Integration in the Major Leagues was still a long way from even being considered by the most progressive minds.
In 1916, players of African-American descent were unwelcome on baseball’s biggest stage. But in Oakland, California…at least for a moment…there was a tiny glimmer of hope.
Jimmy Claxton was a 23 year-old pitcher who landed with the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks just long enough to get his picture on a baseball card. A photographer taking pictures for what would become the E137 Zeenuts set, grabbed a photo of the recently acquired prospect. While Claxton’s tenure with the Oaks turned out to last only a week, he was immortalized on the card.
Now, one of only nine graded examples of this little piece of history is on the block in Heritage Auctions’ Fall Trading Card Auction. Graded EX 5, it stands as the highest graded example currently in an SGC holder.
The card is expected to sell for $20,000 or more by the time bidding concludes next week.
Claxton’s image represents the first solo card of a player of African-American ancestry printed in the United States. It would be more than 30 years before Jackie Robinson posed for photos that appeared on U.S. trading cards following his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
According to his SABR bio, “Claxton described his ethnic heritage as being Negro, French and Indian on his father’s side, and Irish and English on his mother’s.”
His slice of professional fame has his card in high demand by collectors who appreciate its scarcity and the story behind it.
Claxton, by the way, wasn’t done pitching despite his release by the Oaks in 1916. In fact, he pitched on semi-pro teams and barnstormed until his early 50s. He died in 1970 at age 77.