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Josh Gibson

Josh Gibson

Elected to Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Among the biggest draws in the Negro Leagues, popular Josh Gibson is generally considered one of the most prodigious power hitters in the history of professional baseball. Josh led the Negro National League in home runs for 10 consecutive years; credited with 75 home runs in 1931.

Belting home runs of more than 500 feet was not unusual for Gibson. One homer in Monessen, Pa., reportedly was measured at 575 feet. The Sporting News of June 3, 1967 credits Gibson with a home run in a Negro League game at Yankee Stadium that struck two feet from the top of the wall circling the center field bleachers, about 580 feet from home plate.

Although it has never been conclusively proven, Chicago American Giants infielder Jack Marshall said Gibson slugged one over the third deck next to the left field bullpen in 1934 for the only fair ball hit out of the House That Ruth Built. 

Even his death has been clouded with myth. Gibson, it was said, believed he was going to die and gathered his family around his bedside. He even sent his brother out to gather up his trophies. While talking and laughing he supposedly raised his head, spoke incoherently, then laid down and died. The true story was not as sentimental or dramatic. Gibson suffered a stroke in a movie theater and was taken unconscious to his mother’s house where he died a few hours later.

Teammate and friend Jimmie Crutchfield often said that Gibson died of a broken heart at not having made the white major leagues. Gibson himself might have disagreed, though at times his depressed mental state threw him into fits of rage and rambling outbursts.

Like most of his teammates, Gibson generally accepted his fate and did not speak out about the injustice of baseball’s color bar. That Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues only a few months after Gibson’s death.