Here is a podcast I did on the New Books Network with Bruce Berglund, author of The Fastest Game in the World.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about 2021 Topps Luminaries, a very high-end product that is coming out in August:
Hands down, the 1972 Topps baseball set was the coolest group of baseball cards during the 1970s. The cards had that psychedelic look with bold team names, occasional action shots and throwbacks like Boyhood Photos of the Stars. The “In Action” cards also had a nice baseball brain teaser, “So You’re a Baseball Expert,” which tested your knowledge about the rules of the game.
Now, trying to get a box of Topps 2021 Heritage, which pays tribute to that 1972 set, can be a bit of a challenge unless you want to buy the cards online. As a traditionalist, I enjoy going to stores and buying blaster boxes and packs.
Tradition is going out the window.
I went to my local Target store Friday morning, shortly after 8 a.m., since the sign where the cards would normally be advised customers that the products would be only available at that time on a come-first basis. Customers would be allowed to buy three items from any set.
I get to the store and check in and found that I was No. 24 on the virtual list (Say Hey, Willie Mays would have been proud). The Target guys took my phone number and promised a text when it was my turn.
I wondered if there would be any product left. When I walked in, some guy had a shopping cart and was loading it with baseball cards, basketball cards and even Pokémon cards.
So I did some shopping while I waited. Came back a few minutes later and checked to see if there were any nine-pocket sleeves. None to be had. The associate asks me if I had checked in and I nodded. Told him what I was looking for, and then he said, “Well, you can’t stay around here. You need to get out of here.”
Hmm. Good customer service relations, and since I was shopping for other items, I walked away. I don’t envy the Target associates having to deal with a bunch of collectors — and from the looks of it — a bunch of speculators who were going to flip whatever they bought on eBay.
So the associates get a pass. That’s because for the most part, they were friendly.
After 35 minutes, I got a text notifying me that it was my turn.
Normally, I would have bought maybe a blaster or two. But because of the wait, I bought three Target Mega Boxes of 2021 Heritage at $39.99 apiece.
The difference in my case is that I don’t flip product. Oh, as a kid during the mid-1960s I flipped cards against the wall and stunk at it. Anyway, I enjoy the Heritage product, so I was glad there was still some left.
On to my review.
I was 14 when 1972 Topps cards were released in the spring of ’72. They were magical then, and the 2021 set captures that same excitement.
There are 500 cards in a set, with the last 100 cards (Nos. 401 to 500) considered short prints. Interestingly, Topps did not include card No. 216 — Cavan Biggio — in this set, promising that it will be inserted into the Topps Heritage high number set that will be released in November.
On Twitter, Topps said a production error caused the omission but did not elaborate. The production of Biggio’s mini parallel and French variation cards were not affected, however. They can be found in the regular Heritage set.
The statement is worded beautifully: “It has come to our attention,” Topps begins. Not sure of the reasoning behind the omission, but “production error” is an eyebrow raiser.
I must be getting too skeptical in my old age.
This year’s set has plenty of variations — 91 of them. I didn’t find any this time, other than a French variation card of Kolten Wong. Some of the players have as many as four variations, including action, error, reverse team name color swap and missing stars on the card front.
The Heritage Mega Box sold at Target contains 17 packs, with nine cards to a pack. I pulled 289 base cards and 17 short prints from all three boxes. The first box had 138 base cards and seven SPs, which was nice. The other two boxes had five short prints each, which is an average amount.
The second box trimmed 115 base cards and five SPs. There were 26 doubles. By the third box — and this was expected — the duplicates far outnumbered the base. I had 35 base cards, five short prints and 105 doubles. That’s OK; the dupes will find homes.
The Target Mega Boxes had red border parallels, and I pulled three from each. I also had a red border chrome card of Paul Goldschmidt.
Speaking of chrome cards, I found two among the packs I opened. One was of Mike Yastrzemski, numbered to 572. The other featured Mike Trout and was numbered to 999.
Other parallels included mini cards, also set in the 1972 design. I found seven minis, and some of them were goodies — Harmon Killebrew and Johnny Bench from the past, and Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuna Jr., Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo and Casey Mize from the present.
The Mega Boxes did not yield a large number of inserts, but there was a good representation.
