Legacies of Josh Gibson, Negro Leagues players go beyond statistical recognition

Topps and Fanatics Collectibles have signed a contract extension with Gibson’s estate and will include Gibson in the Topps MLB at Rickwood Field series this month

It wasn’t just about Josh Gibson.

Although the Negro Leagues star and his family received a ton of attention following Major League Baseball’s decision to enter Negro Leagues stats into the major-league record books, the entries brought a newfound recognition for the legacies of many players of that era and their families.

“This is a long time coming,” Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Josh Gibson, told Yahoo Sports. “This announcement was made back in December of 2020, and here we are three-and-a-half years later, and it's finally come together, and we're very excited.

“It's better late than never. All these great players that they're talking about are no longer with us. But as far as the family members, it's exciting for us to carry on that legacy through our family members who played in the Negro Leagues.”

Gibson’s name is brought up for obvious reasons. With the addition of the Negro Leagues stats, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays star became MLB’s career leader in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, as well as the holder of the single-season records in each of those categories. Passing legends such as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth etched Gibson’s name firmly in baseball history.

For that reason, Topps and Fanatics Collectibles have signed a multi-year contract extension with Gibson’s estate and will include Gibson in the Topps MLB at Rickwood Field series this month, ensuring that the legacy of Josh Gibson will continue to be told in the form of collectible trading cards.

Topps has been making cards with Gibson since 2001. Since 2015, the company has made 31 cards, including this year's releases in the 2024 Allen and Ginter set and the 2024 Tribute Base Cards, among others.

(Courtesy of Topps)
(Courtesy of Topps)

“I think given the momentum of the Rickwood game, as well as the Negro Leagues properly and finally being included in MLB record books, it only made sense to extend our relationship with Josh Gibson and the family,” Omar Wilkes, head of athlete partnerships at Fanatics Collectibles, told Yahoo Sports.

“I think it's our duty to use our platform and our history of having a world-class trading card product connected with baseball to amplify and kind of keep his legacy going on forever.”

Yet even with the new contract and the newfound attention and praise, the Gibson family never needed MLB’s sign of approval or validation that Gibson’s accolades mattered.

“We always considered our Negro League family members major leaguers anyways,” Sean Gibson said. “It’s just that Major League Baseball didn't recognize them as major leaguers.”

The words "Negro League family members" isn’t just a term of endearment. Gibson, along with other descendants of Negro Leagues players, created the Negro League Family Alliance. The group’s mission is “to collectively preserve the legacies, history and intellectual properties of the Negro Leagues,” according to their website.

One member of that group is former Negro Leagues player Ron “Schoolboy” Teasley. Following the death of Willie Mays on Tuesday, the 97-year-old Teasley and 99-year-old Bill Greason are among the few living players from the Negro Leagues era.

Teasley is one of the few players from that time who got to see the Negro Leagues statistics added to the major league records during his lifetime. Willie Mays, who played for the Birmingham Black Barons, was another, seeing his hit total rise by 10.

That’s arguably the thing that means the most for Gibson after years of fighting for the stats incorporation.

“This was something I really wanted to do before he passed away. He played with the New York Cubans in 1948,” he said. “I'm excited to see Mr. Teasley get a chance to see his name and officially [be in the] MLB record book. I'm really excited about that.”

Gibson will be representing his family's estate during MLB’s Rickwood Field game between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. As part of the deal with Topps, an 18 x 24, 8,000-pound card of Gibson from the pre-Rickwood game tour will be given to the Josh Gibson Foundation.

While it's certainly too large to fit into a pocket or collectible trading card sleeve, Gibson already has an idea of where the foundation will put the massive piece of memorabilia.

“We definitely wanna have that card in Pittsburgh,” he said. “But I feel like right now, with the way Josh is being talked about through the MLB record books, that card has to be in Pittsburgh for some point, for some period of time.”