Jun 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Estate of new MLB "GOAT" and Negro League legend eyes licensing deals

Josh Gibson in Grays uniforms.

Josh Gibson of the Negro League Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh in the 1940s. Photos: Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images and Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics via Getty Images

The estate of Negro League legend Josh Gibson is examining new licensing deals after Major League Baseball added once-banned Black players' stats to its official record, making Gibson an all-time leader in some categories.

Why it matters: For more than half a century, the images of former players of the Negro Leagues have been used and exploited, but now families can benefit from a newfound interest in those like Gibson, who changed the game.

State of play: The long overdue changes present new merchandising and corporate opportunities, Ed Schauder, a sports and securities law attorney at Nason Yeager and the Gibson estate's licensing agent, tells Axios.

  • "Now all of a sudden, Josh Gibson is the all-time GOAT (greatest of all time)...he never was afforded that opportunity."
  • Schauder said the family is entertaining all offers, from sneakers to book deals, but they want to make sure those potential deals align with their values.

Context: The Negro Leagues were made up of supremely talented Black and Latino players who were barred from the segregated American and National Leagues.

Catch up quick: MLB announced this week it's adding statistics from the Negro Leagues to MLB's historical record after a years-long debate and review.

  • Gibson, who had a .372 lifetime batting average in the official stats, is now the all-time Major League batting champion, displacing Ty Cobb, who batted .367 from 1905-28, MLB said.
  • Gibson (1.177) also replaces Babe Ruth (1.164) as the all-time leader in OPS — on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. The Negro League legend also dethrones Ruth on slugging percentage, according to MLB.

The intrigue: Gibson played for the Homestead Grays in Pittsburgh and D.C. and was often called "the Black Babe Ruth" for his spectacular home runs. (Black fans called Ruth "the white Josh Gibson.")

  • The Georgia-born slugger was the first player since Oscar Charleston to win consecutive batting Triple Crowns (leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average).
  • He died of a stroke at 35 years old, just weeks before Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history.

Between the lines: Ebony Reed, co-author of "Fifteen Cents on the Dollar: How Americans Made the Black-White Wealth Gap," tells Axios that other families of Negro League players should also consult licensing experts.

  • "For some families, they might look at it as a form of economic reparations. Other families might look at it as, finally, their family member has been recognized and respected."
  • Reed said it's hard to calculate the wealth lost by Negro League players over generations who were likely paid less than white baseball players and had to live amid racial segregation.

What we're watching: Images of Negro League players may be seen soon in corporate advertising with inspirational quotes about perseverance and fighting for recognition.

  • We might see new jerseys, sneakers, and caps since Negro League players have seen an interest from hip-hop artists.

Go deeper: The Negro League players now topping MLB records

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