What does treasure look like to you? If you asked around, most would tell you gold, diamonds, or doubloons — not the knickknacks crammed between a pile of used books and a few old VHS tapes. But Bruce Scapecchi knew treasure came in all shapes and sizes, and after stumbling upon an ordinary-looking baseball bat, he accidentally hit the mother lode.
Of course, this wasn’t Bruce’s first rodeo. A picking enthusiast, the Des Moines, Iowa, native claimed to visit between 2,000 and 5,000 garage sales each year in just the summer alone. Naturally, Bruce had learned a thing or two about what he should be looking for.
But as he pulled up to the home of Sue McEntee, he never expected the day he’d have in store. After all, with tens of thousands of garage sales already under his belt — and enough empty trips to match — Bruce had learned to temper expectations.
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He began by browsing the more high-end items the McEntees had put out for sale: furniture, electronics, and the like. But as he circled the yard, something lying beneath a ping pong table caught his eye.
Nestled amongst several metal baseball bats was a wooden one, its surface faded and beginning to splinter. Normally, Bruce wouldn’t bother with such a seemingly worthless piece of sports equipment, though there was one feature of the bat that made him do a double take.
Its grip. Unlike the rubber-gripped bats you might find little leaguers toting, this bat had a taped grip that reminded Bruce of the style once used by a certain legendary pro ball player. But Bruce waved off his initial suspicions. Surely this was just a bit of wishful thinking.
Yet as he continued browsing, Bruce’s thoughts couldn’t help but return to the bat. He needed to know for sure whether his hunch was right — and he knew just how to prove it.
With bat in hand, Bruce approached Sue and told her plainly, “I think you might have something here.” This news came as a surprise to the humble homeowner, though, understandably, Sue was a bit skeptical.
After all, the bat had been in her possession for decades without anyone so much as batting an eye at it. Her kids had even played with it in the yard growing up, them too believing it was just an ordinary piece of wood.
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But Bruce was convinced that this bat was much more than just a child’s plaything. And so, he asked Sue to bring him a pencil, though when she returned, he didn’t write his name with it.
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Instead, he rubbed the graphite from the pencil along the barrel of the bat, revealing an inscription that’d faded from years of wear and use. With just one look, Bruce realized his hunch had been correct.
The name on the bat was unmistakable: Jackie Robinson. Bruce stood in disbelief as the potential significance of this simple piece of wood dawned on him, though there was now an even bigger mystery to be solved: if this was truly Jackie Robinson’s bat, what was it doing at a garage sale in Iowa?
That’s when Sue stepped in. The Iowa native revealed that her uncle, Joe Hatten, had known Jackie back in the ’50s — in fact, the two had actually played together for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
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A left-handed pitcher, “Lefty” Joe Hatten (middle, left) spent six seasons with Brooklyn, five of them alongside Jackie (far right). The two became close friends over the years, even bunking together on road trips.
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With so much time spent together, it’s no wonder that one of Jackie’s bats managed to find its way into Joe’s possession. From there, the legendary lumber was inconspicuously passed down through generations of Sue’s family — and right into Bruce’s hands.
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But being the upstanding fellow that he was, Bruce decided it’d be wrong of him to keep such a meaningful part of someone’s family history. And so, he left the bat with Sue, who had her own plans for the priceless heirloom.
While some might have seen the bat as a quick way to make a few bucks — far more than the $1 the McEntees had been looking to get for it — Sue opted to hold onto it for future generations to enjoy. If she had decided to sell, however, the payday would’ve been huge.
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For starters, Jackie Robinson memorabilia is incredibly scarce, with autographs being some of the most sought after. In fact, the average auction price for a Jackie Robinson-signed baseball can range anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000.
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But for an actual game-used item like Sue’s bat, the price becomes astronomical. One of the highest-selling pieces of sports memorabilia in history was actually a glove used by Jackie in his 1955 and ’56 World Series appearances, going to the highest bidder for a whopping $373,002.
Baseball Glove Collector
“He’s transcended sports,” says Brett Schlessler of New York’s Steiner Sports. “He’s an American icon, so his collection of goods is quite valuable. Serious collectors want to have him … They want to have a piece of somebody who rewrote history.”
