November 7 – Happy Birthday Jake Gibbs
Born in Granada, MS in 1938, Jerry Dean Gibbs was a superb high school athlete who starred at both football and baseball. In fact, the reason he finally attended Mississippi on a football scholarship was because they were going to permit him to continue to play both sports, which he did with great success. Jake was the starting quarterback for the Ole Miss football team and during his senior year with the Rebels in 1960, he quarterbacked them to an undefeated season and a victory in the Sugar Bowl. Being a pretty pragmatic young man at the time, Gibbs had good reasons for choosing baseball over football as a profession. The first one of course, was money. The Yankees were offering the kid a $100,000 bonus to sign with their team. The second reason Gibbs chose the diamond over the gridiron as his workplace was safety and health related. During his pre-senior years at Mississippi, Gibbs had suffered a series of painful injuries playing football. He knew the pro game was even rougher, making that $100,000 bonus look even more attractive.
So Gibbs became a Yankee. Back then, he was a third baseman but New York’s plan was to convert him to catching and have him some day succeed Elston Howard. At first, Gibbs resisted the idea but Yankee skipper Ralph Houk, himself a former catcher, convinced Jake that the switch would get him to the big leagues faster and keep him there longer and Houk was right. The Yankees gave Gibbs regular call-ups to the big league roster beginning in 1962 and by ’65, he was Howard’s full-time backup. He then served as the starting Yankee catcher in 1967 and ’68.
Gibbs was a very good defensive receiver but the reason the Yankees weren’t completely happy with him was his lack of offense. He was a lifetime .230 hitter with little power so it wasn’t too tough a decision for New York to return him to the backup catcher role in 1969 in favor of that season’s AL Rookie of the Year, Thurman Munson. Ironically, Gibbs greatest Yankee season took place as Munson’s backup in 1970. In just 49 games that year, he hit more home runs (8) than he ever had in pinstripes plus, he batted .301.
After Gibbs quit playing in 1971, he returned to Ole Miss where he became the Rebel’s highly successful varsity baseball coach. He also did a two-year stint as a catching coach for the Yankees in the early 1990’s.
Gibbs shares his November 7th birthday with this former Yankee relief pitcher and game announcer and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher.