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1946 Roy Campanella Handwritten Letter - Pre-Integration Scouting Report on Junior Gilliam and Joe Black!
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $4,444
Rare and historically significant Roy Campanella handwritten letter to Robert Finch of the Brooklyn Dodgers, dated September 25, 1946, in which he provides a scouting report on black ballplayers Junior Gilliam, Joe Black, and Bob Romby. The one-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, I saw a very good game here, between the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Elite Giants. Romby pitched for the Giants, and won 3-2. He struck out eleven men in seven innings. The boy really looked good. Concerning Black, the pitcher I mentioned in my previous letter. I have an appointment with him Friday. The young boy Gilliam, has the making of a good player. He is one of the youngest players in the league. He is very apt and has good habits. Hope all is well with you. I will be in the office Tuesday morning at ten o'clock. Sincerely 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.
Gilliam was just sixteen years old at the time Campanella scouted him, with his young age resulting in his nickname of "Junior." Gilliam was eventually signed by the Dodgers in 1950, and he made his major league debut in 1953, taking over for Jackie Robinson at second base. Gilliam was the Rookie of the Year in 1953 and enjoyed a stellar fourteen-year career with the Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Following his playing career he remained with the team as a longtime coach. Joe Black was signed by the Dodgers in 1950 and made his major league debut in 1952, also winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Bob Romby enjoyed a brief career in the Negro Leagues, but was never signed by a major league club. The letter (6.5 x 9.5 inches) displays three horizontal folds, a large diagonal crease in the lower right, a small stain on the reverse and both a paperclip impression and staple hole at the top. In Very Good to Excellent condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $4,444
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