This summer I’ve been fortunate to be part of—okay, co-organizer along with Mr. Shake of—the very cool Josh Gibson MVP “Card Art” tournament. The tournament includes more than 70 artists from five countries and was created to help make the case for naming MLB’s (nameless since 2020) MVP trophies after Josh.
Many of this blog’s readers no doubt roll their eyes at the concept of “Card Art” and prefer to stick to “real cards” thank you very much, but here’s the thing. These are real cards. I don’t mean this in any philosophical sense either. The majority of the cards in the tournament are being produced with the support the Josh Gibson Foundation, which not only approves the cards but has provided certificates of authenticity.
The result is that Josh Gibson, whose sky-high profile among baseball’s pantheon received a serious boost last week from Baseball-Reference, now has several dozen new, independently produced, licensed trading cards, many of which are downright stunning, to go along with the recent Topps Project 70 offerings from artists Efdot and Chuck Styles.
The tournament, hosted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Marketplace, began May 10 and is expected to run through July 12. The first phase of the tournament consisted of a series of weekly competitions, with weekly winners determined by a combination of Twitter engagement and website voting. (Feel free to follow the tournament at the NLB Marketplace twitter account.)
Ultimately the overall winner will be selected through a Tournament of Champions, itself consisting of two phases. The first will be an NCAA Tournament-like bracket to determine the Final Four. From there, a panel of celebrity judges ranging from MLB All-Star Al Oliver to Dodger EVP Janet Marie Smith to a who’s who panel of top artists and entertainers will crown a champion.
As a participant in the tournament, a practitioner and collector of Card Art, and a super-fan of Josh Gibson, yes, I’m biased, but I tend to think the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set is hands down the set of the year. One could quibble with whether the 70+ cards truly form a set since every card has a different design and has been produced by a different artist/studio. Additionally, I should note that a few of the cards are not being released in physical form, such as this 1988 Score-inspired, HTML/CSS-generated rainbow from Baseball-Reference savant Adam Darowski, making the full tournament set an impossibility to complete.
For cards that have been made available to collectors, distribution has generally ranged from 10-50 cards per artist, based on agreements between individual artists and the Josh Gibson Foundation. To my knowledge the card with the highest production run, 100, is card #12 from Montreal-based artist Josée Tellier. Notwithstanding print runs of zero, the lowest print runs are attached to various handcrafted 1/1 cards such as this stained glass piece from Indiana artist Joel Hofmann.
…and this original pencil drawing (!) from Manitoba-based artist Robb Scott.
The set’s most recent weekly winner, from accomplished Topps artist Josh Trout, will be another very challenging card for collectors to add. It will only be available as a 1/1 card as part of the 2021 Topps Canvas Collection.
The tournament was open to all interested artists, and some used the Tournament to make their (at least public) debut into the world of Card Art.
“Having a seat at the table of trying to incorporate Negro League history into the baseball mainstream,” is what motivated Arizona-based Roger Nusbaum to join the tournament, citing his participation in the Josh Gibson MVP campaign as “an honor and a purposeful endeavor, a chance to try to achieve something important.”
Forty-Year-Old Versions of our Ten-Year-Old Selves is another relative newcomer “honored to be part of the campaign, even if I’m just playing a tiny part in the grand scheme of it all.”
Other artists, such as SABR member Mike Bryan (aka Obi-Wan Jabroni) of Tallahassee, connected with the Josh Gibson MVP campaign on an even more personal level, cherishing the “opportunity to be involved in such a worthy movement and show my own interracial daughter that for every crazy look she gets when we’re out in public, there is someone willing to stand up and fight for what’s right.”
Mike is far from the only SABR member with a card in the set. Andrew Wooley of Millburg Trading Cards, who was also the official card artist of the late Dick Allen, put out this fantastic card week one.
SABR Chicago member John Racanelli has one of the few cards released through the first seven weeks that is not already sold out. (In case you’re wondering a $10 donation to the Josh Gibson Foundation is all it takes to add this card to your collection, while supplies last.)
That same week of the tournament also featured SABR members Adam Korengold, who paints directly onto existing baseball cards, and Donna Muscarella, who combines cut Allen & Ginter cards with her own original photography.
SABR member and water color artist Michael Lewis (aka Mighty Lark) had an entry back in week three of the tournament.
This will be a big week for the Josh Gibson MVP Card Art set as nearly 20 new cards will drop, setting the table for next week’s Tournament of Champions. Winning the tournament will undoubtedly mean a lot to whichever artist takes home the trophy, but a common theme among the artists is that they are much more teammates than rivals. The real prize, if it happens, will be seeing Josh Gibson’s name on Baseball’s MVP trophies.
“I can be quite competitive, but to be honest, its been nothing but an honor to be a part of this tournament,” says Daniel Kearsey of Sixty-First Street Cards. “I was up against some amazing artists the week I submitted my art. It was so awesome to see everyone’s work. It didn’t matter if I won or lost. What mattered is getting Josh the recognition he deserves.”
