One of the most aesthetically pleasing sets in my collection is the 1991 “Living Legends” Negro League postcards. The set was produced by Capital Cards in conjunction with the Negro League Baseball Players Association and features the impressive artwork of Ron Lewis, who produced several art sets in the 1980s and ‘90s.
The numbered cards measure 3-1/2” x 5-1/4” and were distributed in a 30-card boxed sets. Supposedly, 10,000 sets were produced. Mr. Lewis traveled the card show circuit to sell his wares. Dealers such as Larry Fritsch must have purchased in bulk, since the sets are currently available for under $30.
The backs have typical postcard markings, players’ names and brief biography. Mr. Lewis’ signature adorns the bottom, and the set’s specific number out of the 10,000 is shown on the right.
The depicted players will be very familiar to those steeped in Negro League history. However, some are not household names. For example, Verlan “Lefty” Mathis was a Memphis pitcher, seen here in this wonderful Red Sox uniform. This study of Newark Eagle Max Manning is truly spectacular, as well.
Upon viewing the set for the first time in years, I discovered Jehosie Heard had a card. I became familiar with him when I explored the first cards of the Baltimore Orioles. The artist may have used the 1954 Topps card or the original photo as a model for Jehosie on the Birmingham Black Barons.
Another name that stands out is Lyman Bostock, Sr., the father of the late ‘70s Twins and Angels outfielder of with the same name. Of course, Lyman, Jr., was shot and killed at the height of his career in 1978. Father and son were estranged, due to the younger Lyman’s belief that his father abandoned him. I was unaware of Bostock, Sr., until obtaining this set. He had a long Negro Leagues career stretching from 1938 to 1954.
Ron Lewis included a pair of brothers, Garnett and Lonnie Blair, who both played for the Homestead Grays. The Pittsburgh-based club also called Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., home.
Catchers depicted wearing the “tools of ignorance’ are always a treat. Bill Cash and Josh Johnson are no exception.
In addition to the lesser known players, Mr. Lewis produced cards for the famous too. Examples include National Baseball Hall of Fame members Leon Day, Monte Irvin, Buck Leonard and Ray Dandridge. Another well-known player, “Double Duty” Radcliffe, is part of the set.
The 60 years since the last Negro League game was played means that most of the players depicted have passed away. As of this writing, the immortal Willie Mays is still amongst the living.
In closing, I encourage you to add the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City to your baseball bucket list. I was there in 2005 and enjoyed every minute. Plus, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue is a few blocks away on Brooklyn Avenue. After stuffing yourself, head down Brooklyn to the former site of Municipal Stadium.
Editor’s note: Card 24 in the set is often listed as Hall of Fame catcher, Josh Gibson. In fact, the card depicts his son, Josh Gibson, Jr.