Musings on Satchel and Robby

    If you’ve ever wondered about the iconic status of Topps, you need look no further than Satchel Paige’s 1953 card, which is easily the nicest card that exists of the legendary figure from the Negro leagues. I mention the designation of Topps as an icon in this regard, but I really should refer to it as is The Merriam Webster Topps Dictionary. That’s where the iconic status comes from: when your typos wind up becoming firmly entrenched in the lexicon.

   Topps misspelled Satchel on the only card the company ever made of Paige, adding an extra “l” to Satchel. For thousands of casual fans, the 1953 Topps card was the first and in many cases only exposure that they had to the most famous player from the Negro leagues, and thus the misspelled 53Satch.jpgfirst name became all but institutionalized for several generations of fans.

The 1953 Topps Satchel Paige card is shown at right.

   Oh, I’ll admit that it has been largely cleaned up now by the expansion of the Information Age and the dawn of the Internet, but there are, no doubt, hundreds of artifacts out there with the misspelling. I was at Mike Shannon’s restaurant in St. Louis several weeks ago, and in the “Hall of Fame” room in the lower level of the restaurant, there was some artwork with the misspelling, which got me to recounting to some of the other diners about the power or the original Topps mistake.
   The 1953 Topps card included the same misspelling on the back, giving additional weight to it, reinforcing the initial mistake. Lots of eBay listings carry the extra “l” and some early auction catalogs had it as well, but like I say, the Information Age has helped clear it up over the last 20 years or so and the dramatically increased exposure for the Negro leagues hasn’t hurt, either.

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   Now here’s a tangentially related story that I assume Ole’ Satch might have approved of (this is the Blogosphere, so I am willing to loosen up and end a sentence with a preposition). In 1971, I started working at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon in my last year in the Navy, and one of my first reactions as I waddled around the 17 miles or corridors was, quite literally, a question. “How come there are so many toilets in this place?” I asked myself.

   It really was one of the first things that struck me about the building, and I had walked a good chunk of the corridors in the various rings, not because of an interest in aerobic exercise (70 percent of Americans smoked in those days), but rather because I wanted to see as many of the museum-quality ship models that were strewn about as I could.

   Anyway, it only took 36 years to clear up the question about the toilets. From a book I am currently reading about the Pentagon, The House of War by James Carroll, comes word that there were 200 of them all told. Turns out that when the place was officially opened in 1943, President Roosevelt showed up for the ribbon cutting and spotted a “Whites Only” sign over one of the restrooms, a Jim Crow vestige obviously aimed at making the facility comply with Arlington, Va., segregation prohibitions. So that’s why there were so many of them!

   FDR promptly told Pentagon officials (the 1943 equivalent of) “I don’t think so.” Toilet accomodations were thusly integrated, making the Pentagon the only place in Arlington to have such egalitarian ground rules in that particular area.

   And there’s an epilogue, too. The next spring, the Weathermen underground organization blew up one of our beloved restrooms in a May 19, 1972, bit of terrorism that was part of their protest of President Nixon’s bombing of Hanoi during the Vietnam War. I remember the various demonstrations blocking our ability to get to work one day that May, and I remember seeing the blown-up men’s room, though I wasn’t working at the time of the explosion.

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   In sticking to the integration theme, I am sure you’ve noticed that a number of Major League Baseball players have decided to wear No. 42 on April 15 to honor Jackie Robinson and mark the 60th anniversary of his breaking the color line. Ken Griffey Jr. was reportedly the one who pitched the idea to Commissioner Selig, who quite rightly was enthusiastic about the idea.

   So the “retirement” of No. 42, which had been engineered by MLB a decade earlier at the 50th anniversary of the historic event, was given a one-day moratorium for the tribute, and a number of other players, including one Barry Bonds, quickly signed on.
   I think it’s a great idea, and I also like the idea because of the link to our hobby. I suspect that by the time April 15 rolls around, every team will have a No. 42 out there, creating a number of wonderful collectibles in the process. We asked MLB officials what was going to happen to the jerseys; initial word was that there was no official word yet. The site winds up the repository for an imposing pile of game-used stuff, so I assume that’s an option, or maybe the option.

Original Jackie Robinson artwork by Darryl Vlasak (at right)

   It would also seem to be a great way to raise money for charitable purposes, something that MLB has done in a big way for many years in conjunction with The Jackie Robinson Foundation. How much would somebody pay for a game-used No. 42 jersey used by Ken Griffey Jr. and signed by him? I dunno, but I bet it’s a pile.

   A number of newspapers recounted the good-news story of modern ballplayers offering such proper genuflection to one of the giants who came before them; they then fouled off the rest of the story with a tortured linkage.

   Several newspapers in MLB cities juxtaposed the No. 42 jersey story with the yesterday’s news demographic dirge about how the overal number of blacks has declined in Major League Baseball over the last two decades.

   Gimmee a break! While the change in MLB’s demographics is a legitimate story – think about baseball’s expanded and wildly successful efforts to tap Latin American nations for talent – linking it to what Jackie Robinson did is silly and ultimately trivializes what he accomplished.

   What Robinson faced in 1947 – and indeed, what a generation of black ballplayers faced – was a brutal, malignant institution that denied the basic humanity of an entire race. The decline in the numbers of blacks playing Major League Baseball – now below 10 percent – has been the result of a number of factors, virtually all rising independent of one another and hardly the result of any Pumpise Green-like quota somehow quietly installed by bigoted execs eager to cling to some final shadow of the color line.

