Earlier this week, Major League Baseball celebrated the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Each year, that remembrance takes me back to my youth and thoughts about prejudice, intolerance and the innocence of childhood.
As a kid growing up in Boston, the Red Sox and Ted Williams were my passion. I knew every player, their stats and their uniform numbers. One of the things I didn’t really notice was that all the members of the team were white. Once my parents gifted me with a transistor radio and I was able to pick up the Dodger broadcasts from Brooklyn, it was easy for the “Bums” to become my favorite National League team. It also opened my thoughts to the society around me because the Dodgers had numerous players of color who had followed Robinson to Brooklyn. The Red Sox were the last team to roster a Black player (Elijah Jerry “Pumpsie” Green) and it happened in 1959, a full 12 years after Robinson’s debut. Tom Yawkey owned the team from 1933 until his passing in 1976 and even today, his legacy is tainted by this lack of inclusion by the franchise.
It was my first real understanding of bigotry and Jackie Robinson’s #42 being worn by all Major Leaguers every April 15th sparks my love of that Dodger team.
In the late 1950’s, a Brooklyn Dodger fan was asked, “If you were in a room with Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley and there were only two bullets in your gun, who would you shoot”? He replied, “I’d shoot O’Malley twice”. Such was the passion of the post-World War II Dodger faithful and the hatred they felt for the man who took their team away.
As immortalized in Roger Kahn’s 1972 book, “The Boys of Summer” and chronicled in the 2007 HBO documentary, “The Ghosts of Flatbush”, the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1947-57 created the modern template of how fans feel about their team. Joy, disappointment, loyalty, reverence, sorrow and elation are just some of the emotions that a true fan feels about baseball and we can never quite explain it properly to someone who has never had the experience.
This visit will combine baseball cards and SABRmetrics, as we’ll find the rookie cards of the legendary members of the Dodgers and also review each one’s contribution to the team through the use of “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR), the statistic developed to determine the true value of a player. The card values are based on cardboard in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition.
> 1B Gil Hodges, 1949 Bowman #100 ($110) – Played his first full season in 1948 and was an All-Star every year from 1949-1955…even had a couple of productive seasons in the late 50’s after the team moved to Los Angeles…his lifetime WAR of 45 isn’t quite Hall of Famer caliber, but he was one of the most beloved players on the team.
> 2B Jackie Robinson, 1948 Leaf #79 ($5,000) – He was already 28 years old by the time he joined the Dodgers and still played ten magical seasons at Ebbets Field, which included six NL pennants. Accumulated an impressive WAR of 61.4 in his relatively short career. As a side note, he was already retired when Pumpsie Green was first in the Red Sox line-up.
> 3B Billy Cox, 1949 Bowman #73 ($25) – The interesting back-story is that Cox was traded to the Dodgers from the Pirates after the ’47 season in a deal that sent Dixie Walker to the Bucs…Walker was one of the players from the South who made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t happy about having a Black teammate…Cox played with the club for eight seasons and retired after the ’55 Championship campaign with a lifetime WAR of 10.
> SS Harold “Pee Wee’ Reese, 1941 Play Ball #54 ($375) – Played for the Dodgers in the early 1940’s before spending three years in the military during the war…came back to be the Captain of the legendary team and was an All-Star for nine consecutive seasons beginning in ’46…inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, he had an impressive lifetime WAR of 66.2.
> OF Jim “Junior” Gilliam, 1953 Topps #258 ($135) – Primarily a 2B, Robinson moved to the OF to accommodate Gilliam’s Rookie of the Year arrival…at Dodger Stadium, his number 19 is retired along with numerous Hall of Famers…a fixture in the line-up for 14 seasons, his lifetime WAR is 40.9.
> OF Duke Snider, 1949 Bowman #226 ($425) – Patrolled centerfield and was invariably compared to his contemporaries Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays…was on every All-Star team for the first 7 years of the 50’s and played for 18 seasons…inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, his lifetime WAR is 66.5.
> OF Carl Furillo, 1949 Bowman #70 ($55) – While not considered a star compared to some teammates, he was an integral part of the team during the 50’s and led the NL in ’53 with a batting average of .344…has a lifetime WAR of 35.
> C Roy Campanella, 1949 Bowman #84 ($300) – “Campy” was the child of an Italian Father and Black Mother, who arrived in the majors the year after Robinson…played only ten seasons before being paralyzed in an off-season automobile accident in 1958, he won 3 NL MVP awards in the 50’s…elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, he accumulated a WAR of 34.2 in his relatively short career.
> P Don Newcombe, 1950 Bowman #23 ($90) – Another star of the Negro Leagues, he broke in with the Dodgers in 1949 and proceeded to win 56 games in his first three seasons…after two years in the military during the Korean War, he came back to win 56 more the next three campaigns and won the MVP & Cy Young awards in ’56…his WAR was 29.5 in ten seasons.
> P Preacher Roe, 1949 Bowman #162 ($65) – Also acquired in the 1948 Dixie Walker trade, he was a mainstay of the Brooklyn rotation from 1948-53 and made four All-Star teams…his 12 seasons produced a lifetime WAR of 35.1.
> P Carl Erskine, 1951 Bowman #260 ($50) – Helped the “Bums” to five pennants during his eight seasons in the rotation including a 20-6 record in ’53…his lifetime WAR is 16.6.
Those 11 cards would sure look nice on a shelf in your den, wouldn’t they? Of course, we’ve saved you some money because even though Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale joined the team while it was still in Brooklyn, their stardom materialized after the move to L.A. Was one of your favorites left off the list? Maybe Andy Pafko, Sandy Amoros, Don Zimmer, Clem Labine, Don Hoak or Ralph Branca? In that case, you’re a real fan.
One of my favorite stops for lunch is salad/soup/sandwich place where you order at the counter, take a spot at a numbered table and wait for a member of the staff to bring your food. I always choose table number 42.