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Josh Gibson’s Baseball Cards To Gain Popularity After Negro League Stat Recognition

It is no secret that Josh Gibson is one of the greatest baseball players ever lived and probably the best catcher to play the game.

But now that the stats from the Negro Leagues have been recognized as Major League Baseball ones for all intents and purposes, that status has finally gained official recognition. Gibson is now going to be enshrined in every record book.

He will not be topping or close to the top of every most excellent player list. Will that affect his status in the hobby? A few things are working against Josh Gibson and his cards. However, his new status cannot be ignored either.

We give you all the ins and outs in our guide to Josh Gibson’s cards and his new status in baseball.

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Who is Josh Gibson?

A few words about Josh Gibson: Despite being one of the most gifted players ever to put on a pair of cleats, he still hasn’t fully received the credit he deserves (though we are finally getting there).

According to the legend, Josh made his pro debut as an 18-year-old fan at a ball game in 1930. The starting catcher got injured and was asked to fill in since he was already an accomplished amateur.

rue or not, it is a fitting start for a legendary career. We are also told that Gibson was able to hit a ball out of the old Yankee Stadium and did so at many exhibition games.  

How good was Josh Gibson?

There is more than one reason the Negro Leagues stats were excluded from the official MLB stats until now. Yeah, a lot of that has to do with racism.

To begin with, the leagues were the product of segregation, a part of the thoroughly discredited and immoral policy known as ‘Jim Crow.’ For that reason, many felt for decades that the Negro Leagues were inferior in their level to the MLB.

The argument was that players like Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Cool Papa Bell didn’t have to face Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson, and therefore, their league was at a lower level.

But we know from the tremendous success Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays had in the MLB after coming from the Negro Leagues that the stars there were more than good enough for the “Show.”

Indeed, that argument goes both ways. You could say that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig didn’t have to face the best players and were, therefore, not as good as players who played after breaking the color line. Thus, the best bet is to consider both records legitimate.

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The new GOAT?

But there is a more legitimate problem. The records and stats of the Negro Leagues are, without a doubt, less meticulous and less reliable. There was far less money involved due to social inequality. Leagues went bankrupt, merged, and teams disappeared.

Our records of those leagues are partial. Therefore, we don’t know exactly how many home runs Josh Gibson hit, for example. His plaque at Cooperstown says, “hit almost 800 home runs in league and independent baseball during his 17-year career.”

But some estimates are even higher. Therefore, our numbers for Gibson give us a general idea but are probably not 100% accurate.

So we can wonder if he was better than Ruth or Bonds forever. But he was definitely among the best hitters ever. Gibson earned new records. With a career tally of .372, he is now the leading all-time career batting average record holder.

His best season tally was .466, 26 points higher than Hugh Duffy’s record. With a record OPS of 1.177 (in comparison to Ruth’s 1.164), he seems to be the hitter who best combines power and contact. Ever.

There is no question he is the best catcher because no one else in that position is even close to these numbers. Gibson was a strong defensive catcher, too. He started off being mediocre on that end but, by all accounts, grew very strong in blocking the plate, handling pitchers, and throwing out runners. However, he maintained a glaring weakness with pop-ups.

What will the value of Josh Gibson baseball cards be?

Now that we have a more apparent appreciation and recognition of just how good the Negro Leagues were, we can recognize Gibson for what he is: the most excellent catcher ever and one of the best players in history.

Players of his quality tend to have costly cards. His equivalents in terms of time frame are Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, whose rookie cards and the like are rare.

But of course, there is a severe problem here. There are hardly any Gibson cards from his playing. A handful are out there and already very valuable. Most of his cards were made well after his untimely death in 1947.

In addition, there are concerns that because Gibson was criminally underrated for so long, he does not and will not have the iconic status that his (very few) equals or near equals enjoy.

But neither seems like a serious concern to me. The lack of contemporary cards is a shame for anyone looking to collect them. Because they will be incredibly hard to get, but the existing ones will be worth a ton.

As for the iconic element, Gibson becomes more of an icon daily. There has been a growing stature for the Negro Leagues stars for quite a while. Accepting the records as official was a big part of that.

Considering that his reputation has not caught up with his accomplishments yet, and the amounts are scarce, it looks like a good bet that the only way for Josh Gibson cards is up.

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The baseball cards of Josh Gibson

We don’t have anything like the full complement of cards that a legend like Josh Gibson deserves. But there is an excellent selection of interesting, and occasionally very valuable, cards for this all-time great.

The players in these leagues were not exceptionally well respected in America. But they were far better known in Latin America and the Caribbean. So many of these items surface there.

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1931 Harrison Studios Postcard Josh Gibson #2

There are no Josh Gibson rookie cards. But we do have something close. Amazingly, there is a postcard of a young Josh Gibson out there. Harrison Studios was an outfit from Hot Springs, Arkansas, that existed in 1930-32.