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   The last bit of business in this blog entry will be to address – albeit a bit collectively – some of the postings to my earlier blogs. Some of them included the kind of broader criticisms of SCD that we get – and take quite seriously – but don’t necessarily lend themselves to individual responses via the blog.

   So I’ll note that we sincerely value our readers and our advertisers, and that auction advertising is indeed a major component of the magazine. Like everything else, SCD has changed dramatically over the past 10-15 years, with a good deal of that change dictated by the 800-lb. e
lephant in the room: the Internet. The articles are not paid for by advertisers; any time we do special sections with linked editorial and advertising content we diligently label the pages thusly.

   The charges that our coverage has diverted away from new cards is a fair one; that was an editorial decision that was deemed of strategic importance quite a few years ago, and in any event, we feel our sister publication, Tuff Stuff magazine, offers a great repository for articles and features about the newer material. I could also add that the change is hardly absolute: our plan is to have the 2007 Topps Heritage cards on the cover of this week’s issue of SCD (May 4).

   Other criticisms of individual advertisers also must face a collective response: grousing about specific businesses and individuals is, I guess, one of the democratic aspects of the Blogosphere, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly engrossing debate for forums where we try to involve our readers in some of the important issues facing the hobby. Companies that provide newly created autographed memorabilia, for example, confront a host of costs and expenses, and then price their material accordingly. Oh wait, that’s what virtually every business in America does, quite routinely, and consumers respond in the fashion that suits them.

   As for carping about Mr. Mint, whom I would quite unabashedly characterize as a friend, all I can say is that the denunciations seem “sooo last week.”

   See you next week.

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4 thoughts on “Musings on Satchel and Robby

  1. Dave on said:

    The Satchel Paige issue reminds me of Lew Burdette, Lew was short for Lewis.

    His name was misspelled "Lou" numerous times. I am looking at a signed 1967 TOPPS card . The card has him listed as "Lou", the fascimile autograph is signed "Lou", and the real autograph is signed as "Lou". They are all wrong.

    Burdette at some point just gave in and started signing "Lou" because that is what people expected.

  2. Dave on said:


    A quick blog housekeeping question. After a comment is entered by a blogger, you enter a code and hit save comment. It may just be me, but after ones does that, the blogger is redirected back to the same screen where they have to enter a different security code and then the comment is posted after you hit save comment the seond time. Is this how this is suppose to work? Also, an alternate audio security code option might be of some use to some of our more visually challenged readers down the road.

  3. Dave on said:


    4/15/47 Jackie Robinson breaks into the Major Leagues

    7/5/47 Larry Doby becomes the first black American Leaguer

    1962 Buck O’Neil becomes first black Coach with the Cubs

    4/8/75 Frank Robinson becomes first black Manager with the Cleveland Indians, although this happened 10/4/74 when he replaced Ken Aspromonte

    1980 Frank Robinson becomes first black Manager in the National League with the San Francisco Giants

    This progress was slow to evolve after 1947.

    The following is some of what I believe you were alluding to. The Negro Leagues had an organized baseball system and those players casually got absorbed in the Major Leagues. Like the Negro Leagues, Latin America had an comprehensive organized baseball system. This system was occasionally used by the Negro League System and Major League system for winter ball. The Latin American System is having many players being absorbed into the Majors, this process picked up speed in the 1960’s. The Japanese have an organized baseball system, these players are now beginning to join the Major Leagues at a higher pace. Korea has had a baseball system and Koreans are joining the Majors. Mexico has an organized baseball system, well, you get the point…….

    Opportunity for ball players is present today, if you are purple and can hit 50 homers, you are going to have an opportunity to play. Those who critique the percentage of black players in the game have not noticed the globalization of Major League Baseball, which is part of an organized plan that Major League baseball has been implementing. In my opinion, there is a valid arguement in the lack of African Americans in Management or front office positions.

    Jackie Robinson was all about equal opportunity, not just for his race. This has been achieved in certain respects on the field. Writers should realize that the equal opportunity is being used by the whole planets talent pool.

    I think you see that some writers are coming from a bent agenda perspective. Even most of our "national news" delivered through major media outlets is polished, contrived and spoonfed to willing recipients with an agenda odor and taste, perhaps a bit soylent green esque. It is not even subtle.

    The retiring of Jackie’s #42 has been one of the best things baseball has done in recent history. It is hard to screw up tributes, but if anyone is capable, Major League baseball is, so stay tuned……The Clemente family has not been happy that a number #21 retirement has not been given more serious discussion. This effort has hovered somewhat under the radar, it seems worthy of debate.

    I wonder if there is a Federal Prosecutor out there keeping track of Barry Bonds home run pace on his palm pilot.

    I can’t wait to see the Major League Baseball tap dance that unfolds if Barry Bonds breaks the Hammer’s record. I have the sneaking suspicion that the after glow will not be the same as the 1999 Mastercard Team of The Century Moment In Fenway Park at the All Star Game. I do not think there are plans the have Hank Aaron slowly emerge from cloudy smoke or a corn field in a golf cart to hand over the Home Run Crown to place it on Sir Bonds’ head. It probably would not fit anyway.

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