If something needs to be warmed up and you punch “42” seconds into the key pad of your microwave, you just might be a real baseball fan. A few weeks ago, MLB celebrated the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on April 15th, 1947. Every player on every team wore #42 to pay homage to Jackie and all he accomplished…both on the field and in our society.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine made herself a bet that I would be able to identify three people in a grainy, old, black & white photograph that she sent attached to an e-mail. My response was to tell her that the photo was probably taken in Vero Beach, Florida during the early-to-mid 50’s and the three men made up the broadcasting crew for the Brooklyn Dodgers…Red Barber, Connie Desmond and a very young Vin Scully. Growing up in Boston, I never had the chance to see Jackie Robinson and the other “Boys of Summer” play, but thanks to a wonderful new contraption called a transistor radio, the evening broadcasts of the Dodgers magically could be heard 200+ miles away in the suburbs of Boston. At the time, this young boy certainly didn’t understand the significance of Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments, especially considering the Red Sox were the last team to have a “colored” player a full 12 years after the Dodgers broke the color barrier. Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Red Sox for decades, never really addressed the issue but was quoted as saying that he didn’t have any feelings against black ballplayers himself and, in fact, employed many blacks on his estate in South Carolina. Wonder how that would play today?
In 2013, he movie “42” about Jackie Robinson’s journey through baseball in the 1940’s was #1 at the box office and that’s a wonderful testament to the man and his legacy. It was also great for baseball and a unique opportunity for young people to see how something historic played out on the stage of sports. Once you’ve seen the film, take the time to find “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950) and look through the prism of over 65 years as you watch Jackie portray himself in what is almost a documentary. What the movie lacks in production values, it makes up for by giving you a glimpse into the actual hero.
There were over 40 baseball cards of Jackie Robinson during his ten-year MLB career, but many of them are from obscure sets produced as a premium with retail products. Included in that category is a set of cards from Bond Bread in 1947 and one from Old Gold Cigarettes in 1948. For purposes of our nostalgic trek today, we’ll concentrate on the cards that were available to the general public as standard issues. The values are based on a card in “Excellent” (EX 5) condition.
> 1948 Leaf #79 ($5,500) – Considered by many collectors as his real rookie card, this issue is very difficult to find in decent condition. It followed Jackie’s Rookie-of-the-Year season of 1947, when he batted .297, scored 125 Runs and led the NL with 29 Stolen Bases.
> 1949 Bowman #50 ($1,400) – The 1948 campaign was even better for the Dodger great with a .296 BA, 108 Runs, 85 RBI’s & 22 SB’s.
> 1950 Bowman #22 ($750) – The 1949 season was the epitome of Robinson’s career from a purely statistical perspective. In his prime at age 30, he captured the NL MVP Award with a .342 BA, 16 HR’s, 124 RBI’s, 122 Runs & a league-leading 37 SB’s. What would you pay at your Fantasy Baseball Draft for those numbers?
> 1952 Topps #312 ($2,650) – This beautiful card from the iconic set is in great demand by collectors. Jackie had continued his assault on NL Pitchers with two more All-Star seasons in 1950 & ’51 hitting .328 & .338.
> 1953 Topps #1 ($425) – As with all early card sets, the #1 card was susceptible to damage due to rubber bands holding collections together. This issue followed another All-Star campaign for #42 in 1952, as he led the NL with a .440 On-Base Percentage.
> 1954 Topps #10 ($175) – Even at age 34 in 1953, there was no hint of a decline with 95 RBI’s, 30 SB’s and a .329 BA.
> 1955 Topps #50 ($185) – The 1954 stats on the back of this card highlight the last All-Star caliber season of Robinson’s career, as he hit .311 with a .918 OPS despite battling some nagging injuries and being limited to 386 AB’s.
> 1956 Topps #30 ($135) – The final card in this classic collection, it was issued following the Dodger’s magical 1955 season when they finally beat the Yankees in a 7-game World Series and brought the championship back to Brooklyn. While Jackie’s stats were declining at age 36, he was still the emotional leader of this great team.
Robinson retired after the ’56 season and as was Topps policy in those days, no 1957 card was issued as he was no longer an active player. Needless to say, the accomplishments of this heroic man transcend statistics, but just to help fans understand his greatness on the field, consider the following…
* In his ten seasons, the Dodgers won six NL Pennants
* He was named to six All-Star teams
* Was both the Rookie-of-the-Year and a league MVP
* Career .311 BA, .409 OBP & .883 OPS
* Played 1B, 2B, 3B & OF and even one game at SS
* In ten seasons, had 740 Walks and only 291 Strikeouts
Well, it’s time to pop something in the microwave, thanks for joining me in the baseball time machine.