Monday, January 16, 2006

Rare Josh Gibson Cards Sets Pace for Negro League Memorabilia

The highest graded example of one of the scarcest and most renowned baseball cards ever produced, the 1950-51 Toleteros Josh Gibson, established a new high for Negro League memorabilia, selling for $69,262 in a recent Lelands.com auation. Graded by Sportscard Guarantee Corporation as an SGC 88 Near-Mint 8, this card is believed to be just one of 12 in existence.

Like most stars of the Negro leagues, Gibson played winter ball for lucrative contracts in Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. In 1937, the peak of his career, Gibson joined Satchell Paige and Cool Papa Bell in the Dominican Republic to play for a team owned by dictator Rafael Trujillo. In a highly competitive and fiercely played seven-week season, Gibson hit .453, leading Trujillo's All-Stars to the championship.

Before the auction, Lelands went to great lengths to end the controversy surrounding the rare Gibson card. Produced three years after Gibson's death, many vintage baseball card collectors believed the card pictured his son, Josh Jr, who played for the Homestead Grays in 1949. Leland's discovered a Puerto Rican scorecard with the heading "Baseball de Puerto Rico" (January 7, 1940) featuring an identical image of the senior Gibson on its cover as on the 1950-51 Toleteros card. Lelands also sold a bound collection of programs from 1939-40, including the Gibson cover, sold for $3,554.

A powerful and agile catcher, Gibson was the Negro Leagues' greatest home run hitter. Known by his peers and conteporaries as "the black Babe Ruth", Gibson used a short, compact sweing and massive upper body to bash home runs in ballparks North and South America with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords from 1930 to 1946. Newspaper accounts describe him as an intimidating hitter with quick wrists and a massive upper body with who seldom struck out.

According to baseball legend, Gibson hit as many as 75 home runs in a single season, more than 800 homers during a 17-year career, and was the only player to ever hit a fair ball out of Yankee stadium. Oft-repeated myths tend to become exaggerated over time -- the lengendary home run reportedly traveled over 500 feet, but landed in Yankee stadium -- but Gibson was indeed one of the most prolific power hitters in baseball history.

Trajecally, Gibson was just 35 years old and still active when he suffered a cerebral hemorrage and died suddenly in January 1947, just a few months before Jackie Robinson changed American history by breaking baseball's color barrier.

Gibson slugged his way onto nine East-West All-Star squads and ranked him second only to Paige as the best known Negro-League player. Topps plans to spread the legend of the great Josh Gibson after recently signing deal with the Hall of Famer's estate that gives the card manufacturer exclusive rights to produce his cards. The contract covers all trading cards, including inserts, cut autograph cards, and memorabilia cards as well as the use of Gibson's likeness in packaging and advertising.

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