Every fan wants to own part of their obsession. Star Wars fans want everything from shirts to full on costumes. Baseball fans are no different. Every die hard baseball fan wants to own a piece of the game. You collect a piece here and there, and over time it grows into a small collection. Few people can rival the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it does not mean we should not have our own version of Cooperstown.
This painting of Buck Leonard was a gift from my wife. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I am under no illusion that my baseball collection of is vast, or even valuable. The value is the joy I get every time I walk through my baseball room. Every piece is a tiny part of baseball history and my own history. It is a reminder of my love for the game and what I have done in life. A wall can turn into two walls, then a room, and then hopefully into something even greater.
My baseball wall. It is small, but growing a little every year. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
My centerpiece is a signed Andruw Jones jersey my wife bought me. He is my all time favorite player. Jesse met Andruw Jones and Otis Nixon and had them sign a baseball for me. My other signed memorabilia has been collected through winning charity auctions; this includes signed baseballs by Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto, and Johnny Cueto. My wife bought me a signed Craig Breslow baseball. Our first real trip together was to Boston and a game at Fenway, Breslow was the winning pitcher that day for the Red Sox. I won cleats signed by Kal Daniels and a signed photographs of Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco from charity auctions. My wife found the program from Johnny Bench night at Riverfront Stadium at a thrift store for me. I have the program from the 2016 South Atlantic League All Star game, which I attended in Lexington, Kentucky with my sister-in-law. I have a score card from a game I attended in Houston after a friends wedding. The Astros defeated the Blue Jays that day with the roof closed while it monsooned outside. I have a Dodgers cup and a Pirates plastic nacho helmet from attending games with friends and family. I have a Moneyball movie poster and a poster of all the professional baseball team names broken down by category. I have a reprint of a Norman Rockwell painting and a painting of Buck Leonard as a member of the Homestead Grays. These pieces of art have been given to me as gifts along the way. I have a Louisville Slugger signed by my friends and family from our wedding shower. My lamp is filled with baseballs signed by friends and family from our wedding.
Devin Mesoraco no longer plays for the Reds, but this photograph is still striking. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Some of my collection has actual monetary value, however small. However, much of my collection is important for sentimental reasons. All of it helps to create my personal version of Cooperstown. I love it and I know it will continue to grow a little every year as I experience new things in life and my love for the game grows.
Jackie Robinson was not the best or most accomplished player in the Negro Leagues when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was however, the man Branch Rickey felt could withstand the abuse the first African-American player would face when he stepped on a major League diamond. The players’ temperament and self-control were nearly as important as talent for Rickey. African-American players faced abuse wherever they traveled to play their games. The individual and collective hell they went through to play the game they love has fortunately become less of a reality in the decades since Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs. Racism, intolerance, and ignorance are not confined to the past however, but they are no longer held by the overwhelming majority.
The 1945 season was Jackie Robinson’s only season in the Negro Leagues. He played 47 games for the Kansas City Monarchs. During his lone season with the Monarchs. Robinson had 58 AB, 24 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, scored 12 runs, stole 2 bases, had 5 walk, .414 BA, .460 OBP, .569 SLG, and 1.029 OPS. Good but not great numbers for the small sample size we have available. Robinson’s statistics are incomplete; this problem exists throughout the records of the Negro Leagues. Robinson played shortstop for the Monarchs, but the statistics for his defensive play are murky and his offensive statistics are incomplete. This lack of extensive record keeping unfortunately prevents later generations from properly appreciating the greatness of the men who played in the Negro Leagues. During a time when those involved with the Negro Leagues were simply trying to make a living and survive, it is not surprising that the statistical record keeping was not a top priority. It is a sad, but understandable reality.
The Kansas City Monarchs finished fourth in the Negro American League standings in 1945. The Monarchs finished behind the Cleveland Buckeyes, the Birmingham Black Barons, the Chicago American Giants, and ahead of the Cincinnati Clowns and the Memphis Red Sox. The Cleveland Buckeyes went on to win the Negro World Series against the Washington Homestead Grays. The 1945 Monarchs featured two future Major League pitchers in Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith. The rigors of the baseball season, though shorter than the Major League season, helped to prepare Robinson for life with the Dodgers. Long bus rides, having to deal with racism on the road at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and a million other places along the way were part of being a player in the Negro Leagues. This was his first taste of professional baseball, both the good and the bad.
Jackie Robinson was just one of numerous players in the Negro Leagues who had the talent to play in the Major Leagues. Some did eventually follow Robinson to the Majors, but far too many never had the chance to show their abilities to the entire baseball world. The celebration and admiration bestowed upon Jackie Robinson since 1947 are unquestionably deserved. Robinson’s success was the beginning of the end for the Negro Leagues. Less than 20 years after Robinson joined the Dodgers in Brooklyn the Negro Leagues were gone. The Negro Leagues were the home of beautiful baseball, colorful characters, and plenty of fun. The existence of the Negro Leagues was, and will remain, a national disgrace, as it put racism, ignorance, and intolerance on full display. African-American players used the Negro Leagues as their only means to play the game they loved, due to the barrier Major League Baseball had erected to prevent them from playing in its league. Jackie Robinson broke through the barrier and survived the gauntlet to integrate the Major Leagues and to close the Negro Leagues. The injustice of segregation began to crack and would soon crumble. Jackie Robinson helped to lead the charge in baseball that would see the best players in the world play in only one league, the Major Leagues.