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Cover image for The power and the darkness : the life of Josh Gibson in the shadows of the game
The power and the darkness : the life of Josh Gibson in the shadows of the game
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, c1996.
Physical Description:
319 p. : illustrations ; 23 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 GIBSON 1 1

On Order



"There's a distinct sound that results from a great hitter making pure contact with a baseball, a thunder-clap of power that lesser hitters can only aspire to. Before his first exposure to Josh Gibson, long-time Negro leagues all-star Buck O'Neil had heard the sound just once, coming from the bat of Babe Ruth. It is as "the black Babe Ruth" that Gibson is best remembered, but while Ruth invited the adoration of millions with his easy smile, becoming a beloved symbol of the national pastime, Gibson lived his life bathed in the darkness that came both from the shadow world of the Negro leagues and from within his own tortured soul." "The legends that grew up around Gibson are legion. It is said that he is the only man to have hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium. Some claim he hit as many as seventy-five home runs in a season. He was a fightening hitter to face, and in addition he played the most demanding position on the field, donning the mask, chest protector, and shin guards - the so-called tools of ignorance - required to play catcher, the defensive team's true leader and quarterback. What Satchel Paige was to pitching in the Negro leagues, Gibson was to hitting: their greatest star, biggest gate attraction, and most important symbol." "But while Satchel Paige was not just a pitcher but an entertainer, mindful of the need to please the crowd and always ready to join what he called "the social ramble," Gibson was a harder man, a victim of a harder life. Forever haunted by the death in childbirth of the woman he loved, he destroyed his body through drink and drugs even as he kept launching tape-measure home runs into the far reaches of the bleachers. Even at his peak, it was not unusual for him to spend part of a season in a hospital, drying out or under sedation for his violent rages. If Satchel Paige is baseball's Louis Armstrong, belatedly loved as an accommodating caricature that belies the greatness of his accomplishments, Josh Gibson is its Charlie Parker, a genius dead too soon in a body that bore the consequences of the life he led."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Hall-of-Famer Gibson (1911-1947) was to black baseball what Babe Ruth was to white baseball: a prolific home run hitter who also hit for average. He was a victim of the game's color bar and died just three months before Jackie Robinson broke it. In relating Gibson's life, Ribowski (The Complete History of the Negro Leagues, 1884-1955) is handicapped by the paucity of documentation and by the equivocation of many of the catcher's contemporaries in speaking candidly about his drinking and drug abuse. Like many Negro Leaguers of that era, Gibson changed teams several times. He also played in Latin America, where he was a beloved figure. His personal life was darkened by the death of his wife in childbirth, and although he later had a longtime common-law wife, Ribowski raises the question of whether Gibson ever had a happy domestic life. First serial to Interview. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

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.''

Booklist Review

Josh Gibson is remembered as the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues, his fame eclipsed only by the inimitable Satchel Paige. Like Ruth, Gibson was a man of enormous appetites: women, food, alcohol, and--in Gibson's case--drugs were all absorbed indiscriminately. Ribowsky, also the author of a superb Paige biography (Don't Look Back, 1994), has researched his subject well by means of newspaper accounts and personal interviews. The defining event in Gibson's life appears to have been the death in childbirth of his beloved wife, Helen. Using his gypsylike meanderings through the world of black baseball to distance himself from his twin children, Gibson sank further into depression even as his on-field legend grew. As in his account of Paige's life, Ribowsky seamlessly weaves together a history of black baseball with the life of a superstar. There are plenty of game accounts, mind-boggling statistics, and glowing recollections of Gibson's prowess, along with the dark accounts of his off-field misadventures. Although it might have been politically expedient to ascribe Gibson's agony to the frustration of being excluded from white baseball, Ribowsky never takes that easy route. The man who emerges here is complex and multidimensional; like that of other troubled geniuses, his talent may have been fueled by his emotional demons. A compelling examination of a fascinating, tragic life. --Wes Lukowsky

Choice Review

Ribowsky has established himself as one of the foremost chroniclers of African American baseball. To a history of the Negro leagues and a biography of Satchel Paige he now adds a life of Gibson, the celebrated African American power hitter of the era of segregated baseball. It is Ribowsky's finest work--an outstanding assessment of a marvelous ballplayer that honors the truth of the (imperfectly preserved) record while discerning the furies besetting the (imperfectly understood) man. Like any person of talent denied a chance to display his gifts, Gibson raged at his fate, and late in life, captured by alcohol or heroin, he sought solace in imaginary conversations with Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. But Gibson's personal tragedy transcended the pain inflicted by baseball's racism. In 1930 his young wife died in his arms bearing his twin children, and early in 1947, after several years of increasingly bizarre behavior and just three months before Jackie Robinson played his first official game as a Dodger, Josh Gibson, age 35 and again Negro league home run champion in 1946, died of a brain tumor. Power and darkness, indeed. A gripping book. All levels. R. Browning Kenyon College

Library Journal Review

Ribowsky, the author of a fine history of Negro League baseball (The Complete History of the Negro Leagues, LJ 6/1/95) as well as a noteworthy biography of Satchell Paige (Don't Look Back, LJ 2/1/94), presents an insightful account of Gibson's tragic life, which came to an end only months before Jackie Robinson integrated Major League ball. Highly recommended. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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