1949-50 Toleteros Hilton Smith SGC 86 NM+7.5
One of the secondary consequences (tragedies, really) of being barred from the big league was that Negro leaguers were also robbed of the distinction of appearing on baseball trading cards in their own country (we wonder why some enterprising businessman in the black community never created Negro league cards back in the day; just imagine what the value of those would be today.) Thus, the importance of their images on the Toleteros cards cannot be overstated, as these are the only such cards with the greatest black players on them -- and were only made, as far as we know, from 1949 to 1951. (There are also some antique Cuban league cards with Negro leaguers out there as well, but the Toleteros cards are superior.) This awesome Hilton Smith card from the 1949-50 Toleteros set depicts the great HOF K.C. Monarchs pitcher who, even in Satchel Paige's shadow became a dominant presence in the Negro leagues. Smith won 20 or more games in all 12 of his seasons with the Monarchs, hurling a no-hitter in '37 and pitching in 6 consecutive East-West Games (striking out 13 in one, equaling Paige's best East-West effort), and winning the '38 game. Smith was said to have compiled records like 25-2, 21-3, 25-1 and 22-5, and reputedly did not lose a Negro league game in '38 and '40. During that time, the Monarchs, who could only count on Paige sporadically, rode Smith's rubber arm to 5 NAL pennants. And he did all of this while being hung with the role of being "Satchel's relief," since he'd come into games after Paige took a 3-inning turn and then split. His lifetime record (though unreliable due to spotty Negro league record-keeping) was said to be 161-32. Bob Feller even said he was better than Paige, something the quiet and unassuming Smith never would have said about himself. At the time of the Toleteros card, Smith had recently retired from the Negro leagues at age 37, but he continued on in the Caribbean, where the money was better than at home. (Though it is possible the Toleteros card was issued commemoratively, as in the manner of the Josh Gibson '50-51 Toleteros card.) Smith would even play for a couple years in a semipro league in New Mexico. In his later years, and at the time of his death in '83, he worked as a scout for the Chicago Cubs. Toleteros card numbered 84 in the set of 216 shows a rather taciturn Smith, cap pushed back on his head and looking off to his right. Cards in this set measured approx. 1 7/8 x 2 1/4" with player name under their picture in upper case letters. On the reverse is the word "Toleteros" in red above the card number and a baseball play (in this case "Hit 1 Base") is intended to be used with a makeshift baseball board game. Under this is "Distribucion gratis" and "Ptd. in U.S.A." Condition of card is a very strong Near Mint+, as attested to by SGC. The card received a grade of a 7.5 solely because the top to bottom centering is not perfect, as a result the card presents much nicer than the technical grade. Rarities like this do not surface often.