Man, of all the months to be a week late with this. Shame on me, and sorry for the delay.
About a week from now, it'll be the 64th anniversary of one of the most important events not just in baseball history, but American and, I'd even argue, world history. On April 15th, 1947, Jackie Robinson took the field as a Brooklyn Dodger for the first time. Finally, after decades of segregation and exclusion, an African-American man had an opportunity to not just play a high profile sport in the United States, as greats like Joe Louis and Jesse Owens had done before him, but to be a teammate and even a leader of that team in a way that your average American could really relate to. Timed perfectly, if perhaps accidentally, with the advent of televisions in American homes (where, as opposed to radio, people could see him do these things rather than just hearing about them, which, as superficial as it sounds, was an important distinction in this case), I believe that this made Jackie Robinson one of the most important figures, possibly even the most important, in the history of American civil rights.
Over the years, I've been up to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, New York a good handful of times, so I'm pretty familiar with the museum's layout. There are, admittedly, parts of the museum that I breeze through (some of the pre-World War II displays, particularly the dead ball era stuff, along with Babe Ruth's section if it's too crowded and so forth) and other parts that I pay more attention to. The parts that I focus on can vary, depending on what my baseball interests are at that given point in time. There is, however, one display case, and one item in that display case, that I always spend a few minutes at, just quietly reflecting on it.
This is a death threat letter that Jackie Robinson received during the early part of his career. Yes, people wanted to kill another human being just for having the gall to want to play baseball alongside white players. Really think about that for a minute. I wish I could say for sure that the world's a universally better place than it was when this letter was written, but I'm not always so sure. Don't get me wrong here. Huge, positive strides have been made that can't be ignored or underestimated, but alongside those strides, I do still see this sort of behavior, and behavior similar to it, festering throughout our society. I guess that the best we can all do is to continue to try to make the world that universally better place on whatever scale we can manage.
As for Jackie Robinson the player? I haven't seen a lot of him, truthfully. The only complete game of his that I've ever watched is not one of his or the Dodgers' finest hours. Aside from that, it's been all highlight reels, anecdotes and stats. What I have seen and heard presents Robinson as an electric player who changed the style of play in the majors to a faster-paced, anything-can-happen one, particularly in the National League; a great teammate who did whatever it took to help his team win; a leader by example; and a man with a dignified, yet steadfast and even, at times, defiant (particularly later in his baseball career, when he was allowed to breathe a little) sort of courage. I'm not sure if these descriptions do Jackie Robinson justice, but they're the best that I have.
I don't have a lot of Jackie Robinson's cards, and despite my growing Brooklyn Dodgers collection, I still don't have any of his playing era cards. They're expensive, and deservedly so. The above card is from one of last year's Topps bonus packs that they sold in Target and the like, and it's one of my favorites (along with the Robert Stephen Simon card I posted at the top of this piece) out of the ones I do own. While part of Player Of The Month has to do with me trying to get some cards of my favorite players in trade, I'm not holding my breath this month, and that's fine. I'm happy just to honor Jackie, and to possibly stimulate some further discussion about him and his legacy.
Just the same, as I do every month, I'm extending the following offer: for all of April, if you think of trading with me, think first and foremost about trading your spare Jackie Robinson cards to me. While trading can be an inexact science so your mileage may vary just as mine may, I will consider all Jackie Robinson cards (old, new, whatever) to be worth double of what I would any other stuff I'd get in trades this month. I'll be making this offer for each Player Of The Month. My Jackie Robinson haves are listed below.
Jackie Robinson (8): 10 Topps Best Of Chrome Refractor, 10 Topps Heritage Baseball Thrills, 10 Topps 206, 97-98 Fleer Million Dollar Moments Contest Card, 87 Hygrade All-Time Greats, 86 TCMA Robert Stephen Simon’s Super Star Card Set, 07 Upper Deck Masterpieces