Jackie Robinson $591K Baseball Cap Breaks Babe Ruth Auction Record – Forbes
Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, seldom lost any baseball contests. But at 1:43 AM this morning his cap was no longer the most valuable in the sports memorabilia world. Jackie Robinson’s special cap to protect him from beanings sold for $590,994 in a Lelands auction.
Also in the Lelands auction, Jackie Robinson’s final warmup jacket from 1956 changed hands for $159,441.60. He gave the jacket to a tenant in the same Brooklyn building where they lived after one of his relatives was involved in a fatal car crash. The recipient was the consignor’s godfather.
“One of the true Holy Grails of the sports collecting hobby, the cap has had only two owners since the Robinson Family,” said Lelands. Made before the advent of batting helmets, the custom wool cap that he wore in his rookie year, 1947, and in the following season shielded him from violent opponents.
The lot included a letter from his wife, Rachel Robinson, stating that “the cap has three protective plates sewn inside the lining to protect his head from beanings.” Jackie Robinson was, of course, the first black to break the so-called color line in 1947.
In the racially-charged era of segregation when “separate” was deemed “equal,” Robinson joined the Dodgers. At the ballpark, head hunters on opposing pitching staffs posed a mortal threat.
“Baseball fans and players reacted to Robinson with everything from unbridled enthusiasm evident in newspaper headlines, to wariness and open hostility expressed in beanball pitches and death threats,” says the Library of Congress.
“Jackie Robinson gave his life for something great; heroes do,” wrote NPR’s Scott Simon in his book Jackie Robinson and The Integration of Baseball. “He chose to bear the daily, bloody trial of standing up to beanballs and cleats launched into his shins, chest, and chin, and the race-baiting taunts raining down from the stands, along with trash, tomatoes, rocks, watermelon slices, and Sambo dolls. And then he performed with eloquent achievement and superlative poise.”
Robinson even had to wear his special cap while running the bases. “One reserve player for the Pirates reported that infielders received an automatic fine if they didn’t try to bean Robinson on a double play,” according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Robinson’s remarkable self-restraint during his rookie year is the stuff of legend. He and the Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey had a pivotal conversation before Robinson’s signing. “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” Rickey famously said.
Robinson won Rookie of the Year in his first season, batting .297 with 12 homers and 29 stolen bases. Two years later he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player en route to the Hall of Fame.
“After a few seasons of playing well while tolerating racial insults, Robinson stepped up his playing style and spoke out often,” the Library of Congress adds. “He stirred controversy by protesting — umpires’ calls, hotels that refused to let him stay with his teammates, and teams that refused to hire black players.”
In 1952 while overseeing the Pirates, Rickey invented the batting helmet, obviating the need for Robinson to continue wearing his necessary, short-lived invention. But Robinson still remained in danger. In a 1961 Sports Illustrated article titled “Baseball’s Secret Weapon: Terror,” Roger Kahn–who covered the Brooklyn Dodgers and immortalized them in his classic Boys of Summer–recalled that one of Robinson’s hard-shelled batting helmets was actually “fractured” from an explosive pitch.
This is a banner season for historic Jackie Robinson memorabilia. Heritage Auctions is selling a Robinson jersey from his 1947 rookie season, It has already reached $1,270,000.00. Meanwhile, Goldin Auctions is offering Robinson’s first and historic professional contracts from the 1945 Montreal Royals and 1947 Dodgers.
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