Lot 980: ALS, one page, 7.25 x 10.5, personal letterhead, no date but docketed in pencil October 24, 1955. Letter to sportswriter Roger Birtwell. In full: "From the few times I have had the pleasure of meeting you comes a great deal of respect. I sincerely mean it when I say you are certainly a credit to your profession. Being in sports and seeing sports writers every day as we do we have the chance to meet all types and I just want you to know I have the greatest respect for you and certainly as much as any of the many writers I know. I just wanted you to know that because I'll never forget the experience in Boston and what you did. Thanks for the wonderful article I do appreciate that also but not nearly as much as the other nice things I have found you to do and say." Light overall toning, a few creases, and two tiny chips to the right edge, otherwise fine condition. Accompanied by a full letter of authenticity from JSA.
Though the specifics of what Birtwell did—whether it be action or article—seem to have been lost to history, Robinson had an unusual relationship with the city of Boston. Under the threatening encouragement of the press and a local councilman, the Red Sox actually became the first Major League team to hold a tryout for black baseball players. On April 16, 1945, Red Sox management observed Negro League standouts Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams in action at Fenway Park, where they all performed admirably. Still, the players never heard back from the club. In his autobiography, Robinson recalled the day as a humiliating charade, writing, 'Not for one minute did we believe that the trial was sincere.' The Red Sox organization was infamous for its unspoken institutionalized racism under Tom Yawkey's ownership, and Robinson was proved correct in his appraisal—it took the Red Sox until 1959, well over a decade after the integration of the game, to admit a black player to the roster. Birtwell, for his part, certainly advocated integration. In July 1947, shortly after Robinson's debut, the Red Sox met the St. Louis Browns—who had just called up black ballplayers Willard Brown and Hank Thompson—at Fenway Park. Birtwell dedicated his preview of the series entirely to the two former Negro League All-Stars to mark the historic occasion. Five years later, the NAACP magazine The Crisis recognized one of Birtwell's contributions to The Sporting News, in which he observed that no team who had a black player in their everyday lineup had finished lower than fourth in either eight-team league. A scarce and exceedingly desirable handwritten letter from Robinson's playing days offering his interesting perspective on sports journalism.
RR Auction's Fine Autographs and Artifacts Auction 453
Sunday, 17th May 2015
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