Each of us is aware of Jackie Robinson's (1919-1972) impact on and off the diamond. Beyond integrating baseball in 1947-- no small accomplishment indeed--he fought for racial equality during the turbulent times of the 1960's. A little known story to many perhaps, is that while in military service in the mid-1940's he refused to move to the back of an Army bus, after being ordered to do so. That peaceful refusal resulted in his discharge, "honorably", from the Army.
- Honorable Military Discharge, 1944 (top left)
- Negro League, Kansas City Monarchs 1945 (top right)
- Rookie of the Year Pin, 1947 (bottom left)
- Most Valuable Player Award, 1949 (bottom right)
He then proceeded to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, as well as the Dodger minor league system, eventually making his way to the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 as a 28-year old rookie. Oh yes, he won the Rookie of the Year Award that season too, baseball's first such award. That award is now named for him. He also won the 1949 Most Valuable Player Award. Every April 15th Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day with all players wearing his number 42, which is now retired from baseball.
Every year Major League Baseball honors Jackie's #42 on April 15th
Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear #42
Naturally his autograph is in high demand and since he passed away in 1972 at such an early age, just 53 years old, the supply is quite limited. Certainly the demand outweighs the supply. Surprising to some, he actually was an accommodating signer for fans. He readily signed in public, on and off the field, and almost always signed items sent to him through the mail. Seldom do I find a "ghost-signed" Jackie autograph on a flat paper item. He felt the need to satisfy his fans.
Of course by now most serious collectors are aware that many 1940's and 1950's Brooklyn Dodger team baseballs were often signed by a "surrogate", i.e., a clubhouse attendant or bat boy instead of a particular star, such as Jackie or Roy Campanella. Through baseball research we now know that a certain Dodger bat boy, now deceased (1961), signed the vast majority of these baseballs. Although his signatures were close matches to the real deal, one telltale sign of his work is the west panel of a team ball sporting Jackie, Campanella and Carl Erskine, in that order from top to bottom.
(above) 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers Team Signed Ball - Club House Attendant Signed Panel.
(above) Authentic 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers Team Signed Ball. Order of signatures is random as it should.
It must be noted these "clubhouse" signings were done for non-malicious purposes at the time and not intentionally for financial gain. Too many baseballs needed to be signed on a regular weekly basis. Over the years, former Dodger players and executives have told me the Dodger organization expected at least 5 or 6 dozen autographed team baseballs per week. Considering half the games in a season are played on the road and not at home, that is a lot of signings required in a short period of time by each player. And naturally, the more popular a player, the more requests he received through the mail and from other sources. One can only imagine how large Jackie's mailbag looked each day in front of his Ebbets Field locker.
(above) A classic example of Jackie's signature on a team issued postcard, often used for fan mail.
(above) An early Jackie Robinson signed check, dated 1948.
Jackie's Autograph Evolves
Jackie's autograph changed through the years. Generally his handwriting was near-perfect and certainly fully legible. His 1940's early-style was long in length, quite steady and not rushed. Many times in fact he preceded it with the words "Sincerely" or 'Best Wishes" and often personalized it to the recipient. Most of them were signed in fountain pen; ballpoint pens came later in the 1950's
Jackie Robinson Signed Government Postcard, dated 1949. -$2,999.00
An example of a request sent to him through the mail.
As the 1960's approached and election to the Hall of Fame (1962), his autograph became a bit quicker and hurried. The overwhelming demand for it is perhaps the obvious reason, however, Jackie developed diabetes, which slowly began affecting his eyesight. By the mid-to-late 1960's that clearly had an effect on his once-beautiful signature.
(above) Wait Til Next Year (1960), shows a slightly rushed example, but still smooth and bold.
(above) The Boys of Summer, published the year of his death in 1972, fully illustrates how his eyesight was failing at a rapid rate. The content of this note is incredible and something we may never offer for sale!
(above) undated, but based on examples it matches the early - mid 1960's style - slightly rushed, but still beautiful. Graded Mint 9 by PSA/DNA - $2,250.00
The holy grail in sports collecting... the single signed baseball.
For whatever the reason, Jackie didn't sign on the sweetspot of a baseball unless it was team signed. He always signed on a side panel and usually started at the very top which meant the tip of the pen skipped along the seams. I hesitate to say he "never" signed the sweet spot because I remember seeing this one from the early 2000s and to my knowledge it's the only one authenticated by JSA and PSA.
To my knowledge this is the only authentic Jackie Robinson single signed baseball on the sweet spot, dated 1966. (PSA)
Only a limited amount of Jackie Robinson single signed baseball are in existence and they have steadily increased in value. In fact, in the last 10 years prices have doubled from about $12,500 to $25,000. I can remember the live auctions from the 1980's and 90s when I could purchase them for $3,000 or less. Even in the early 2000s I bought several for only $5,000-$7,000.
(above) This Mint 9 Graded single signed Jackie sold for over $100,000 in 2013. And it's on an Official AMERICAN League baseball. Imagine it was from his playing days on an Official NATIONAL League Baseball.
So well documented are the pressures that Jackie Robinson was forced to deal with, given the time and societal circumstances during which he played. However, his brilliance on and off the field could not be ignored. We're certainly glad the baseball purists of the time recognized Jackie's impact, because it allows us to carry on baseball's rich tradition and honor the man who wore #42. It's tough to impress us here at Brigandi's, simply because we've seen so much. But that said, there's still something about Jackie Robinson's flowing signature that gets us excited and takes us back to that Golden Age.
Here's to you, Mr. Robinson.