Jackie Robinson’s original professional baseball contracts with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Montreal Royals which were in a Brooklyn historian’s safe-deposit box until a few years ago, will be up for auction through Goldin Auctions on November 16, 2017. The contracts could become the first eight-figure item ever sold in this hobby.
The Man and a Movement
Jackie Robinson. The name itself has come to embody some of our most valued human characteristics: integrity, self-control, perseverance, determination, selflessness. However, the name also reminds us of humanity’s darker side: bigotry, hatred, discrimination. That is why the forthcoming sale of the contracts Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946 and 1947, represents an aspect of American history that truly transcends sports alone.
The historical significance of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s long, self-imposed “color line” cannot be diminished as a mere eventuality in American history. Rather, Martin Luther King Jr. himself said that the precise moment that Robinson signed those contracts marked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
For Jackie Robinson, he just wanted to play baseball. He didn’t set out on a journey to become the voice against racial discrimination or the poster boy for desegregation in baseball. He just wanted to play the game. He shared that enthusiasm and passion for America’s pastime with hundreds, maybe thousands of other players of color of that, since the game’s inception, had been denied the right to play the game at the highest level.
Racial Segregation and Baseball
Baseball fans can only imagine what might have been of the sport during its growing popularity throughout the 1920s-1940s. Discrimination robbed baseball history of the opportunity to see the game’s absolute best compete against each other head-to-head. Instead we are left to wonder what a showdown between Babe Ruth and Satchell Paige in his prime might have looked like, or Josh Gibson staring down Lefty Grove.
However, thanks to the courage and moral fortitude of Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey, Major League Baseball found its saving gracing in the summer of 1947. The previous year, Rickey had signed Robinson to a contract to play for the Montreal Royals, one of the Dodgers minor league affiliates. Even that signing was unprecedented in baseball.
The history of baseball’s color line dates to nearly the time of the game’s founding. Although at the outset, there was no written policy in place. The practice was instead enforced by, to use the term loosely, a gentlemen’s agreement. However, a high-class minor league’s vote in 1887 against allowing new contracts with black players within its league eventually led to the disappearance of blacks from all professional ranks later that century.
After the line was virtually in full effect in the early 20th century, it was at that time that many black baseball clubs were established. This was especially true during the 1920s to 1940s when there were several professional Negro Leagues. At the time, few could know that it would be from these Negro League ranks that the pioneers of racial change in Major League Baseball would emerge.
The Documents, Historical Treasure
Despite the importance of those long ago signed contracts to baseball and American history, they have remained locked away in a Brooklyn historian’s safety deposit back until a few years ago. However, they are now going to be sold through Goldin Auctions. The company happens to also be the auction house of record for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.