Gibson endured in his baseball life obviously paled in comparison to the tragedy of the death of his wife in 1930 during childbirth.
Helen Gibson went into premature labor in August of 1930 and died while giving birth to twins. The children were named Josh and Helen after their parents and were raised by Helen’s parents. Josh Jr was a batboy for the Homestead Grays when his dad played for them in the 1930s. He had a brief career as a pro ballplayer and once said that the only award he ever won for baseball was “being the son of the great Josh Gibson.”
In the early 90s, Josh Jr wanted to do something to ensure his father’s legacy would live on so he formed the Josh Gibson Foundation in Pittsburgh. He was aided in this endeavor by other family members including his grandson Sean. Josh Jr died in 2003 but the foundation he started (now run by Sean) lives on as a legacy to one of the greatest athletes ever to play pro sports in Pittsburgh.
The Josh Gibson Foundation’s mission is to provide academic and athletic programs that foster leadership and scholarship for young people in the Pittsburgh area.
The foundation has been directly involved in two other tangible things designed to recognize the life of its’ namesake.
Josh Gibson Field is a youth baseball facility that sits near the approximate site of Ammon Field where Gibson had his great years with the Crawfords. (Both the Crawfords and the Homestead Grays played at other ballparks including occasionally Forbes Field.)
In the mid-90s a plaque describing Gibson’s career was placed at the Ammon Field location. Then, in 2008, a $300,000 renovation spearheaded by the foundation took place. New grass fields were put in place as well as new dugouts, bleachers, and concession facilities.
In 2017, the foundation worked with the city of Pittsburgh on the funding and development of the new Josh Gibson Heritage Park. Pittsburgh sports artist Dino Guarino designed the monuments at the park and FedEx Ground donated $500,000 as the project’s title sponsor.
The park will be located in the city’s famous Station Square shopping and entertainment complex. The park may be named after Gibson but monuments will be placed there recognizing other great Pittsburgh stars of the Negro Leagues including fellow baseball Hall of Fame members (and Crawfords teammates) Satchell Paige and Cool Papa Bell.
“I think when people come and see this park they’ll be very excited to see the rich tradition and history that Pittsburgh has in the Negro Leagues,” Sean Gibson said in an interview with WTAE-TV. “It’s going to tell the history of not just the Negro Leagues but the Pittsburgh history as well.”
The park will open in the spring of 2018. Upcoming plans for the Josh Gibson Foundation include the building of an academy that Gibson says will function as a place where young people can learn the game of baseball as well as acquiring life skills to help prepare for college and careers.
All of these things are wonderful and tangible monuments to the career of Gibson. There will always be things we don’t know about his life as a ballplayer. Those will likely remain in the wind. What we do know is that he was one of the best to ever play the game and it’s appropriate that his life is celebrated and used to help educate others.
NEXT WEEK: THE MOST COLORFUL TEAM IN NEGRO LEAGUES HISTORY