Josh Gibson's legacy honored in Monessen

July 23rd, 2021
(Credit: Josh Gibson Foundation)

Ever seen a 538-foot home run? Neither have I.

But local newspaper archives credit Hall of Famer Josh Gibson with hitting one in Monessen, Pa., during his 1938 season with the Homestead Grays. Now, that moment and Gibson’s name are synonymous with Monessen.

Major League Baseball donated a plaque to the city of Monessen honoring Josh Gibson and Page Park, and the tribute was unveiled Thursday morning with members of the Gibson family, MLB, the Pirates and the Josh Gibson Foundation. In addition, a new name to the road into the park was unveiled: Josh Gibson Way.

The plaque and street sign are near 165 Donner Avenue in Monessen, about a 45-minute drive south from Pittsburgh. And the sign, which was erected in March, was news even to Sean Gibson, Josh Gibson’s great grandson and the executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation.

“There was no mention of Josh Gibson Way,” Sean said of the street naming, one of only two along Donner Avenue named after a non-Monessen resident. “... I was totally surprised.”

“It is a privilege to see Josh Gibson’s legacy commemorated in Monessen,” said Sean Gibson in a statement. “I am excited and gratified to know residents of the town, as well as visitors, will learn the rich history and achievements of Josh for many years to come.”

The home run was hit on July 24, 1938, when Gibson and the Grays faced the Memphis Red Sox at Page Park, which was originally called Tin Plate Field due to a nearby tin mill. That’s where Gibson was reported to have launched a ball that ricocheted off mill buildings and nearly landed in the Monongahela River.

For reference, the longest homer tracked in the 2021 Home Run Derby went 518 feet -- at Coors Field, no less.

“Can’t even imagine it,” Sean said of his grandfather’s home run. “Especially these days, when the ballpark is much smaller than when Josh played, too. Yeah, that’s a long home run.”

The foundation to make this plaque unveiling happen was laid last year when Monessen resident Frank Lopresti and Dan Zyglowicz of the Greater Monessen Historical Society were able to find the exact date the home run happened and piece together some information about the event. Mayor Matt Shorraw got in touch with MLB about donating a plaque, and then, on Thursday, it became a reality.

“[I am] humbled, honored and thrilled to be able to honor Josh Gibson in this way, and to commemorate such a unique local, historical event,” Shorraw said in a statement. “Gibson wasn’t given the respect and accolades he deserved when he was alive and playing ball. I’m glad that we are able to commemorate his achievements now -- not just in Monessen, but also through the region and beyond.”

Gibson has been receiving more recognition, being honored throughout the Western Pennsylvania region and across baseball thanks to efforts by organizations like the Josh Gibson Foundation. Earlier this year, a large mural was unveiled at Voodoo Brewery in Homestead, Pa., done by artist Jeremy Braymer.

It’s more than just on the local level, though. Last October, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted to remove the name of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner who kept baseball segregated from 1920-44, from its MVP plaques. There could be a new namesake chosen this year, and in Pittsburgh, Sean and the Josh Gibson Foundation have helped organize a big push to rename the MVP Award after Josh Gibson.

It’s part of what Sean Gibson and Braymer have been unofficially calling “The Summer of Josh,” as recognition and appreciation of Josh Gibson have been on the rise in 2021.

“Truly, it has been,” Sean said. “Everything that’s happened since the 16th of December [when the Negro Leagues were officially called a Major League], it’s been a wave that we’re going to ride with Josh.”