Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ballplayer Graves of Lancaster County #1

Earlier this year, noted baseball necrologist Fred Worth contacted some SABR members in Philadelphia asking if they would be willing to do some ground work locating graves of former ballplayers. I wrote back saying Philly was a little out of the way for me but if he thought he might swing out my direction, that I'd be happy to track down some.

Well, Fred has some personal history with Lancaster County and thought it would be nice to make a visit. One of the gravesites he wanted to visit was that of Philadelphia Athletic Leighton Gibson. Gibson was born in Lancaster in 1868 and got his start as a ballplayer as a teenager playing for the Lancaster Ironsides of the Pennsylvania State Association.

One of the curious things about Gibson is that despite his only playing one game in the major leagues, he found himself pictured on an Old Judge tobacco card as a major leaguer...a year before he played in the majors. Although he didn't appear in any games for them, Gibson was part of the Philadelphia Quakers of the National League in 1887. Gibson's connections with the Quakers helped him in Lancaster. Gibson, apparently inebriated on Christmas Eve in 1886, resisted arrest and assaulted and injured a police officer. he was found guilty but had his sentence suspended based on "the good character he had shown and of his engagement with the Philadelphia Club (Lancaster Intelligencer, March 12, 1887)". He was fined $75.

It is also curious that it wasn't until 1980 that a card of Gibson surfaced and his is probably the most valuable of any player with Lancaster County involvement. Supposedly, only two copies of the card have surfaced.

Gibson's baseball career wasn't anything spectacular. He tooled around in the minors for a few years, making his only appearance in a major league game on May 2, 1888 at age nineteen. He and 21-year old pitcher Bob Gamble were tabbed to be the battery for the Athletics against Cleveland that day. Neither were impressive as the Athletics were downed by a 10-1 score. That would be the only major league game for the duo in their careers.

Leighton played a few more years and tried to get a league organized comprised by teams in Lancaster, Berks and Lebanon counties. When that didn't take off he opened a road house in nearby Farmville, Pennsylvania. Gibson died in 1907 at the age of 39 after a lengthy illness.

It's always interesting (but not always easy) to learn more about these one game players. Unfortunately, most of the players buried in Lancaster County (with one notable exception) are guys who had fleeting major league careers. I'll be covering all of them, hopefully this year.

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