Heritage collectors are familiar with Then and Now and New Age Performer cards. The boxes I opened had Then and Now cards of Hank Aaron and Marcell Ozuna, Dick Allen and Luke Voit, and Gaylord Perry and Shane Bieber.
Each box contained a New Age Performer card, so I pulled Bieber, Brandon Lowe and Jo Adell. Paying tribute to current events and sports from 49 years ago, the Flashbacks 1972 cards I pulled were “Atari Releases Pong” (does anyone recall how that seemed so innovative at the time?), the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and Aaron hitting a home run in the All-Star Game.
In a nice tribute, The Great One honors the career of Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente. Fittingly, the subset has 21 cards, matching his uniform number.
Clemente was an iconic player and a humanitarian, and his charitable deeds cost him his life. On Dec. 31, 1972, he died in a plane crash shortly after takeoff from Puerto Rico while helping deliver relief to earthquake-ravaged Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
Topps Heritage is always worth the wait. Even if one has to “stand” in a virtual line. It’s filled with nostalgia, and Topps stays true to the design. And the 1972 Topps set had few peers in terms of design. Oh, 1975 comes close, but there was something magical about the ’72 set.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about Mile High Card Company's latest auction:
Tom Petty sang it: “Even the losers keep a little bit of pride.”
Nobody really remembers second place. That quote and its variants have been uttered by Walter Hagen, Bobby Unser, “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz and even John Cena.
But the 1986 Boston Red Sox lost an epic World Series and are still remembered for coming one pitch away from winning it all. And while they lost, that squad from Boston kept its pride. The team went from the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series to winning the pennant and going seven games in the World Series. In a two-week span, the Red Sox experienced ecstasy and agony.
But life goes on, and there is more to life than losing. And that is what Erik Sherman captures so well in his latest book, Two Sides of Glory: The 1986 Boston Red Sox in Their Own Words (University of Nebraska Press; hardback; $29.95; 253 pages).
Sherman has written about the 1986 season before, but from the perspective of the New York Mets. He wrote 2016’s Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets, and co-wrote Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets with Mookie Wilson. He also collaborated with Davey Johnson for the former Mets’ manager’s 2018 autobiography, Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond. Sherman co-wrote another warm book of recollections, After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the 1969 Mets with former outfielder Art Shamsky.
How ironic that a guy who attended Emerson College in Boston had not written about one of the greatest “what if” teams of all time — the 1986 Red Sox — until now. But it is worth the wait.
The Red Sox have won four World Series titles in the 21st century, so it is easier to look back.
Sherman presents a poignant look at the main players from that 1986 team, writing in a conversational way so readers feel like they are sitting in on the discussion. The Sox lost that best-of-seven series 35 years ago, but the memories remain fresh by the men who lived it.
As Sherman writes in his introduction, he wanted to capture “the team’s very soul.”
Sherman interviews a wide swath of players, including Bill Buckner, Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Calvin Schiraldi, Bruce Hurst, Bob Stanley, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans and more.
Fittingly, Sherman opens the book by interviewing Buckner, the first baseman whose error in Game 6 capped an unlikely rally by the Mets. Buckner’s error did not lose the Series—the game was tied when Wilson hit the slow roller in the 10th inning — but he wore the goat horns and was the symbol of Beantown frustration.
Sherman calls his talk with Buckner, who died on May 27, 2019, the player’s last major interview. Buckner speaks about his personal and business relationship with Wilson, as they appeared together for several autograph sessions with fans. And addresses “the Buckner play” head on.
“Do I think I lost the World Series? Obviously no. But it wasn’t good,” Buckner tells Sherman. “The only good that came out of it was that I had a lot of people who were inspired by it. I got so many nice letters. People were writing from the heart.”
The range of emotions of the players ranged from Boggs’ enthusiasm to Rich Gedman’s difficulty in speaking about the Series and his time in Boston — “It’s absolutely mind-blowing when you think about it. And gosh, I was a part of that,” Gedman tells Sherman. “It’s really amazing to me. I have to pinch myself. At the time I didn’t realize how big it was.”
Jim Rice, who Sherman describes as “easily one of the more challenging interviews in baseball,” doesn’t shy away from that reputation. When Sherman starts off a question with “When you came up with Fred Lynn,” Rice cuts him off.
“Let’s clear this up. Lynn came up with me!” Rice says.
After navigating that scolding, Sherman gets Rice to open up what turned out to be a fun interview.
Boyd, who said he pitched every game in the majors while under the influence of marijuana, offers an enthusiastic interview and one that will make the reader think about social and racial issues. Boyd’s idol was Satchel Paige, and his theatrics on the mound mirrored the great right-hander. And he makes some interesting observations about Jackie Robinson, and what No. 42 might think about the fewer number of Blacks currently in the majors.
“You would think that by (Jackie’s crossing the color barrier) it would be grand (for Black players),” Boyd tells Sherman. “But I think Jackie would be sick to know that (Blacks) are not playing now.
“So in actuality he didn’t do too much because they’re not playing today.”
Boyd adds that he was a fifth-generation professional baseball player. “My people were playing before Jackie was born,” Boyd tells Sherman.
Boyd remains angry over not being selected to the 1986 All-Star team and not being tapped to start Game 7 of the ’86 World Series. A rainout after Game 6 allowed manager John McNamara to go with Hurst, who had already beaten the Mets twice in the Series.
“Everybody on the team knew I would’ve beaten the Mets,” Boyd says. “I love Bruce. He was a good pitcher. He did well to beat them twice.”
But Boyd believed “it was going to be hard as hell to beat them three times.”
Hurst broke down three times while Sherman interviewed him. Sherman thought he was going to get a tame chat, especially since he had interviewed the more colorful players.
But Sherman’s three-hour interview with Hurst “would quickly turn into one of the most poignant, emotional and reflective meetings I’ve ever had with a ballplayer.”
Hurst had not done interviews for nearly three years, but he agreed because “I don’t want to be that guy.”
Hurst spoke about battling the perception that he was “soft” and lacked toughness. He recalls Carl Yastrzemski — Hurst grew up with a poster of Yaz over his bed — telling him, “You’re the worst pitcher I’ve seen in twenty years—bar none. You’re the worst!”
Even though Hurst was a rookie, he fired back. “The Red Sox should have traded you and kept Reggie Smith!”
Had the Red Sox won Game 6, it is likely Hurst would have been named the Series MVP. But the thrill of winning the championship would have been greater.
“Can you imagine what it would have been like to jump up and down in that clubhouse?” Hurst asks, full of emotion.
Sherman’s other interviews are just as good. Clemens is upbeat and enthusiastic, more than one might expect. Schiraldi leans on his faith and is also pragmatic — “you’re a hero one day, and you’re a goat the next.”
The memories Sherman pulls out of the players are meaningful.
Sherman has a unique ability to ask pointed questions without being too confrontational or assertive. He approaches these Red Sox players gingerly, and it pays off. In some cases, they told him more than he expected. Hurst is a good example.
Stanley, who threw the infamous wild pitch that enabled the Mets to tie Game 6, prefers to look at the big picture, Sherman writes. His son was diagnosed with cancer in his sinus area in 1990.
“You can take that ’86 World Series — and my whole career — and throw it out the window,” Stanley says. “I got the health of my son and that’s all that counts for me.”
In his epilogue, Sherman mentions the players who did not get the full chapter treatment but still played critical roles for Boston.
What shines through in Two Sides of Glory is the 1986 Red Sox players’ love for each other and the game they played. They suffered an agonizing defeat in the World Series, and if they had won it all the team would have been hailed as a great one. That, and ending the Curse of the Bambino — which eventually happened in 2004 in spectacular fashion.
Sherman presents the flip side of the 1986 World Series in an engaging, passionate and fascinating narrative. He shows that even though the Red Sox lost in agonizing fashion, they still kept their pride. And in the final analysis, that is what counted most.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 2021 Topps Archives baseball set, which will be released in late October:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the 2021 Allen & Ginter chrome set, which is scheduled to be released in mid-November:
Here's a review I wrote for Sport In American History about "The Giants and Their City," by Lincoln Mitchell:
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about some of the memorabilia of the late Terry Duerod, which is heading to auction later this week:
I love history. And I especially love baseball history.
As a guy who got a master’s degree in history — and, who as a kid in the early 1970s, used to tote The Baseball Encyclopedia around on family vacations so I had something to read in the car — there are some things I want from a book about baseball history.
First, teach me something new. Second, entertain me.
The second part sounds funny, but I mean entertain in the sense that the writer is engaging and not dry. Winded, textbook descriptions about history — baseball or otherwise — is a turnoff. After all, baseball books can be part of a thesis or dissertation, but it does not have to read like one. That is to say, dry and tedious. Brownie points for a sharp wit and/or irreverence.
That is especially true in baseball. Certainly, there are books about major events in American history, for example, that should not have the author cracking wise.
But this is baseball. So, all that reverence can go out the window, if the author chooses to do so.
Thomas W. Gilbert meets both of my criteria in his newest book, How Baseball Happened: Outrageous Lies Exposed! The True Story Revealed (David R. Godine; $27.95; hardback; 383 pages).
The book was published last September and won the 2020 Casey Award for best baseball book of the year. Gilbert received his award Monday night.
How Baseball Happened serves as a nice complement to another book about baseball’s early era: John Thorn’s 2012 work, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game.
Thorn wrote the introduction to Gilbert’s book, suggesting that while his own book examined the “what” of baseball, Gilbert addressed how baseball happened while providing the “who” — names of pioneers that many of us have never heard of.
Gilbert digs into the beginnings of baseball, debunking the myths that have long been associated with the game. Certainly, baseball experts have gotten past the idea that Abner Doubleday invented the game in a cow pasture near Cooperstown, New York. Gilbert takes it further, noting that neither Alexander Cartwright nor Henry Chadwick can be called the father of baseball.
He notes that history can be wrong — sometimes the truth can be forgotten or misunderstood. And sometimes it is erased with lies. “When it comes to telling the story of where it came from, baseball has accomplished all three,” Gilbert writes.
Gilbert, a native of Brooklyn, New York, delves deeply into what was called the “New York game” of baseball — it is the game as we know it now, with some refinements through the years. The New York game was the dominant version played during the Amateur Era, which roughly covers the period before 1871.
Gilbert also has some great observations. Early in his work, he notes that he does not care much about the history of baseball as a children’s pastime, although baseball history itself is a legitimate topic to research. The game becoming a sport is what caught his eye.
“If that had never happened, then baseball would be hopscotch,” Gilbert writes.
Gilbert suggests that the rise of the social middle class during the mid-19th century was crucial to the spread of baseball in the United States. He calls it the “Emerging Urban Bourgeoisie,” or EUB (“my ugly acronym,” he jokes). This was a group of businessmen involved in industries like railroads, mass-market publishing and even the telegraph.
While it may seem provincial on Gilbert’s part — he lives in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn — there is merit to his assertion that groups of amateurs in Manhattan and Brooklyn built the game. These amateurs joined the military and volunteer fire companies to form the “holy trinity” of U.S. urban culture before the Civil War.
“Where is the real birthplace of baseball,” Gilbert asks. “If you open up five history books, you will find at least four answers to this question.”
Cooperstown, Hoboken, New York City and even England are the stock answers. But Gilbert says it was Brooklyn.
“Humor me,” he writes.
And then Gilbert lays out his case. It’s a compelling one.
Gilbert adds that the Knickerbockers of New York, a group of white American Protestants who began playing the game in the 1840s, never claimed to invent the game. Rather, they hedged and called themselves pioneers.
The graphics in How Baseball Happened are insightful. On pages 230-231, Gilbert offers a map of “How Baseball Expanded.” Starting from New York, Gilbert provides a timeline showing how before the Civil War, baseball clubs had sprouted as far south as New Orleans and as far west as San Francisco. Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Boston and even Hamilton, Ontario, were playing the New York game.
That is because businessmen from New York fanned out and traveled to these cities, spreading the gospel of baseball while trying to make a buck.
That meant the game was established before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861.
And if you believe in myths, Abner Doubleday was part of the battery that fired the first shots of the Civil War from Fort Sumter. Abner got around, apparently.
There is plenty of baseball in this book. For example, Gilbert writes about James Creighton, the first rock star pitcher in baseball history who died at age 21 from “strangulation of the intestine.”
“His career was like a nuclear explosion,” Gilbert writes. “It didn’t last long, but afterward the world was never the same.”
Creighton’s pitching style led to the formation of the strike zone, and he transformed the pitcher “into the most important defensive position.”