That was where many Negro League teams did their Spring Training. There are eleven known copies of this card, which is believed to have had a decent distribution. Therefore, others may be discovered as well.

One of the copies is autographed. The back reads, “To my pal Joe Lewis from Joshua Gibson.” And it has been authenticated by PSA. That is the only photo autographed by the player known to exist.

In 2006, it sold at Robert Edward Auctions for $81,200. If that copy sold today, it would fetch several hundred thousand dollars. It may well be worth millions eventually.

1931 Harrison Studios Postcard Homestead Grays Team Picture

Another card from the same series features Gibson with the entire team. At first glance, it can appear to be less desirable than Josh’s card in the series. But that is not necessarily so. This team had so many legends in it. There are four Hall of Famers in this picture: Oscar Charleston, Cum Posey, Smokey Joe Williams, and Jud Wilson.

1932 Harrison Studios Pittsburgh Crawfords Team Picture

If you thought the lineup of the Homestead Grays team was great (you would be right), wait until you hear who is in this card from the following year. Gibson switched teams to Pittsburgh along with Charleston.

And on that team was a young pitcher named Satchel Paige. Respect. Even cooler is the fact that they stand side to side. They may have been the best pitcher-catcher tandem in the history of baseball.

In 2017, one of these sold for $36,000 at Heritage Auctions. It would be worth so much more today.

1950-51 Toleteros Josh Gibson #60

Some consider the 1931 Harrison Studios Postcard Josh Gibson #2 a legit rookie card. But to me, at least, a postcard isn’t a card. They are also great, but not the same thing.

That makes this item, the first actual card for Gibson, exceptional, even though it was published a few years after the player’s death. The cards are also the first in color and have a bit of that beautiful early Bowman feel. They are more common than the Harrison postcards but remain incredibly rare.

Somehow, there is a PSA 8 version of this card. It last sold for $91,200 back in 2017. It would be interesting to see if this sold for more than the postcards today because it is a card or if the more extended history of the Harrison Studios items would win out on the market.

2003 SP Legendary Cuts Autographs 1/1

As you can see, we had to go MANY years without any Josh Gibson cards on the market. Negro Leagues players didn’t get their due.

However, Gibson was underrated compared to the other stars of his era. But he was slowly rediscovered. This card was part of the process. At the time, it received much media attention for having the player’s autograph.

That is such a rarity that whoever bought this card for a mere $12,500 back in the day made an incredible deal.

2006 Topps Sterling Bat Barrel 1/1

After the great success of the cut autograph card, Topps made an exclusive deal with Gibson’s family to make his cards and use his artifacts for them. The bat barrel 1/1 was another great card. It featured a piece of a game-used bat with the legend’s name on it. It doesn’t get much better than that.

2006 Topps Sterling Bat Relics /10

This is a/10, a more attainable but still very scarce and awesome card. Topps received an entire bat from the Gibson family, which they began to parcel out here. A few years ago, you could get these for under $1,000. But those days of innocence are long gone.

2012 Leaf Sports Icons Cut Signature 1/1

Leaf broke the Topps exclusive over Gibson relics with an entire product dedicated to the legend in 2012. That was a surefire sign that his appeal had become greater and that he was becoming recognized as one of the greatest to ever play.

The 2012 Leaf Sports Icons Cut Signature 1/1 was the pick of the litter for this release, and you could only get it by winning a contest. Of course, as a Leaf card and the second cut signature of the player, it’s not as valuable as the first.

2023 Bowman Draft Josh Gibson Refractor #BDC-202

This card represents the Bowman 1st for the most excellent catcher in baseball history. Why didn’t they give him one in 1930? Hey, better late than never, right?

An early picture of the legend is colorized, and the truth is, it looks absolutely beautiful. This is easily the most affordable card on this list, but it has a certain magic that makes it more than worthwhile.

Final Word On Josh Gibson’s Cards And His New Status In Baseball

We woke up one morning, and Josh Gibson became the record holder in some of the most essential baseball categories. But the redemption of Gibson’s reputation for greatness was a process.

As we can see, he was rediscovered by the hobby about 20 years ago. There is an excellent selection of new cards for the legend, and more will be forthcoming.

However, the natural treasures are those old cards, especially the postcards issued when Gibson was still playing. Those old items are eventually likely to break all records because there are so few of them, and the legend of Josh Gibson will only grow in the future as the conceptual difference between the MLB and the Negro Leagues is wholly discarded.

Ironically, these items are worth more money than the most excellent catcher who ever lived earned in a lifetime. But at least this absolute titan of the game is getting belated recognition.

He is part of a final but essential victory over the racism that kept Gibson from enjoying that role when he was alive.

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Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.

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