Okay so we all know the drill at this point. It’s an unwritten rule that, for the most part, every team follows, intentionally or otherwise. Teams don’t make trades with their arch rivals. They certainly don’t deal away superstars to their sacred enemies either. But, every now and then it happens. Sparky Lyle went from being a member of the Boston Red Sox to donning New York Yankee pinstripes in a trade that sent two Yankees to Beantown. The Chicago Cubs traded a young, unproven Lou Brock to the rival St. Louis Cardinals, where he turned his career around and into a Hall of Famer. So, yes, it does it happen. Not a lot, but it does. Which is why it comes as a surprise to many that one of the most polarizing figures in baseball and American history was so close to being involved in an unlikely trade between bitter rivals.
That man’s name was Jackie Robinson. Yes, of course we all know him. In 1947 he broke baseball’s long standing “gentleman’s agreement”, which barred black players from big league baseball, when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. By the end of his Hall of Fame career, he owned a .311 batting average, won the first ever Rookie of the Year Award, a National League Most Valuable Player Award and a World Series Championship, the Dodgers’ first and only championship from their tenure in Brooklyn. He was an icon on the field, paving the way for others to follow him. More so, he was an icon off the field, breaking ground for the budding Civil Rights Movement. Before Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, there was Jackie Robinson.
We all know that. What is so commonly unheralded about Jackie’s life is how the Dodgers, under the charge of Walter O’Malley, agreed to trade him to the arch-rival New York Giants before the start of the 1957 season. On December 19, 1956 the deal was agreed upon and the two sides left the table happy. But Robinson never did throw on the Giants uniform. Instead, he wrote to the Giants ownership, thanked them and hung up his spikes for good. His ten year career concluded having never played for a team other than Brooklyn. He would later announce his retirement in Look Magazine and turned his attention towards other ventures. The trade was later voided by the Commissioner’s Office making it, as far as historical transactions go, not a transaction at all.
Robinson had explained to the Giants that he had other business ventures in the works. His new work would help bring his message of Civil Rights to an even larger stage. Jackie became Vice President of Chock Full O’Nuts, marking the first time in history that a black man held that position in a major American corporation. He’d also pioneer the broadcasting world, becoming the first African American analyst in Major League Baseball. Robinson was one of the people responsible for the establishment of Freedom National Bank based in Harlem, New York. His post-baseball efforts earned him the Gold Congressional Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
For such an extraordinary life, it’s no surprise that the almost trade to the Giants goes largely unnoticed. In the grand scheme of things, the story is just a footnote. It’s hard to imagine Jackie Robinson wearing anything other than Dodger blue, let alone rival orange and black. Imagine seeing him in San Francisco! Can you image the great Jackie Robinson at Candlestick Park once the team moved a few years after the trade was supposed to be consummated? Jackie Robinson was many things and he came so close to adding yet another name to his long laundry list. He was almost a New York Giant.