Collectors of baseball items, memorabilia or the many other things that are available to fans, have no problem finding collectible pieces for any of the major league teams or minor league clubs. Offerings may vary by whether the club is just popular locally or has a more wide spread following.
Historical collectors and fans that collect items because they love the nostalgia of the game, are also able to find many items representing many of the old time teams and players. However, collectors on the lookout for Negro League items have to do a more exhaustive search for items that go beyond books and throw back uniforms.
The many leagues have been captured in numerous historical accounts published as books or magazine articles. Nothing similar exists for player stats, along the lines of the baseball encyclopedias that account for all major league player records.
James A. Riley authored The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues in 1994 (Carroll & Graf publishers) which recounted profiles of many of the thousands of players who played in one of the seven leagues that existed between 1872 and 1950. The publication doesn't have the detail in numbers that many stat fans crave, but it still provides much biographic information on teams and the players that populated the rosters.
The leagues histories, along with historical artifacts, is well documented and captured at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO, as well as at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Both are great destinations for people who love to explore the beginnings and personalities of the sport. Local stores in these areas offer items not usually available except via the web.
Few trading card sets have ever been available for the Negro Leagues. A 119-card set in black and white was issued in 1986 and later another 12-card color set was offered later. Both sets were issued by Larry Fritsch Cards.
Statues of players in uniforms from these leagues have ever been issued in limited quantities by various companies. More recent and popular collectibles like Kenner/Hasbro Starting Lineup baseball issues in the form of the Cooperstown Collection only honored three players in Negro League uniforms, Josh Gibson (picture at right) and Buck Leonard of the Homestead Grays and Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs. Other players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige and Roy Campanella had SLU figures, but all their pieces were issued wearing the major league uniform of the Braves, Giants, Indians and Dodgers, respectively. MacFarlane, who issues collecting figures today, have not issued any known pieces to date.
SAM’s, a bobblehead dolls maker in the nineties, issued a Satchel Paige bobble (picture above left). The player was attired in a Kansas City Monarchs uniform.
Fotoball offered commemorative baseballs (also picture above left) including teams like the Cuban X Giants, an independent team that was considered among the most powerful teams at the turn of the 19th century. Also available, the Birmingham Black Barons who won three league titles in the forties, the last featuring a 17-year-old Willie Mays.
Strat-O-Matic Game Company, long time maker of sports card and computer games, created a 108-card game set of Negro League All Stars at the start of this decade.
Professional baseball is not just about the American and National Leagues. The most documented sport in history has many ways a collector can approach it. From the short-lived Federal major league (1914-15) to the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball league, to the Negro Leagues, people who want to build a collection around these subjects just might require a little more time. The research, however, is so much fun and well worth it.
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