The Dearth of American Negro League Cards

Like many vintage collectors of a certain age, the Jackie Robinson story was one of the first I encountered when I started to learn more about baseball history (around age 10). I had the relative privilege of being mostly shielded from racism, and admittedly there was very little racial diversity in my rural small-town upbringing. So I remember not understanding at all why players would be discriminated against merely because of the color of their skin. I was a “cardhound” even at that age, and having heard of separate Negro Leagues, I bothered dealers at the local monthly show, asking whether there were any true Negro Leaguer cards. I remember seeing some Laughlin “Old Time Black Stars” and being unimpressed–and the old dealers reported, pretty accurately for the time, that there were really no true playing days Negro Leaguer cards. Winter league cards had not been widely cataloged yet, and White-owned American companies certainly were not going to make Negro League cards. Surprisingly, the local Black economies–which often thrived around their teams–did not follow their MLB counterparts by manufacturing cards.

Cuban Winter League Cards

It was not until I was well into adulthood that I stumbled upon Cuban and other Caribbean winter league cards. Cuban professional baseball was established not long after early American pro leagues, and the Cuban fans were no less passionate about the game, or collecting. American players of all races often flocked to leagues south of the border (as they still do), either to hone their skills for hopeful MLB careers, if white or light skinned enough to pass as such, or, for Black American players, as a way to supplement low Negro League wages. (Similarly, Afro-Cuban stars like Dihigo and Miñoso played American Negro Leagues during their “off season.”) By many accounts, Black American players loved playing outside of the United States. In addition to the world-class competition, players were free to eat, lodge, and socialize anywhere they chose, without forced segregation or fear of racial violence or hatred. Fortunately for history and for collectors, all kinds of cards were issued with candy and cigars, just like in the U.S.

I was working on a Miñoso Topps / Bowman run when I happened to stumble upon his 1946-47 Deportivo card. It had been folded in half and the text on the back was barely visible, but suddenly my Brooks Robinson rookie budget was shot–and I was hooked on Cuban cards (though I did find a nice Brooks rc a couple of years later).

The 1945-46 Caramelo Deportivo Album

The hunt for the 45-46 Miñoso was on, and I managed to locate not just an Orestes, but an entire album of cards. Well, 99 out of 100 anyway, the missing card being a rather famous and rare redemption card of Napoleon Reyes. I’m still hunting for a deal on this one! The cards were pasted into their original album as intended, and after lots of study, hand-wringing, and consulting with experts in both Cuban cards and paper preservation, I made the decision to try careful removal. This process, both risky and rewarding, is a topic for another day. While I have upgraded the set in small pieces since then, most of that original set is still intact. Until I see a nicer one I will proclaim it “one of the nicest sets in existence,” with many cards as highest graded with SGC, or very close to it. It is the centerpiece of my modest collection for sure.

The Hall of Famers

There are many Cuban Hall of Famers in the set, but most of the value other than the redemption card lies in the cards of the Hall of Famers who are enshrined in Cooperstown, all of whom starred in American Negro Leagues. In order of appearance in the set, they are Ray Dandridge, Orestes (later “Minnie”) Miñoso, Raymond Brown, and one of the GOAT candidates, Martín Dihigo. These cards are somewhat affordable in low grades, but are rare and valuable as they approach even VG condition. Since the cards that survived were mostly pasted into albums, back damage is the norm, and the stock is paper thin, so creases are common.

The 1945-46 Caramelo Deportivo Checklist

The complete checklist features 100 cards including the Reyes redemption card. Collectors received the card by taking their otherwise-complete album back to the store. It is a great entry point into Negro League collecting because you can get cards of truly great players (Ramon Bragaña, Lazaro Salazar) for under $100, and the cards of many other solid Negro League vets (names like (ex. Lloyd Davenport, Terris McDuffie) can be found for $50 or less in lower grade. There are Cuban stars who also played MLB (ex. Dolph Luque), Black players with brief MLB stints (ex. Hector Rodriguez), and white American players (ex. Sal Maglie). In short, there’s something for any collector to enjoy at any price point. If you are considering expanding your collection in the the Negro Leagues, the 1945-46 Caramelo Deportivo is a great place to start your hunt. You can often find singles on eBay, but for a good lot or the elusive album, you’ll need to follow the big auction houses, Cuban-specific auctions, or join specialty groups like the one I run on Facebook (shameless plug!).

  1. Introduction Card
  2. Action Scene
  3. Maestri
  4. Rodriguez
  5. Magrinat
  6. Conde
  7. Marianao Banner
  8. Marsans
  9. Fernandez
  10. J. Colas
  11. Orta
  12. Serrel
  13. Duany
  14. Castanos
  15. Arteaga
  16. Valdivia
  17. Cabrera
  18. Salazar
  19. Moreno
  20. Ortiz
  21. Knerr
  22. Campos
  23. Adams
  24. Consuegra
  25. Ray Dandridge
  26. McDaniels
  27. OrestesMiñoso
  28. Parra
  29. Estalella
  30. Raymond Brown
  31. Havana Banner
  32. Gonzalez
  33. Rojo
  34. H. Blanco
  35. Formental
  36. Monteagudo
  37. C. Blanco
  38. Hernandez
  39. Linares
  40. Ordenana
  41. Jiminez
  42. Kaiser
  43. Garcia
  44. Hernandez
  45. Klein
  46. Hidalgo
  47. Sisler
  48. Rebel
  49. Navarro
  50. Medina
  51. McDuffie
  52. Martin
  53. Acosta
  54. Cienfuegos Banner
  55. Luque
  56. Ramos
  57. Perez
  58. Rodriguez
  59. Crespo
  60. Gladu
  61. Pages
  62. Garcia
  63. C. Colas
  64. Maglie
  65. Martín Dihigo
  66. Tiant Sr.
  67. Roy
  68. Roger
  69. Zabala
  70. Gallart
  71. Zardon
  72. Berres
  73. Reyes
  74. Gomez
  75. Xiques
  76. Almendares Banner
  77. Coreiro
  78. Portuondo
  79. Roque
  80. Arago
  81. Torres
  82. Ortiz
  83. Rodriguez
  84. Clark
  85. Guerra
  86. Comellas
  87. Otero
  88. de la Cruz
  89. Diaz
  90. Aloma
  91. Davenport
  92. Mayor
  93. Bragaña
  94. Canizares
  95. Ulrich
  96. Avila
  97. Amaro
  98. Fleitas
  99. Martinez
  100. Montero