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Today is September 16, 2021

A dream came true for Jake Gibbs

By Dale McKee

A dream came true for Jake Gibbs

If you grew up in Mississippi back in the 1950s, you probably remember our football-crazy state. On November 15, 1952, this craziness may have reached its peak as Ole Miss, led by quarterback Jimmy Lear, upset No. 3 Maryland, 21-14. The win propelled Ole Miss into the national spotlight. One Grenada teenager attended that game and knew he wanted to be the next Jimmy Lear. At that time, Jake Gibbs, only a seventh grader, was the starting second baseman on his local high school baseball team.

“I grew up listening to the baseball game of the day on radio, and I dreamed of one day playing in the majors. Baseball was a lot of fun growing up in Grenada,” Gibbs said. Football, however, was also definitely in his future. Gibbs’ high school football career was riddled with injuries. “I broke an ankle one year and my nose another season. I was not that big — about 160 pounds — but I could run pretty good,” Gibbs said.

Ole Miss football did come a calling Gibbs’ senior year, and he signed with the Rebels. Four years later, Gibbs would become Mississippi’s first two-sport All-American, a two-time All-American in baseball and a 1960 All-American quarterback. Ole Miss football won two SEC crowns and a National Championship, and Gibbs finished third in Heisman voting. In the spring, he would trade in the helmet and shoulder pads for a bat and glove. Gibbs was a three-time All-SEC third baseman for the Rebels as they won two SEC titles.

“Kansas City offered me $35,000 after my junior season and Milwaukee was talking in the six-figures, but my parents wanted me to finish college,” Gibbs said. Oddly, the Atlanta Braves came to every football game his senior year.

Gibbs signed for $100,000 and headed to New York that day. Gibbs walked into the ‘Bronx Bombers’ locker room for the first time and saw all the Yankee legends: Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford. “Whitey Ford asked me if I was a power hitter, and I said, ‘No, I am more of a single, double and triple guy,’ and they all had a good laugh,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs was assigned to Richmond where he played second, shortstop and third base in his first two years in the minors. He never saw his switch to catcher coming. He was at basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, in October of 1962, when a lieutenant came up to him and asked if he was Jake Gibbs. “He said, ‘You are going to be catching this year for the Yankees.’ I just laughed it off and never gave it another thought. Yankee manager Ralph Houk called me into his office the first day of spring training and told me of the move to catcher. I guess that lieutenant knew something after all. Houk told me if I wanted to get to the majors, that was going to be my ticket.” In 1965, he was assigned to Toledo and was called up to New York later in the season. He finally made “The Show” for good in 1966 and played in 538 MLB games. “Playing in New York was fun, but it was even more fun being a Yankee.”

Gibbs retired from baseball after the 1971 season and returned to Ole Miss to become the Rebels’ head baseball coach. The Rebels won three SEC Western Division championships and two overall SEC championships. During that first season in 1972, he led the team to the College World Series. They won the first SEC Baseball Tournament in 1977. He coached until 1990, leading the Rebels to 485 wins.

 

Dale McKee is a Waynesboro native who has been writing sports in Mississippi since 1973. He is a member of Dixie Electric. Contact him at ddmckee18@yahoo.com.

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