"What did Josh Gibson look like when he rifled the ball down to second to catch a would-be base-stealer?
That was the predicament facing staffers of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and LifeFormations, the Bowling Green, Ohio-based company that created the lifelike figure of the famous Negro League catcher that was unveiled Thursday at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
When Sean Gibson, executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, pulled the cloth from the statue, it was obvious he resembles his great-grandfather. But does this figure look like the real thing?
"Wow! There's a lot of family resemblance," said Melva Brown, 64, a granddaughter visiting from Atlanta. "He looks like my mother," Josh Gibson's daughter, Annie.
So they got the face right. What about the rest of him?
Luckily for LifeFormations, it had casts taken of an Ohio bodybuilder's arms for another project years before. It's his bulging biceps peeking out from under rolled-up sleeves of a reproduction 1940s Grays jersey.
The figure, made of silicone and fiberglass on a steel-reinforced frame, is the centerpiece of "The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship," an exhibition that opens today and continues through Aug. 26.
Its name comes from a quote by Andrew "Rube" Foster, founder of the Negro National League, and the title of a children's book by illustrator/author Kadir Nelson. Fifty paintings and sketches made for the book are on display in the sports museum, including one of Gibson for the cover and a depiction of Pittsburgh Crawfords owner Gus Greenlee, counting the proceeds of his "numbers" game. Revenue from gambling and the Crawford Grill allowed Greenlee to sign Gibson, pitcher Satchel Paige and other top black players in the 1930s and to build Greenlee Field in the Hill District.
Also on view at the center are a glove used by Paige, a vintage Grays uniform belonging to backup catcher Euthumn Napier and Gibson's employee identification card from Westinghouse Air Brake Co., for which he worked and played ball in an industrial league in 1930. It's believed to have the earliest known signature of the slugger who was known as the "Black Babe Ruth."