Students Produce First Documentary on Life of Josh Gibson

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: October 2, 2009

Josh Gibson

Josh Gibson

NEW YORK — The story of Negro Leagues slugger Josh Gibson, who has been called the greatest baseball player of his day, has been captured in a new documentary by Duquesne University students that will benefit the Pittsburgh-based Josh Gibson Foundation.

The hour-long documentary will make its premiere at 4 p.m. Tuesday, October 13, in the Power Center Ballroom. Produced by undergraduates in a journalism and multimedia arts class taught by Dr. Dennis Woytek, assistant professor, and Mike Clark, adjunct professor, the documentary is narrated by Pittsburgh broadcasting legend and DU alumnus Bill Hillgrove and created in cooperation with the Josh Gibson Foundation.

Besides showcasing Gibson’s extraordinary talents to launch balls out of some seemingly endless parks known as Yankee Stadium and Forbes Field, students shared the obstacles that fell into Gibson’s path.

“Everybody knows Babe Ruth, but not everybody knows Josh Gibson.” said Liz Brady of Donegal, who worked on the project. “If there hadn’t been a color barrier, he could have been better known than Babe Ruth.”

Gibson, who led the National Negro League in home runs for 10 consecutive years, played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays from 1927 to 1946, which were racially segregated years in sports and American life.

Previous documentaries have focused on the Negro Leagues, but none specifically on Gibson, who died three months before Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier. A preview of the documentary was shown at the annual Jerry Malloy Negro Baseball League Conference in Pittsburgh July 16-18.

To produce The Legend Behind the Plate:The Josh Gibson Story, several of the 11 students traveled to Buena Vista, Ga., Gibson’s hometown, others to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., interviewing museum visitors, former players, former umpires and a man who remembered Gibson smashing a fabled fair-ball home run out of Yankee Stadium.

A visit to Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame, to which Gibson was elected in 1972, yielded a white-gloved look at baseball history. At the unveiling of Gibson’s statue this spring at the Washington Nationals Park, students interviewed Nationals’ owner Ted Lerner and players who shared the field with Josh Gibson.

In Pittsburgh, the students worked closely with Gibson’s grandson, Sean Gibson, and the Josh Gibson Foundation, which rehabilitates baseball fields and operates educational programs about the Negro Leagues and desegregation.

The foundation will be given rights to the DVD, so proceeds will benefit the organization. “I am so proud of the work performed by our students, shining a light on the life of Josh Gibson, a true American hero, a Pittsburgh hero whose life story needed to be told,” Clark said.

“The field work led by Dr. Woytek is something our students will never forget,” Clark said. “The people impacted by Josh’s life are many, and our students got an opportunity to meet some of them walking in Josh’s path to tell his story.”

Separating fact from larger-than-life legend proved a challenge that students met with success, Woytek said. The resulting story is larger than even Josh Gibson.

“It’s a story of one person during his lifetime, when he was not allowed to play with white team members,” Woytek said. “It’s also a story of survival, of using a God-given talent he didn’t learn. We try to teach at Duquesne that everybody has gifts that they’re able to give freely, and this passes along our mission.”