He also threw more than 200 pitches a game, and sometimes even 300, which is mind-boggling now.
John Creighton, James’ brother, meanwhile, fought during the Civil War and was part of a plot to colonize Nicaragua as a slave state. That did not work, and John eventually became an abolitionist. He later committed suicide.
Two very interesting characters in a book of many.
But what makes How Baseball Happened so enjoyable is how Gilbert peppers his narrative with brief vignettes. Baseball fans love trivia and history, and Gilbert provides some tasty bites that put the era into proper context. There is the story of Joseph Jones, who advocated physical education for boys and girls and touted the Excelsiors of Brooklyn to promote baseball nationally as a participant sport.
Or John Chapman, whose acrobatic barehanded catches earned him the nickname, “Death to Flying Things.”
The legendary Green-Wood Cemetery of Brooklyn, Gilbert writes, has “an astounding number” of baseball amateurs from the Amateur Era buried on its leafy grounds. James Creighton is buried there. So are Chadwick, Jones, Chapman, Asa Brainard and dozens of Knickerbockers and other members of Brooklyn teams.
“Drawing the Line” recounts the first instance of racial exclusion in baseball. In 1867, the National Association of Base Ball Players passed a rule barring membership to any club “composed of persons of color, or any portion of them.” The outlines of the first color line kin baseball, then, were drawn nearly two decades before Cap Anson and others reached a “gentleman’s agreement” to bar Blacks from the game.
“A Glimpse of Stocking” refers not to the Red Stockings or White Stockings teams of the late 19th century. Rather, it references the stockings worn by women and baseball players, which apparently were titillating to the general public.
“Showing more lower leg … had erotic impact, judging by photographs of 19th century prostitutes,” Gilbert writes. “Male calves also had appeal.” The San Francisco Chronicle, in an 1869 article, notes that the Red Stockings’ tight red wool stockings that “showed their calves in all their magnitude and rotundity.”
A century later, Jim Bouton wrote about baseball socks in Ball Four.
“It has become the fashion … to have long, long stirrups, with a lot of white showing,” he wrote. “The higher your stirrups, the cooler you look. Your legs look long and cool instead of dumpy and hot.”
Some things never change.
Gilbert has a delightful way with words that can alternate between cheeky and snarky. “The Civil War caused about 1.5 million casualties,” he begins seriously before shifting gears. “One of them was cricket.”
Gilbert adds that it is unclear why the war affected cricket, “but we do know the reason why we don’t know the reason — the chaos of war.”
The NABBP legalized professional baseball for the 1869 season, legitimizing what had been done anyway. That was the year of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and their long undefeated run. The National Association was organized in 1871, with the National League supplanting it in 1876. Baseball as we know it had finally arrived.
Gilbert’s research is drawn from 90 books and 25 online databases, Two of those books are his own — 1995’s Baseball and the Color Line, and 2015’s Playing First: Early Baseball Lives at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and maintains a blog on Goodreads.
How Baseball Began allows fans to view the origins of the game from a fresh angle. Gilbert opens a window into a world of American nativism, when crediting the origins of baseball to British games like cricket and rounders was considered bad form for a country still trying to escape its colonialism from a century before.'''
There are new and fascinating characters to read about, and whether or not one believes that baseball as we know it grew in Brooklyn, it is an interesting idea.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an exchange of letters between Jackie Robinson and Milton Sacks, a New Jersey man who questioned Robinson's comparison of Holocaust deaths to fatalities of slaves through the years:
Nearly 50 years after his death, we still don’t really know Jackie Robinson.
Oh, we think we do. Sure, Major League Baseball honors him each year on April 15, the day Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. His number, 42, is retired and celebrated by baseball fans. As Jonathan Eig writes in one of the essays in 42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (Washington Mews Books; $27.95; hardback; 239 pages), “We all know the story. We’ve all seen the movie.”
Eig is being facetious, of course. There is plenty we do not know — or, in some cases, want to know — about Robinson. A collection of 13 essays, edited by Michael G. Long, provides some necessary context. Long has written about Robinson before, including in his 2008 book, First Class Citizenship: The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson and 2017’s Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography. He has also edited 2013’s Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life After Baseball.
