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Meet Micah Johnson, The Former Birmingham Baron, Who Designed Negro Leagues Trading Cards

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Michah Johnson is the artist who brought authenticity to a set of trading cards being released by Topps in honor of the 2024 MLB at Rickwood Negro Leagues Collection. (TOPPS.COM)

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Micah Johnson is a man of many talents.

Even though Johnson racked up a couple of strong years in the majors and was the MVP of the 2013 Birmingham Barons Southern League Championship Series, it was his second chapter in the world of art that brought him the most peace. And while he has been doing work with the paintbrush for years, a whole new audience is starting to appreciate Johnson’s work.

Indeed, being tapped with the task of bringing authentic history to life while providing your own spin may be daunting to some, but Johnson was up to the challenge. To quote Booker T. Washington, “Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way,” Johnson wanted to bring that to a set of trading cards being released by Topps in honor of the 2024 MLB at Rickwood Negro Leagues Collection.

“I just went into work mode,” said Johnson on a recent Black Baseball Mixtape podcast appearance. “There’s a few opportunities in this life where you got to capitalize on… and I saw this as one of those opportunities. And so, for the next three weeks, I worked around the clock.”

The set, which features Negro Leagues legends Josh Gibson, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Willie Mays, is going to be on full display next week at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama where FOX network and Major League Baseball is having a tribute to the Negro Leagues with a special regular season game between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Leading to the event, special oversized 24 foot tall versions of the cards are traveling to different cities and ballparks, bringing a whole new definition to “enlarged to show detail.”

The original artwork was completed by Johnson with charcoal on canvas.

“One of the first things we thought of as far as who should we connect with on this is Micah Johnson,” says Michael Linkens, Director of Product & Creative at the Topps Company. “As a former MLB player turned artist, he’s been on my radar for a while … I’ve been looking at him as somebody who does really cool work that is affecting culture. So this was just a slam dunk opportunity to connect with him and to collaborate.”

However, if you ask Johnson, he’d tell you the project has been a labor of love from the start.

“In a lot of ways, it was the perfect project,” he said. “It taught me a lot. I did a lot of research going into it on each player because I really [wanted] to understand the magnitude of this project I was working on. And I went through a lot of iterations leading into this before I actually completed one. Just destroying canvases trying to get it right.”

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Updated at 1:24 a.m. on 6/13/2024 to include additional information on Johnson.