Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson are elected to the Hall of Fame
On Feb. 8, 1972, the nine-man Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues elected Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard into the Hall of Fame. This made them the second and third Negro League players, behind Satchel Paige the year before, to be elected.
Gibson and Leonard led the Grays to four consecutive appearances in the Negro World Series, picking up titles in 1943 and 1944, in addition to nine consecutive Negro National League pennants from 1937-1945. A power-hitting left-handed batter, Leonard’s batting average ranged from the high-.300s to as high as .400 at times, with a career slugging percentage of .527. The first baseman played in a league-record 11 East-West All-Star games, and spent his entire 17-year career in Pittsburgh.
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Similarly to Leonard, Gibson was quickly given an apt nickname of his own – the “black Babe Ruth” – and also drew comparisons to Ted Williams and Bill Dickey. Though record-keeping was informal at best in those days, Gibson was said to have hit as many as 623 home runs, with single-season totals as high as 84 and 75. The Sporting News reported that he hit a home-run of 580-feet at Yankee Stadium, a mere two feet from the top of the bleacher wall.
“Josh was the greatest hitter I ever pitched to,” Satchel Paige said to United Press International. “And I pitched to everybody. There’s been some great hitters – Williams, DiMaggio, Musial, Mays, Mantle. But none of them was as great as Josh.”
His defensive prowess behind the plate was just as strong, with a powerful arm that held runners to their bases all over the Negro Leagues.
“Whenever I played on an All-Star team in the black leagues with Josh, he was the catcher. I played third base,” Roy Campanella told the Sporting News. “Everything I could do, Josh could do better.”
Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame