Rare Jackie Robinson Contracts Get National Tour, Deserve Permanent Home

 

You try to hold it, but your hands are shaking.

You try to see it, but your eyes are misty.

It’s the original Jackie Robinson contracts, the minor-league one signed in 1945 with the Montreal Royals, and of course, the April 11, 1947 contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

These are believed to be Robinson’s personal copies.

They are baseball’s version of the Emancipation Proclamation, says Mykalai Kontilai, CEO of Collectors Cafe, which purchased the contracts two years ago.

The value of the contracts is said to be $36 million, a few million more than what Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw earns this year, but really, you can’t put a value on history.

“These are the founding documents of the Civil Rights movement,’’ Kontilai said.

Indeed, when talk-show host Larry King once interviewed Martin Luther King Jr., he introduced him as the founder of the civil rights movement.

“No,’’ King told him, “Jackie Robinson is the founder of the civil rights movement.’’

Robinson not only broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, but paved the way for integration away from the ballfield, refusing to sit in the back of the bus years before Rosa Parks came along.

King, a lifelong Dodger fan who attended Robinson’s historic debut and still has season tickets, says his favorite story involving Robinson was when he once interviewed Enos Slaughter, who called Robinson the toughest player he ever competed against in his career.

“He told me,’’ King said, “’I stepped on his ankle at first base that first year, and got a little blood on his foot.’ He didn’t say a word.

“Two years later, I’m sliding into second base, Robinson put his knee down, and knocked three of my teeth out.’

“Robinson just said, “I don’t forget.’’’

Robinson’s contracts have traveled recently to U.S. Cellular and Wrigley Field in Chicago, Marlins Park in Miami and Busch Stadium in St. Louis, with more stops planned.

Players get emotional holding the framed contracts. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson’s eyes moistened when he took a picture with them. Cubs president Theo Epstein, whose mother grew up in Brooklyn, put his palm on the case, according to Kontilai, saying, “This could break the curse.’’

“From a historian perspective,’’ Kontilai said, “the reason they’re valued at so much money is not from the baseball angle, but because they are freedom documents. Jackie Robinson was a pioneering freedom fighter. And to have the founding documents of the civil rights moment fall into your hands, and then to share them with America, is truly amazing.

“It’s an awesome responsibility to own these, but to be quite honest, the sooner we can get these into the hands of a museum, or the Hall of Fame, the better.’’

They’ve been in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and the New York Historical Society. They have been viewed by a representative of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

The stunning aspect of these pieces are actually that they were never uncovered until a few years ago. They were tucked into a Brooklyn historian’s safe-deposit box for more than 60 years. When he died, they were sold to a New York collector of sports documents. And now, they’re in Kontilai’s hands.

There’s not another known authenticated copy of the contracts, with the Dodgers saying they no longer have a copy, either.

“We always felt like temporary custodians,’’ Kontilai said. “We never had the intention of being the long-term owners.’’

These documents, which have been authenticated by expert John Reznikoff, really belong to the American public, and deserve a permanent home.

They should be at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in New York or with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, or the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City.

Just somewhere where generation after generation can forever view them, celebrating Robinson’s legacy.

By Bob Nightengale

 This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today.

 

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