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This Might Blow Fred Wilpon’s Mind

[1]Perhaps you’re familiar with the story of Jackie Robinson retiring rather than accepting the last transaction Walter O’Malley arranged for him, a trade to the Giants for Dick Littlefield.

The very thought! Jackie the ultimate Dodger going to the hated rivals! GASP! No wonder he quit!

Actually, Robinson had already decided to retire from baseball after the 1956 season to go to work full time as Chock full o’ Nuts’ director of personnel when the trade was made: Robinson to New York; pitcher Dick Littlefield and $35,000 to Brooklyn. The move was seen as a parting shot from O’Malley, who never liked Robinson.

Contrary to the myth that Robinson would have rather died than call the Polo Grounds home, Jackie — according to biographer Arnold Rampersad — maintained cordial contact with Giants owner Horace Stoneham after the announcement and even told one reporter, “I’ve got no hard feelings against the Dodgers but I’m going to do everything I can to beat them next year.” Perhaps it was a charade (Jackie had sold his “I’m retiring” exclusive to Look magazine and it hadn’t yet been published), but he didn’t immediately or publicly reject the trade out of hand. By this point in his career, however, Robinson was almost 38 and knew the end of the line had been reached. Still, it took more than a month after the trade was made for baseball’s trailblazer to tell his prospective new employer thanks, but no thanks.

“I assure you that my retirement has nothing to do with my trade to your organization,” Robinson wrote Stoneham [2] in a letter making it clear he wouldn’t be reporting to Spring Training in 1957. “From all I have heard from people who have worked with you it would have been a pleasure to have been in your organization. Again my thanks and continued success for you and the New York Giants.”

Doesn’t sound all that vitriolic, does it?

It was a little late for Jackie Robinson to start switching teams, but that doesn’t mean somebody didn’t imagine he might have followed through. Last year, Topps created a special set of “Cards That Never Were” [3] in the style of their 1959 releases for a sports collector’s show. Jackie as a New York Giant, swinging in black and orange as if he hadn’t retired, was in the set. This caught the eagle eye of my baseball card maven friend, Joe, who tracked it down for me for my birthday…which was awfully nice of him. (And yes, I do know my share of baseball card mavens [4].)

Jackie Robinson, pictured as a New York Giant: I’ll be looking for a reproduction in a Rotunda near me.