Over the course of its history, The Negro Leagues spawned a series of baseball legends with many going on to dominate in the formerly all-White Major League Baseball organization. Catcher Josh Gibson, the home run king of the Negro League, never got a chance to go to the big show, but was properly recognized for his talents by the MLB later on.
Gibson was born on this day in 1911 in Buena Vista, Ga., and was raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. Gibson discovered the sport at 16, all while chasing dreams of becoming an electrician. When his dream job plans were dashed, he worked as an elevator operator, but had enough talent to attract interest from semi-pro Black teams.
In 1930, Pittsburgh’s top Black team, the Homestead Grays, debuted Gibson in July of that year. From the start, Gibson showed a talent for knocking the ball out of the park at record rates. Even while facing the tragedy of losing his young wife after she gave birth to twins, Gibson’s dedication to excellence never wavered.
The Negro Leagues didn’t keep great records of players and their achievements, as was custom for the time. In a 17-year career that saw Gibson move about the League, he was estimated by historians to have hit 962 home runs while batting .359 at the plate. In comparison, the MLB’s home run king, Barry Bonds, hit 755 in his controversial career.
Gibson also showed prowess against elite white pitchers of the MLB, routinely getting hits off their best arms and hitting an impressive .412 during a stretch of barnstorming games between the major and Negro League stars.
Sadly, Gibson would never get to the “Big Show” after a brain tumor eventually ended his life in 1947 at age 35, just months before Jackie Robinson’s barrier-breaking moment.
Analysts say that Gibson would have been a huge star in the MLB had he lived.
The MLB rightfully inducted Gibson into the Hall in 1972.