In 42 Today, Long also goes beyond home plate, pulling together a collection of authors who cast Robinson in a different light. The essays Long presents are thought-provoking and compelling.
Howard Bryant comes out swinging in the first essay, discussing the key difference between advancement and ownership in the context of racial acceptance. Advancement meant that Robinson should be patient, “a credit to his race,” and “accepting of glacial change as progress.” As Bryant points out, advancement was the preferred narrative of whites. “(Blacks) need not sacrifice in the short term provided they agree to a covenant of fairness to be delivered at an unspecified date — as long as it’s not today.”
Ownership, Bryant writes, is much different and uncomfortable to some. “It takes the keys to the house of self-determination in real time, without asking, and does not offer points for compromise or patience.”
America wanted advancement, but Robinson wanted ownership. Simple as that. Achieving it was not so simple, and even today, that seems to be complicated. Bryant, who has written books about Hank Aaron (The Last Hero), Black athletes (The Heritage) drugs in baseball (Juicing the Game) and injustice (Full Dissidence), provides a powerful start to this book.
But as Long writes in the introduction, the essays are presented in such a way that readers can skip chapters or read them out of order and still appreciate the writing.
Don’t do that. Read this book straight through.
Eig recounts an awkward telephone conversation he had with Robinson’s widow, Rachel, as he contemplated a book about Jackie. Eig, a meticulous researcher whose ability to unearth gems is comparable to Robert Caro’s writings about politics, wanted to get more information about the often-told story of Robinson’s teammate, Pee Wee Reese. The Dodgers’ captain was a Kentucky native who, in the middle of the baseball diamond, put his arm around Robinson in Cincinnati to silence hecklers, a gesture that said, Robinson was not Black, he was a Dodger.
Marvelous story. But as Eig interviewed Rachel Robinson, he could sense “frustration in her voice” and received short, curt answers to his questions.
Eig finally apologized for wasting Rachel’s time and asked if he did something wrong.
“Well yes,” she told Eig. “You assumed that Jack made it because Pee Wee helped. I’m tired of people assuming that he needed the help of a white man to succeed.”
Advancement versus ownership again. It hits home.
Rachel Robinson went on to debunk the myth — which is unsettling to me because I have a small bronze statue depicting that alleged gesture -- saying that it never happened. Rachel Robinson even attended an unveiling of a similar statue in Brooklyn, but said it never happened.
Why attend, Eig wanted to know.
“She sighed as if to say it was complicated,” Eig wrote. “I would never understand.”
Eig went on to write Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, in 2007.
This book also shows what Robinson meant to the civil rights movement and his political views He endorsed Richard Nixon for president in 1960, and while he certainly agreed with the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr., Robinson was at odds with how to achieve them.
Gerald Early, professor of modern letters at in the African and African American Studies department at Washington University in St. Louis, examines Robinson’s alignment with the GOP in his essay, “The Dilemma of the Black Republic.” Early notes that in 1960, Nixon’s stance on civil rights was stronger than those of his Democratic opponent for president, John F. Kennedy.
Early added that Robinson had disagreements with Black radicals (Malcolm X) and Black liberals (Rep. Adam Clayton Powell), and “was at war” with Republican conservatives like Sen. Barry Goldwater. Robinson would face backlash from both extremes, with Malcolm X describing him in a way that made him “a tool of the white power structure” and “a sold-out Uncle Tom.”
As Yohuru Williams notes in the essay “I’ve Got to Be Me,” Robinson opposed enforced separatism and enforced segregation.
“The first freedom for all people is freedom of choice,” Robinson said.
Or, as Peter Dreier noted in his essay, “The First Jock for Justice,” Robinson “viewed himself as much an activist as an athlete.”
To the American public, Robinson represented two distinct personalities. Chris Lamb writes in his essay, “The White Media Missed It,” that to Black America, Robinson changed what it was like to be a Black American, a man “willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of racial equality and equal justice.” To white America, Lamb asserts, Robinson was a Black baseball player.
Nothing more. Robinson was rarely interviewed by white sportswriters early in his career, and Lamb notes they made no attempt to put his story in historical or sociological context, Lamb writes.
Or maybe it was the editors in charge that put the muzzle on those kinds of stories. In The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn wrote about an encounter he had with Eddie Stanky. Kahn, who wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, had filed a story in which Stanky had heard some racial epithets tossed in Robinson’s direction but said, “I heard nothing out of line.”
