Negro Leagues Players and Cards

An Essential Primer

Date: May 23, 2024
Author: Flobo Boyce
Topics: Flobo Boyce, Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Rickwood, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays
Length: 975 Words
Reading Time: ~5 Minutes

With cards, the name of the game is coming across a slice of history. Whether it is from a baseball legend, a certain look into the game at the time, or capturing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, when a card is in your hands, you become a part of that story. When Topps decided to release a special edition set honoring the history of the Negro Leagues in conjunction with MLB at Rickwood Field, it just made sense. The Negro Leagues were very much instrumental in shaping baseball as we know it today. And with this latest set from Topps, fans will have a fresh look at some of the stars of such a critical and influential moment in time.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Baseball is cool again. People are heading to the ballpark in droves. Major League Baseball is leaning into international showcases in places such as London, Mexico City, and Korea. The World Baseball Classic (and more specifically, its 2023 edition) was a watershed moment in truly looking at the sport as a global game. I don’t even have to mention the growth of the video game MLB The Show’s userbase, which saw that number explode when the game went multiplatform in 2021. While it is an exciting time to look toward baseball’s future and wonder where the sport is headed, we have to give the proverbial tip of the cap to the past and those who helped us get to this point today.

A closer look at the upcoming set lists a who’s-who of some of the superstars of the Negro League era. Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, Monte Irvin, Josh Gibson, and Wilie Mays are all featured in the set. And even though these are some names you’ve heard, each card showcases a deeper legacy you may not be as familiar with.

(Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

Satchel Paige

Pagie’s contributions to the game have been the stuff of legend. In MLB The Show 2023, you actually got to play a few challenges as Paige in the Negro League storyline mode. With an arsenal of pitches with names like “Bat Dodger,” “Hesitation Pitch,” “Long Tom,” and others, it’s no wonder why Paige was considered one of the best hurlers of all time.

(Photo by Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Larry Doby

Larry Doby is best known for making the number 2 incredibly special. He’s credited for being the second African-American player integrated into the Major Leagues and being the MLB’s second black manager. This tale of two only tells a slice of Doby’s story. Larry was known as a savvy baseball mind and performed at such a high level that his number 14 was retired by the Cleveland Guardians organization.

(Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)

Monte Irvin

Much like the comic book character Mr. Terrific, Monte Irvin had “an aptitude for having aptitudes.” Irvin was a trailblazer in his own right. While once considered by many to be the player to break the color barrier (an accolade that ultimately went to Jackie Robinson), Irvin put up career numbers that rivaled Robinson before becoming an influential executive, working alongside the commissioner’s office in his days following retirement. And to boot, Irvin has been enshrined in MULTIPLE halls of fame, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame, and more.

(Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)

Jackie Robinson

What can you say about Jackie Robinson that hasn’t already been said? The symbol. The icon. The number 42 is retired league-wide in the MLB for a reason, and that reason becomes more important year after year. What Jackie did cannot be understated as being the first through the color barrier was not for the weak of heart. The fact that the phrase “Jackie Robinson” has become a snowclone in any situation describing a trailblazer entering a space that wasn’t originally designed for them is incredibly powerful.

(Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)

Josh Gibson

One of the most prolific catchers of all time, Josh was just as brilliant in calling the game as he was dangerous in deciding the game with his bat. With a lifetime Batting Average and OPS of .373 and 1.176, respectively, Gibson was an absolute menace for opponents during his heyday. Credited with over 900 home runs, according to some reports, Gibson was an attraction wherever he played.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Willie Mays

The “Say Hey Kid” himself embodied a mix of talent with an effortless cool that endeared baseball audiences for decades. Remember when Mays had his own song? Check out these lyrics:

 “He runs the bases like a choo-choo train

Swings around second like an aeroplane

His cap flies off when he passes third

And he heads home like an eagle bird”

It’s a whole vibe.

This pack is already stacked, but here’s hoping for more entries in this series. Maybe team roster cards of some of the legendary lineups of that era. Or, maybe, a salute to the women who competed in the Negro Leagues, such as Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson.

And even though they were a softball club, how cool would it be to see cards that shined a light on the Seattle Owls? There’s no denying the rich history of the Negro Leagues and black players of the game. And the best part is that we, as fans, are only scratching the surface.

More Negro Leagues History


History of Kicks Celebrating the Negro Leagues, Pt. 2
Jun 19, 2024
History of Kicks Celebrating the Negro Leagues, Pt. 1
Jun 19, 2024
Negro Leagues Stars x Trading Cards
Jun 19, 2024
Rickwood Field | An American History
Jun 19, 2024
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