It’s hard to separate the legend from the man. Did the giant of the Negro Leagues really hit a blast out of Yankee Stadium, a.k.a the “House that Ruth Built?” Josh Gibson was famously known as the “Black Babe Ruth,” after all, so there is poetry to such a swing in history. Some fans at the time who saw both Ruth and Gibson play called Ruth "the white Josh Gibson".
In 1934, while playing the New York Black Yankees, Gibson did hit a laser that landed in the remote left field bleachers, microscopically distanced from home plate. Four years earlier, at the tender age of 18, Gibson got hold of a ball in that same ballpark that plenty of spectators say they never saw come down. In ballparks all over the country, Gibson was a legend returning too tall tales of his last time through. The legends followed him everywhere he went as the almost mythological catcher of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays.
What is the truth? Did the Grays really grab a teenage Gibson from the stands when catcher Buck Ewing got hit by a pitch in the poor lighting, and suit him up? Was the pop of the ball made coming off his bat really amplified to the point you could hear it in the streets? Did he catch the ball so easily that he “might as well be on a rocking chair,” as Walter Johnson once said?
With the cut-off sleeves and the threatening cool of an all-powerful hitter, Gibson brought fans through the turnstiles to find out.
“Josh was a better power hitter than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams or anybody else I’ve ever seen,” said Negro League pitcher Aaron Boone. “Anything he touched was hit hard. He could power outside pitches to right field. Shortstops would move to left field when Josh came to the plate.”
Though so much of Negro Leagues baseball is uncharted and mixed into the beautiful mists of summer lore, the numbers speak for themselves. A career .366 batting average; nearly 800 home runs; twelve All-Star appearances; two-time Negro World Series Champion; an impossible season in which he hit .466; baseball Hall of Famer, class of 1972.
It’s not hard to separate the legend from the man — in fact, it’s nearly impossible. Quite simply, in a game built on captivating America's imagination, Josh Gibson’s legend lives on forever, and we pay tribute to the most feared hitter in Negro League history.
A portion of all sales will be donated to the Josh Gibson Foundation whose vision is to ensure that the youth of their community remember the legacy of Josh Gibson while providing opportunities that will improve their lives. Through exposure to life skills coaching and educational support, the Josh Gibson Foundation has become an instrument for positive change in the Pittsburgh community. For more information on the Josh Gibson Foundation, visit www.joshgibson.org or visit any of their social media handles (FB: Josh Gibson Foundation, IG: @JoshGibsonFoundation, TW: @JoshGibson_1911).