When Kahn filed a story about the exchange, it did not run, with a note from the night sports editor: “Herald Tribune will not be a sounding board for Jackie Robinson. Write baseball, not race relations. Story killed.”
That was sometime in 1952 — five years after Robinson broke the color line.
For all of his groundbreaking work for civil rights, Robinson “was not a vocal champion” for gender equality. Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history and African American history at Penn State University, has directed two conferences on sports and the LGBTQ experience. Davis notes that through the years, Robinson “displayed a tension” in the belief in traditional gender roles and a more progressive stance on women’s employment and autonomy.
Credit Rachel Robinson for changing her husband’s outlook.
There are so many different angles to explore in 42 Today. Readers will find themselves challenged to think out of the box, which is a good thing. Progress will never occur without courageous, bold and well-thought-out stances.
Kevin Merida, a senior vice president at ESPN and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated, urges readers of 42 Today to remember that Robinson’s struggles were not in vain. Even though Robinson was discouraged with the lack of advancement for Black athletes — and Blacks in general — he had the courage to speak out about what was wrong, no matter how uncomfortable it made his listeners.
“Jackie Robinson deserves to be remembered and assessed as the courageous complex man he was,” Merida write in the book’s afterword. “And not as a character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
Robinson would probably say today that the goals he aspired to achieve have yet to be realized. History’s wheels can turn slowly, and even 74 years after Robinson stepped on the infield at Ebbets Field, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
“Sometimes,” Eig writes, “you can see history right in front of your eyes if you pay attention.”
That is the point of 42 Today. The history is there. It’s time to pay attention.
Here's a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the upcoming 2020 Panini National Treasures football set.
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about the memorabilia collection of Roger Peckinpaugh, who played shortstop for the New York Yankees and Washington Senators during the 1910s and 1920s. His grandchildren are selling 10 of his items:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily about an upcoming auction hosted by Mile High Sports Cards:
Here is a story I wrote for Sports Collectors Daily previewing 2021 Bowman Chrome baseball:
Don Roth would have been horrified to learn that his pitching style was once compared to a Yankees star — a Damn Yankees (or DY) guy, for cryin' out loud.
But there it was, in a Daily Tar Heel article in 1961. Don, who competed for Wake Forest University’s baseball team, was described as “a lanky right-handed junkball pitcher — a la Ed Lopat."
But Ol’ No-Hit, as he was affectionately called, was a star for all of us.
Don lost his battle to cancer on Sunday afternoon. He was 80. For his many friends in the card collecting hobby, this is a devastating loss. Don was a baseball fan to the core, starting with the Brooklyn Dodgers (he cried when Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ’Round the World” in the 1951 National League playoffs) and then the New York Mets.
Baseball was in his blood. He loved to collect baseball cards and immersed himself in the game, as a player, coach and fan.
We met through an internet card collecting group, Old Card Traders, more than 20 years ago. We could not have been more different. Don stood 6-foot-4 and I was 5-foot-9. He was still lanky, and while not at 185 pounds like his playing days at Wake Forest, he was still trim for his age. I am not (and never will be) lanky, and probably never 185 pounds again. He was an ACC guy, and I attended the University of Florida, deep in the heart of the SEC. He was from Lynbrook. I was from Brooklyn.
And of course, he was a Mets fan and I rooted for the Yankees.
But we clicked. Every year, Don would come to Florida to play golf and enjoy spring training. That became a spring ritual. We never watched a game together, but Don and I would meet for breakfast or lunch. The first time, we met at a Hooters in Brandon, just east of Tampa. Don got the waitress to snap a photo of the two of us.
That enabled me to play my best trick on Don. He’d been giving me grief for being a “DY fan,” so I photoshopped a Yankees logo on his golf shirt and posted the picture on my baseball card website. And there it sat for several months, until Don decided to check my wantlist to send cards. And oh, boy, there was quite a post to the OCT message board after that discovery.
Fortunately, Don could dish it out and take it, too.
We met the following year at a Village Inn, also in Brandon. No photo tricks this time.
With one exception after that, we’d meet at an International House of Pancakes restaurant in Lake Wales. The restaurant was basically halfway between Tampa and Jupiter, where Don stayed during spring training. He watch games and sharpen his golf game, but we made it a point to meet.
