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Lot # 942 (of 1866)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1946 Roy Campanella Handwritten Letter - Pre-Integration Scouting Report on Negro-League Players!

Starting Bid - $500, Sold For - $7,703

Rare and historically significant Roy Campanella handwritten letter to Robert Finch of the Brooklyn Dodgers, dated September 18, 1946, in which he provides a scouting report on the top three players on the Kansas City Monarchs: Earl Taborn, James LaMarque, and Clifford Johnson. The two-page letter, scripted in blue fountain pen on both sides of an unlined sheet, is addressed to Finch, who was Branch Rickey's assistant with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In full:

Dear Mr. Finch, Hope everything is well with you. I am doing all right as far as scouting is concerned. Enclosed are report cards of the three best prospects on the Kansas City Monarchs B. B. C., also a list of the team. Earl Taborn, the catcher has a very good arm, good speed, his hitting should improve. James LaMarque, a left hand pitcher. Mike Gonzales, coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, has signed him to pitch for his team this winter. He has a good curve and his fast ball is alive. Clifford Johnson, a right-hand pitcher. He has the makings of a great pitcher. He has wonderful stuff on the ball with good control. All three of these fellows know how to act off and on the field. They're willing to learn everything that will benefit them. Hoping this will meet with your approval. Respectfully yours, Roy Campanella.

Both the text and Campanella's signature grade "10." This is one of three Roy Campanella handwritten letters offered in this auction (all from the same remarkable Dodgers collection), all of which are similar in content and concern the potential recruitment of other black ballplayers by the Dodgers prior to Jackie Robinson's historic major league debut the following spring. Despite the fact that three are offered in this sale, it should be understood that Roy Campanella handwritten letters are exceedingly rare, and we can only recall having seen two other examples at auction in the past fifteen years. As a point of reference, one of those other examples, which was also a similar 1946 scouting report (on Doby and Monte Irvin), sold at auction for $23,900 in 2013.

The historical significance of this letter cannot be overstated. While everyone is aware of the fanfare surrounding Jackie Robinson's historic debut with the Montreal Royals (Brooklyn's top minor-league club) in 1946, whereby he became the first black player in modern organized baseball, the debuts of Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe with the Nashua Dodgers (a Class B team in the New England League) just one month later are largely forgotten today. This letter was written by Campanella immediately following his first season of organized ball with Nashua, during which time he faced many of the same hardships endured by Robinson. Campanella was twenty-five years old at the time, and the fact that he had been an established star in both the Negro and Mexican leagues since the age of sixteen helped him considerably as he too helped pave the way for integration in baseball. That maturity, along with his obvious physical talents, was one of the main reasons that Branch Rickey picked Campanella to follow closely on the heels of Jackie Robinson. It was also why Rickey trusted his judgment and valued his opinion on other black ballplayers the club was interested in. As one can see in these scouting reports from Campanella, the Dodgers were concerned not only with the player's physical ability, but also his personality. Like Robinson, Campanella, and Newcombe, Rickey knew that the black players they signed needed to have the courage and mental fortitude to deal with but not fight back against the racism they would inevitably encounter, be it from the other team, the fans, or even their own teammates. That was essential if Rickey's "great experiment" were to succeed.

Despite their obvious talents, both Tabor and LaMarque were never signed to major league contracts, but Johnson did eventually reach the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 1953. He later played with the Baltimore Orioles and also barnstormed during the off-season as a member of Roy Campanella's "All Stars." The letter (7.25 x 10.25 inches) displays two horizontal folds, minor staining to both the lower right corner and right border, three paperclip impressions, and a staple hole. A red Brooklyn Dodgers stamp, recording the date it was received, appears along the top border. In Very Good condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $7,703

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