1950 Toleteros Joshua Gibson: The Real Holy Grail?

josh-toleteros-gibsonFor me, there’s no more intriguing baseball issue than the Josh Gibson 1950-51 Toleteros card.

Donned as the “Black” Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson is widely believed to be the greatest player never to play in the major leagues.

Owners of the professional baseball teams at the time refused to hire black players.

Although the recording of statistics during the negro league era is perceived as tenuous, Gibson’s talent on the diamond was seen in the exact opposite light; his talent was utterly undeniable.

In this piece, I’ll take a closer look at the career of Josh Gibson and his Toleteros baseball card.

I also argue that Gibson’s card might just be the true ‘Holy Grail’.

Joshua Gibson As A Player

Gibson began his Negro league career in 1930 at the age of 18 and played until 1946.  He played in the Negro leagues for the bulk of his career but also played in Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Gibson spent the bulk of his career as a catcher, and most baseball experts think that he was the best catcher of all time, in any league.

Bill James, who I consider to the gold standard of baseball statisticians, holds Gibson in the highest of regard. In his legendary 'The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract' book, James says:

I have little doubt that Josh Gibson was the greatest catcher in the history of baseball.  Bill Veeck said that Gibson was the greatest hitter he ever saw.  So did countless other Negro League participants and observers.

- Bill James

And Gibson is finally garnering official recognition from Major League Baseball. They recently announced that negro league player statistics would be considered on par to their major league counterparts. For years, there was a strict divide, but not any longer. 

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Josh Gibson's HOF plague

The issue? The record keeping during the Negro league era wasn't all that well, official. There are long standing rumors that Gibson blasted 800 homeruns, which would easily put him in first place, but the official record books say that Gibson hit only 165 homeruns

Most chalk it up to shorter seasons and that many Negro league games were exhibitions, that weren't recorded. Seamheads, which is considered the unequivocal source for Negro league record keeping, says that Gibson's numbers are closer to 239 homeruns, with a .366 BA and 1.141 OPS. It's no wonder some say he might have been the best. 

Tragically, Gibson suffered a stroke and passed away in Pittsburgh in 1947, unable to witness Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier later that year.

The Toleteros Josh Gibson Card

There’s only one Josh Gibson baseball card known to the sports card collecting world, and it was issued in Puerto Rico by Toleteros in 1950-51. The card was issued three years following his death, thus, not technically a playing day card. 

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gibson-toleteros-back

How Rare Is A Josh Gibson Toleteros Card?

Based off the numbers, there is, arguably, no rarer card than the 1951 Toleteros Joshua Gibson. Its population is scarcer than the “Holy Grail”  Honus Wagner T206 card, which has only 34 copies graded by PSA. 

gibson-vs-wagner-toleteros

Thus, there are almost 3x as many PSA graded T206 Honus Wagner cards than there are of Josh Gibson’s only recognized card. Note that a recent Honus Wagner T206 card sold for nearly $4 Million at auction

What Is A Josh Gibson Toleteros Rookie Card Worth?

Ultimately, for most of us, the cost of a Josh Gibson rookie card is pretty much out of reach. First of all, given the scarcity, these cards don't come up for sale all that often. And when they do, sales typically break any previous records.

The last PSA of a Toleteros Gibson was a PSA 7 copy, which sold in September of 2020 for $51,600 at a Heritage auction; however, a PSA 3 graded copy sold less than a year later for over $40K. The market seems to be finally taking notice of the lure and greatness of Joshua Gibson, as they should. 

PSA Josh Gibson Toleteros Sales, although the numbers aren't all that accurate because of the dearth of recent sales data.

Gibson Or Wagner: What's The Real Holy Grail?

Which One Is The Holy Grail

While Honus Wagner was one of the best to play the game,  I’m still baffled by the price tags I see for the T206 Wagner, especially in comparison to the 1951 Toleteros Joshua Gibson. 

Gibson's eye-popping statistics and the jaw-dropping stories recounted by players who played against him ooze with intrigue. As a hobby enthusiast and as an investment minded individual, I find the relative price disparity between the two cards (roughly 100x difference) to be too wide. 

Most vintage collectors I know still think the Honus Wagner has great potential, moreso than the Gibson.  One, just because of its age--it was issued forty years prior to the Gibson, and it's in a landmark set.

Also, the Toleteros card isn't exactly a beautiful card; but in my mind, the beauty and the investment potential comes from the fact that this is Gibson's ONLY card.

One that is likely to increase in value based on the rarity and his importance to the game of baseball. 

wagner-vs-gibson

Also, ask yourself this hypothetical question: “What if there was no color barrier at the time of the 1920s and 1930s?” And then ask yourself: “Would Babe Ruth be a name that would be just as popular as it is today still?” I think Josh may have greatly diluted the legacy of the Great Bambino if he were allowed to play in the majors. 

So, what do YOU think?

Could the Josh Gibson Toleteros card ever unseat the T206 Wagner as the 'Holy Grail'?

Joe Volpe
 

Joe is a passionate collector and a lover of all things vintage. He graduated with a BA in Finance from Catholic University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Publishing from George Washington University.

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