We’d have a meal, swap stories, trade stuff. I’d usually bring books for Don, and he would have programs and extra business cards. He enjoyed going to minor league ballparks and asking the general managers to autograph their business cards.
Quirky, but they loved it.
He would also tell stories about his teammate at Wake Forest, Pat Williams, who went on to become a successful executive with the NBA’s Orlando Magic. Another good friend was Ernie Accorsi, who was general manager of the NFL’s Browns, Colts and Giants.
In 2016 we were going to meet at the IHOP with fellow trader John Miller, but our wires crossed. Don and I had our usual lunch, but John missed it. A few days later John texted me from the IHOP and asked, “where are you guys?”
In 2017, John could not make it, but he called the IHOP and told the server he was going to pay for our breakfast. Naturally, we thought it was a gag, but John came through.
That was the last time we had lunch. Don's cancer treatments began to ramp up, restricting his travel and golf game.
Ol’ No-Hit wasn’t just a nickname, by the way. Before his comparison to Lopat, Don could bring the heat. As a high school senior in Lynbrook (Class of 1958), Don tossed one no-hitter and had five one-hitters. He could recite his stats, like most former players, of course: 105 strikeouts and just six walks.
At Wake Forest, Don hurt his arm between seasons and had to mix up his fastball with the breaking stuff. In 1962, his senior year, he went 4-3 during the regular season with a 3.22 ERA, walking only 13 batters in 69 1/3 innings. The Deacons were one victory away from reaching the College World Series, but on a rainy afternoon in Gastonia, North Carolina, Don lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Florida State University despite pitching 10 2/3 innings and striking out eight batters.
Don and was only an infant when he made his public records debut in the 1940 census. He was born March 7, 1940, the son of Henry Roth and Dorothea Knoop Roth, who were living at 15 Russell St. in Lynbrook, New York. Henry worked in Manhattan as an accountant for the Union Pacific railroad company.
After college, Don served in the Army. He later became a longtime teacher at his alma mater, Lynbrook High School, and coached the Owls’ baseball and riflery teams. He was the driver’s education teacher at the Long Island school.
Through the years, Don and I would send items back and forth. Cards and books from me, while Don would send cards, newspaper clippings (mostly from Newsday) and emails rating the books he was reading.
His kindness extended beyond baseball. In November 2005, he asked his nephew, Bob Roth (another card trading friend), to give my family a tour of the MTV studios in Times Square when we visited New York. Bob worked for MTV’s parent company, Viacom, and set everything up. The kids had a blast. So did their parents.
It seems as if Don knew everybody. In 2006 I won a Topps contest and secured two tickets to a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Had a great time with my oldest son and wrote about the experience. Don wrote back and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me? I know the groundskeeper there; he could have given you a tour.”
I should have known.
In March 2020, Don wrote to tell me his cancer had returned, and he had to undergo an eight-hour IV session. He was reading a book about Ty Cobb to pass the time and just passed off the treatment as “just another drug adventure.”
“Stay well and wash your hands,” he advised.
Of course, we know that cancer plays no favorites and allows no mulligans. Don knew it, too. He began sending me Yankees cards and memorabilia, noting they were from a friend who had passed away. The friend’s wife did not know what to do with the cards, so Don was giving them new homes.
I half believed the story. Given his medical condition, I guessed Don was just clearing out space and getting his own affairs in order. I’ll never know for sure.
One of the last of his many charitable gestures was to buy me a Bradford Exchange bronze statue of Derek Jeter. Typically, he could not bear to send me a DY gift through the mail (or get on the Bradford Exchange mailing list and become deluged with offers for Yankees memorabilia), so he had me order it and then sent a check to cover the expense.
I drove past that IHOP in Lake Wales a few months ago. It had closed down. That should have told me something.
Now, Don can mingle and chat with his favorite Mets: Tom Seaver, Tommie Agee, Gil Hodges, Ed Charles, Donn Clendenon and Tug McGraw.
I am sure he will get some business cards signed by Johnny Murphy — and perhaps even by Branch Rickey.
And he'll get a pat on the back from Ed Lopat — even if he was a DY.
Godspeed, Ol’ No-Hit.
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