Although racism and fate kept him from the major leagues, Josh Gibson was one of the most dominant sluggers in baseball history.
The former Negro Leagues star is credited with hitting almost 800 home runs over his 17-year career and was such a fearsome hitter that many fans called him the “black Babe Ruth.” Some who saw both play even called Ruth the “white Josh Gibson.”
Because of incomplete statistics, many of Gibson’s legendary feats – like hitting a ball 580 feet at Yankee Stadium – are just that, the stuff of legends.
Even his origin story is larger than life. He was reportedly a spectator at a Homestead Grays game in Pittsburgh in 1930 when the catcher hurt his hand. Gibson, already a semi-pro player, was invited to come down from the stands and replace him.
He never looked back. Gibson ultimately became the second-highest-paid player in the Negro Leagues behind another legend, Satchel Paige.
“You look for his weakness and while you’re lookin’ for it, he’s liable to hit 45 home runs,” Paige once famously said of Gibson. Renowned player and coach Buck O’Neil called him “the best hitter that I’ve ever seen.”
Unfortunately, Gibson never got a chance to play in the majors. He died of a stroke at 35 in 1947, less than three months before Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke baseball’s color barrier.