Jackie Robinson

Chief curator Daniel Piazza shares intimate knowledge, little-known facts and secrets about the stories told in “Baseball: America’s Home Run,” highlighting some of the spectacular objects on display, including discussions with key lenders to the exhibition on artifacts never-before displayed for pubic view.

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I'm Dan Piazza, curator of the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run, on view until January 2025.

Join me for an inside look at some of the most exciting objects from this blockbuster show that explores America's national pastime through stamps, mail and memorabilia.

Of the more than 60 baseball stamps issued by the United States since 1939, the vast majority commemorate individual players.

Many of these postal portraits feature specially commissioned artwork designed to mimic the look and feel of classic baseball cards< and recall players whose achievements on and off the field, made them household names.

Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia, the son of sharecroppers and grandson of enslaved Americans.

He played two seasons in the Negro and Minor Leagues before being called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, as Major League Baseball's first African-American player in nearly six decades.

Smithsonian Books author Stephen Wong, who also serves as honorary advisor and a major lender to Baseball: America's Home Run, has a closer look.

On opening day April 15, 1947, 26,623 fans, more than 14,000 of them African Americans, turned up at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York to watch a black man play in a major league game for the very first time.

Playing first base, Robinson failed to get a hit but he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers 5-3 victory over the Boston Braves.

Opposing players taunted Robinson but he quickly learned to keep his focus on baseball, answering insults, violence, and injustice with silence.

Robinson was the target of racial epithets and flying cleats, of hate letters, and death threats, of pitchers throwing at his head and legs, and catchers spitting on his shoes.

Sports Illustrated's Bill Knack later wrote.

Robinson also amassed an enviable set of statistics.

In his rookie year of 1947, he hit 297 with a league leading 29 stolen bases and finished in the NL with 125 runs scored.

He was dazzling on the base paths, fast, clever and daring.

He also revived the art of stealing home, making the play 19 times in his career including a theft of home in the 1955 World Series.

His courage, resolve, and unselfish team play earned respect of his teammates and fans at Ebbets Field.

Not so was the case in cities outside of Brooklyn.  

In 1948 when Jackie Robinson wore this Brooklyn Dodgers road uniform for road games in Cincinnati, in St Louis, in Philadelphia, and other cities, imagine the taunts, and the insults, and the violence, and the threats that were channeled towards his direction, not only towards him, but his family.

This uniform symbolizes and represents Robinson's legacy and also what he has done for the Civil Rights Movement.

Again, Dr. Martin Luther King has often referred to Jackie Robinson as the Founding Father of the Civil Rights Movement.

He paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s through his act of bravery and courage.

Throughout the 1947 season, 1948 season, and frankly throughout his entire career.

Jackie Robinson became the first baseball player ever honored with a U.S. postage stamp, a 1982 issue that was the fifth in the long-running Black Heritage series.

For more on the intersection of postal and baseball history visit the National Postal Museum exhibition, Baseball: America's Home Run, online at postalmuseum.si.edu/baseball

Baseball: America’s Home Run