Pittsburgh Courier sportswriter Wendell Smith wrote an encouraging letter to Jackie Robinson on Feb. 4, 1947. Smith told Robinson, a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league farm team in Montreal, that “You should not worry about the plans they have for you.”
“As I see it you are definitely going to get a chance,” Smith wrote. “All you have to do is keep a cool head, play the kind of ball you are capable of playing and don’t worry about anything.”
Robinson had reasons to worry in the spring of 1947.
He was trying to become the first black player in the major leagues since the 1880s, and was hoping to have a strong spring training in Cuba during 1947 to gain a spot on the Dodgers’ roster. By the time Robinson got to Havana, Smith’s words may have seemed hollow.
A photo of a dejected Robinson looking through the Dodgers’ 1947 spring media guide and not seeing his name is a poignant offering in RMY Auctions Winter Premier Auction, which began Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 25. Robinson, sitting on steps and wearing his Montreal Royals uniform, furrows his brow as he looks through a roster pamphlet, wondering if he would ever get the chance to make the parent club.
He need not have worried, although it took a patient man to wait for his chance.
It would not be the last indignity Robinson would suffer. While his white teammates stayed at the swanky Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana during the spring of 1947, the Montreal Royals’ players were living in substandard accommodations.
“The Brooklyn players have been sleeping in golden beds and eating off platinum plates,” according to The Sporting News.
Those slights made Robinson hungrier than other players that spring, and he made the major league club. Robinson would sign a major league contract with the Dodgers on April 10, 1947 and would make his debut five days later — the beginning of a Hall of Fame career that lasted through 1956.
The Acme photograph, dated March 1, 1947, measures 7 inches by 9¼ inches. The photo is clear and appears to be developed from the original negative. It is stamped on the back by Acme, and there is a sheet attached to the back with a caption that is subtitled “Maybe Next Year.”
The caption reads, “Jackie Robinson, 1946 International League batting king, wistfully studies the current Brooklyn Dodgers roster, which fails to list him, Robinson, who was expected to join the parent club, is back in Montreal uniform in Havana.”
According to RMY Auctions, the photo grades out at 7/10 and has some slight paper loss at the top that is “hard to notice” as it blends with the photograph’s white border. RMY lists the quality of the photograph as 5/5.
Robinson would go on to win rookie of the year honors and was the National League MVP in 1949. He was a six-time all-star who batted .311 during his career. As fans celebrate what would have been Robinson’s 101st birthday on Jan. 31, the photo is a reminder that Robinson lifted himself from disappointment and carved out a Hall of Fame career.