New PWCC cards in Shoebox Treasures highlight integration of baseball
When visitors come to Cooperstown to see the exhibit and the “From the PWCC Vault” baseball card drawers, they will see some of the game’s greatest postwar players as they were first introduced to card collectors from 1949 to 1961.
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As a bonus, these examples also show how quickly the design and appearance of cards evolved during the era, suggesting why collecting baseball cards became such a passion in an age of otherwise black and white media. Finally, the cards illustrate how graphic designers took the basic elements of the cards and converted them into treasured time-capsules that carried on for generations of youths.
Collector Todd Rosko generously provided the cards featuring the 14 Black pioneers.
Following the end of World War II in 1945, baseball – in a reflection of American society – evolved through a number of fundamental changes. Chief among these was the breaking of the game’s long-held color line. The Pittsburgh Courier’s Double V campaign, promoting victory abroad against the Axis powers abroad and full rights for Black Americans at home, had raised the profile of inequality in a new and powerful way.
In 1961, baseball had been integrated for 15 seasons, but the rest of America wasn’t yet. Spring Training sites still practiced housing and dining discrimination, and players later recalled that teams often just happened to have an even number of Black players, ensuring they could room them together.
To the betterment of baseball, more great Black ballplayers were on the way and would be featured in upcoming Topps card sets.
John Odell is the curator of history and research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum