Saturday, July 22, 2017

On this day...

Today is July 22, 1917.

One hundred and thirty-seven years ago, today, George Gibson was born in London, Ontario (or at least that's the most commonly accepted place; there are some that disagree, claiming he was born in one of the surrounding towns).

He would remain in that area, working construction, and playing baseball on various town and picked teams. In his early twenties, he ventured off to Buffalo, and played the end of the 1903 season in the Eastern League for George Stallings' Bisons. In 1904, he was acquired by Montreal, where he played for the Royals of the Eastern League until mid-1905. That's when Barney Dreyfuss bought his contract and made him a Pirate.

George made his major league debut on July 2, 1905, in Cincinnati. The Pirates lost that game, 4-1. Gibson would go on to play 44 games, but bat only 0.178 in his rookie season. Dreyfuss and Pirates Manager Fred Clarke had seen enough to know they had something, though.

From 1907-1910, Gibson caught more games than any other NL catcher (from 1907-12, Gibson averaged 124 games).

In 1909, Gibson set career highs in hits (135), doubles (25), triples (9), RBIs (52) and stolen bases (9). His 150 games caught was a record, and lead the National League in fielding percentage (0.983) and caught stealing percentage (52.9). In the World Series that year, Gibson backstopped the Pirates to a title in over Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers. For the first time in World Series history, it took the full seven games to decide the winner. Gibson caught every inning for the Pirates without a single error. He held Ty Cobb to only 2 stolen bases, and stole just as many himself.

Gibson remained among the elite defensive catchers, again leading the National League in fielding percentage in 1910 (0.984) and 1912 (0.990). Gibson was second in 1911 (0.979).

In 1913, Gibson suffered a broken ankle and only played in 48 games (his lowest by far since his rookie year). Gibson was back in 1914 and 1915 playing 101 and 118 games respectively, but his fielding percentages dropped off. Part way through 1916, Gibson was released, and his contract was purchased by John McGraw, of the New York Giants. Gibson refused to report, and instead went back home to his farm in London.

By the time the 1917 season rolled around, McGraw and Gibson had worked things out, George was re-instated (he had been banned from baseball for not honouring the 1916 release purchase), and he joined the Giants. There he remained for two seasons, helping manage the pitchers and play the odd game (Gibson appeared in a total of 39 games in 1917 and 1918). When the Giants played the Chicago White Sox in the 1918 World Series, Gibson coached but was not part of the playing roster.

At the end of the 1918 season, McGraw released Gibson so that he could manage the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League for the 1919 season. The team finished with a 93-57 record, good enough for second place, but still 8 games behind the powerful Baltimore Orioles.

In the Winter of 1919,  Barney Dreyfuss came calling. He was in need of a Manager. Gibson ended up joining the Pirates, and from 1920-1922, he managed the big league club. In the middle of the 1922 season, Gibson resigned his position, handing the reigns over to future Hall-of-Famer, Bill McKechnie.

In 1923, when Donie Bush joined the Washington Senators as their manager, he hired George Gibson to be one of his coaches. Gibson was fired before the end of the season. In 1925, Gibson joined the Chicago Cubs as a coach. When Cubs Manager Rabbit Maranville was fired near the end of the season, Gibson took over as Manager. He did not return in 1926.

Gibson remained largely out of baseball until 1931, when Dreyfuss again came calling. From 1932-34 George served his second tenure as Pirates coach, until he was fired mid-season. Another future hall-of-famer took over for him again, this time it was Pie Traynor.

George returned home to London, and remained active in baseball locally.

In 1948, Fred Lieb, in his book, "The Pittsburgh Pirates", labelled Gibson as, "Pittsburgh's greatest all-time catcher."

In 1958, Gibson was named Canada's baseball player of the half century, and was the first baseball player elected into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

George Gibson died on January 25, 1967 and is buried at Campbell Cemetery in Komoka, Ontario.

In 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2001, The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Gibson 95th all-time among catchers.
In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame.

When David Finoli and Bill Ranier released the second edition of "The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia", George Gibson was still ranked 78th all-time in Pirates history.

The entrance to the main grandstand at Labatt Park in London, prominently displays a commemorative plaque in Gibson's honour.

Happy Birthday, George.

Sources: Wikipedia, Baseball-Reference, and years of reading about George Gibson and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2 comments:

  1. That was quite a journey! And that write-up was pretty solid too.

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    1. Thanks Jon. Hope you're doing well, man!

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