Branch Rickey’s significant role in the breaking of baseball’s long-standing color barrier in 1947 is universally recognized and well documented. What is less well known, however, is that the seeds of his “Great Experiment” were first sown during his college coaching days at Ohio Wesleyan in the early 1900s. At that time that he was deeply moved by an incident that haunted him for the remainder of his life. Rickey’s club included an extremely talented black catcher by the name of Charles Thomas. As expected, Thomas often encountered many forms of racism during the team’s travels. Some schools refused to take the field against him. Hotels and restaurants often denied him service. Following one of these many incidents in 1904, Rickey found the young man sitting outside the hotel rubbing his skin over and over. As Rickey approached him to inquire what he was doing, Thomas looked up at him, sadly, and said, “if only I could make it white.” That image of Thomas trying to “rub the black from his body” made a lasting impression on Rickey (he recounted the story many times over the course of his career) and was one of the driving forces behind his campaign for integration forty-three years later. Offered here is an amazing and rare piece dating to that fateful moment in Rickey’s life. This twelve-page calendar, issued by the school for the year 1905, features photos of campus life on each of the pages. Included within the many images of buildings, faculty members, and students, is a glorious team photo capturing the 1904 baseball team. The photo, displayed on the page for the month of April, pictures Rickey standing in the back row to the far right. Charles Thomas is prominently visible standing in the center of the back row. A placard located at the player’s feet reads “Champions 1904.” The calendar has a water stain along the left border that affects each of the interior pages, also resulting in minor paper loss in this area. The calendar is otherwise in overall Very Good condition. This is one of the most profoundly significant pieces relating to baseball and integration that we have ever seen.

Robert Lifson
Robert Edward Auctions, LLC

Robert Edward Auctions is one of the collecting world’s leading collectibles auction companies, specializing in the rarest and most historic baseball cards and memorabilia, as well as other sport, non-sport, and Americana collectibles.

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