As Dom Czepiga (aka DINK), a card artist who has collaborated with Orioles star Trey Mancini puts it, “My vision was for a highly respectful simple yet regal feel befitting one of the best baseball players in the history of the sport. It had to be exceptional as it will take its place in history as part of the campaign to rename the MVP Award the Josh Gibson Memorial MVP Award.”
The card art entry from Atlanta-based pop artist Scott Hodges, produced one of the tournament’s most memorable images, one of Josh the Basher “breaking through the barriers of the past” as a Joker-like Commissioner Landis looks on.
However, the last word on the MVP campaign goes to Sean Gibson, whose hand-signed statement accompanies the back of John Racanelli’s special edition card 1/50. This, more than anything else, is the goal of the set and the tournament.
Here is the Project #JG20MVP set’s complete checklist of 75 cards, not including SP and SSP variants, along with a pic of the cards I’ve managed to collect so far. (UPDATE: You can now see all 75 cards thanks to this video!)
|Card #||Artist||Release Date|
|1||Mr. Shake||Monday, May 10|
|2||Cheaha Cardworks||Tuesday, May 11|
|3||Andrew Woolley / Millburg||Wednesday, May 12|
|4||Heavy J Studios/Jason||Thursday, May 13|
|5||Lunchmade||Friday May 14th|
|6||Woody’s Cards/ Mike Mottolese||Monday, May 17|
|7||zetaw cards||Tuesday, May 18|
|8||Ice Cat||Wednesday, May 19|
|9||Matthew Burke||Thursday, May 20|
|10||Gummy Arts||Friday, May 21|
|11||Craig Leshen||Friday, May 21|
|12||Josée Tellier||Tuesday, May 25|
|13||Monarch Royalty||Tuesday, May 25|
|14||MIghty Lark||Wednesday, May 26|
|15||Daniel Kearsey / Sixty First Street||Wednesday, May 26|
|16||Stockyard Cards||Thursday, May 27|
|17||Robb Scott||Friday, May 28|
|18||Philip Woodward||Monday, May 31|
|19||Jabroni||Monday, May 31|
|20||Offbeatallstars / Bryan||Tuesday, June 1|
|21||GullD3CardArt- Don Gullicks||Tuesday, June 1|
|22||Tom Paints||Wednesday, June 2|
|23||Optimus Volts||Wednesday, June 2|
|24||JCP Cards||Thursday, June 3|
|25||Charles LaBonge||Friday, June 4|
|26||Biggens Card Art||Friday, June 4|
|27||The Card Carver||Monday, June 7|
|28||MIchael Ellingson||Monday, June 7|
|29||RP Bailey||Tuesday, June 8|
|30||Noah Stokes||Tuesday, June 8|
|31||Mike James||Wednesday, June 9|
|32||Garcia Studios||Wednesday, June 9|
|33||JR_WAVY||Thursday, June 10|
|34||Hit By Pitch Cards||Thursday, June 10|
|35||Eric Kittelberger/Triple Play Design||Friday, June 11|
|36||Baseball’s Greatest Player Playoff||Friday June 11|
|37||Bullies Card Art||Monday, June 14|
|38||Aaron McIsaac||Monday, June 14|
|39||Adam Darowski||Tuesday, June 15|
|40||Kevin Greene||Tuesday, June 15|
|41||Todd Radom||Wednesday, June 16|
|42||Kevin Gust||Wednesday, June 16|
|43||DINK||Thursday, June 17|
|44||Andy Brown||Thursday, June 17|
|45||Joel Hofmann||Friday, June 18|
|46||Jamie Thomas||Friday, June 18|
|47||Adam Korengold||Monday, June 21|
|48||Josh Trout||Monday, June 21|
|49||John Racanelli||Tuesday, June 22|
|50||Gumstick Studios||Tuesday, June 22|
|51||From the Lens of Donna Muscarella||Wednesday, June 23|
|52||Southside Sharpie||Wednesday, June 23|
|53||Scott Hodges||Thursday, June 24|
|54||Roger Nusbaum||Thursday, June 24|
|55||Third Dan Art||Friday, June 25|
|56||Luke the Cardist||Friday, June 25|
|57||Mr. F||Monday, June 28|
|58||Michael Augustine||Monday, June 28|
|59||Seth Ward||Monday, June 28|
|60||Derek Perez||Monday, June 28|
|61||Lost Ballparks/Mike Koser||Tuesday, June 29|
|62||40-Year-Old Versions||Tuesday, June 29|
|63||Blender of Zombie||Tuesday, June 29|
|64||Kevin Espina||Wednesday, June 30|
|65||Slayton Evans||Wednesday, June 30|
|66||Cheng Sue Vang||Wednesday, June 30|
|67||Bad Boys of Summer Card Art||Wednesday, June 30|
|68||McCard||Thursday, July 1|
|69||Mike Gyamfi||Thursday, July 1|
|70||Jeng||Thursday, July 1|
|71||Pixel Hall of Fame||Friday, July 2|
|72||Sergio Santos||Friday, July 2|
|73||JT Rae||Friday, July 2|
|74||Jason Drumheller||Friday, July 2|
|75||Anika Orrock||Friday, July 2|