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Lot # 20 (of 1512)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1950 Satchel Paige Contract Signed by Oscar Charleston, J. L. Wilkinson, and Satchel Paige

Starting Bid - $10,000, Sold For - $22,800

One-page contract, dated July 25, 1950, between Satchel Paige and J. L Wilkinson, signed by Satchel Paige and J. L. Wilkinson, as well as by Oscar Charleston and Lahoma Paige (Paige's wife), as witnesses. This is one of the most extraordinary Negro League documents we have ever seen in that the signatures of both J. L. Wilkinson and Oscar Charleston are two of the rarest Negro League Hall of Fame signatures imaginable. Wilkinson, who died in 1964, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, and Charleston, who died in 1954, was elected in 1976. These are the first Wilkinson and Charleston signature examples REA has ever offered. While the signatures of both men are elusive, that of Wilkinson appears to be the rarer of two: we have seen six other Charleston signatures at auction over the past twenty years, but can only recall having seen two items signed by Wilkinson during that same period of time.

The agreement calls for Paige to appear at all baseball games booked by Wilkinson or one of Wilkinson's agents, during the remainder of the 1950 season. However, the contract also stipulates that if Paige were to sign a Major League contract, or a contract with any other team in organized baseball, that he can be released from this agreement, provided he gives Wilkinson ten days' written notice. It has been signed in blue ink by "Leroy Satchel Paige," "J. L. Wilkinson," "Oscar Charleston," and "LaHoma Paige." All of signatures are boldly scripted and grade "10." The contract (8.5 x 11), which is lightly toned, displays two horizontal folds (not affecting any of the signatures) and a few small edge tears. In Very Good to Excellent condition overall. This agreement between Wilkinson and Paige is actually documented in a biography of Paige by Donald Spivey, titled If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy "Satchel" Paige (University of Missouri Press, 2012). Paige had played for Bill Veeck's Cleveland Indians in 1948 and 1949, but after Veeck sold his interest in the club, Cleveland was no longer interested in Paige's service for the 1950 season. Spivey details what happened next:

The greatest hurler who ever lived was in need of employment. He sought out J. L. Wilkinson, who contacted Abe Saperstein and Ed Gottlieb. Paige, despite the negative assessment some held of the two men, saw them as pretty fair promoters. He was certainly open to virtually any involvement that might help him to keep his career in baseball going. In a few weeks, a tentative tour schedule emerged, and the fastballer for hire hit the road with a vengeance. Wherever the team or town that would pay the price, they could gain the services and name of Satchel Paige. He had his name, and he could pitch a pretty good ball. The people in the small towns and hamlets most certainly wanted to see him. He made a good living in 1950.

J. L. Wilkinson and Paige had a long prior association. Wilkinson, who helped form the Negro National League with Rube Foster in 1920, was the longtime owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the greatest teams in Negro League history. Paige starred with the Monarchs from 1939 to 1947 and helped lead the club to four pennants during that time. He had earlier been part of a barnstorming team, named Satchel Paige's All Stars, that Wilkinson formed and promoted. Wilkinson sold his interest in the Monarchs in 1948 and had basically retired from baseball at that point. However, as seen here, he obviously couldn't resist when Satchel Paige came calling two years later. As noted by Spivey, Wilkinson reached out to Abe Saperstein and Ed Gottlieb to help promote Paige's tour, which is important because it directly relates to the provenance of this remarkable piece.

This contract originates directly from the family of Jules Trumper, who was Ed Gottlieb's cousin and a minority shareholder in the Philadelphia Warriors. Gottlieb was a lifelong bachelor and therefore had no immediate family. As a result, most of his business-related material went to Trumper after his death in 1979. The bulk of Gottlieb's papers and personal souvenirs were ultimately donated to the Basketball Hall of Fame, with the exception of a few items, including this contract. This is one of four lots in this auction comprised of material from Gottlieb's business archives, all of which have been consigned directly by the Trumper family.

Although Gottlieb is most associated with basketball today, he was very active in the Negro Leagues throughout his prolific career. Gottlieb had an ownership stake in the Philadelphia Stars and was a booking agent for many clubs. He also helped with the scheduling of Negro League games and was involved in various other Negro League promotions. As such, this contract is accompanied by a large collection of Negro League documents from Gottlieb's business archives. Most of the documents are financial in nature and consist of expense reports for games booked and promoted by Gottlieb in the 1930s and 1940s, including a number of games between Satchel Paige's All Stars vs. Bob Feller's All Stars. Also included are: a one-page letter, dated June 19, 1942, written to Gottlieb by fellow baseball promoter Ray Doan, that specifically mentions both Wilkinson and Saperstein, regarding a problem between the promoters and Clark Griffith and Kenesaw Landis; a receipt from Satchel Paige dated May 11, 1941; a rare 1951 Negro American League Baseball League ownership certificate presented to Gottlieb as owner of the Philadelphia Stars; and a few important documents (circa 1945) relating to the formation of Branch Rickey's United States League, a rival Negro League (the formation of the league was actually a ruse so that he could scout black players with an eye to integration in 1947). Full LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open).

A more detailed list of the 81 Negro League expense reports included in this lot is available upon request.

SOLD FOR $22,800

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