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Yet Jackie Robinson wasn’t an overnight success. Before he broke baseball’s color barrier and went down as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was just a young Georgia boy struggling to find his place in the world.
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Born in Cairo as the youngest of five siblings, Jackie didn’t have much in the way of opportunity growing up. His parents were poor sharecroppers, and after moving to Pasadena, California, in 1920, he joined a street gang.
Jackie Robinson Foundation
But Jackie’s family — especially his brother, future Olympic silver medalist Mack Robinson — didn’t want to see him go down the wrong path. Seeing his younger sibling’s immense physical gifts, Mack encouraged Jackie to pursue his interest in sports.
Jackie shined as an athlete at John Muir High School, excelling at basketball, football, track, and, of course, baseball. He even played tennis, winning the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament in 1936.
His athletic dominance continued into junior college and his time at UCLA, as he won the 1940 NCAA championship in the long jump while also earning varsity letters in basketball, football, and baseball. He never finished college, instead choosing to pursue a career in pro football.
Jackie Robinson Foundation
But all that changed in 1942 when Jackie was drafted into the U.S. Army following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Jackie was commissioned as a second lieutenant following OCS training, though his military career soon hit a snag.
While riding an army-commissioned, nonsegregated bus, Jackie was told to sit in the back by the driver. He refused, leading to his arrest by military police and a subsequent recommendation for a court-martial.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Despite a slew of fabricated charges against the 25-year-old, Jackie was ultimately acquitted by an all-white panel. He received an honorable discharge in November 1944 and saw no combat, though Jackie wouldn’t soon forget the racially charged treatment he’d received.
After taking a job as the athletic director at Sam Huston College in Austin, Texas, Jackie received an offer to play in the Negro baseball league. He accepted, though the disorganization of the league and its grueling travel schedule soon left him wanting more.
That chance came on November 1, 1945, when Brooklyn Dodgers owner and general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie to the team’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals. The move marked an enormous victory for athletes of color, though the goodwill wouldn’t last long.
Jackie’s time in the minors was met with open hostility and racism, with some ballparks even forbidding him from playing. Still, Jackie’s star power was undeniable, and by season’s end, he’d captured the International League’s Most Valuable Player award.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie made history by becoming the first player since 1884 to break professional baseball’s color barrier. Though he failed to record a base hit, it was clear that the 28-year-old Georgia native had changed the sport forever.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Racism from fans and players alike continued to plague Jackie throughout his early career, though instead of fighting hate with hate, he let his bat do the talking. He established himself as a premiere hitter and base runner.
As Jackie’s prowess on the baseball field grew, so too did his fame outside of it. The Dodgers second baseman could be found on everything from baseball cards to cereal boxes, and children flocked to see him almost everywhere he went.
The early ’50s saw Jackie lead his Dodgers to several World Series appearances, though each time they came up just short to the New York Yankees. It wasn’t until 1955 — Jackie’s worst season statistically — that the Dodgers took home the title.
Long Island Pulse
Jackie retired shortly after the 1956 season following a proposed trade to the New York Giants. See, the 37-year-old had already agreed to become vice president of personnel for Chuck full O’Nuts, making him the first black person to serve as VP of a major corporation.
In 1962, Jackie became eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, though he encouraged voters to consider him on the merits of his play rather than his cultural impact. He was elected on the first ballot, making him the first black player in Cooperstown.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Baseball remained a major part of Jackie’s life. He became an analyst for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965 — the first black person to do so. He also briefly served as a commentator for the Montreal Expos.
Jackie remained heavily involved in community outreach in his post-baseball life. He served on the board of the NAACP, founded the Freedom National Bank in Harlem in 1964, and established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company in 1970 to build housing for low-income families.
Sadly, Robinson wouldn’t get to enjoy his retirement for long. The combined effects of heart disease and diabetes deteriorated his body and made him nearly blind by middle age, and on October 24, 1972, Jackie died of a heart attack at age 53.
Gardens of Stone
On April 15, 1997, Jackie’s jersey number, 42, was retired across MLB, and every year since 2004, April 15 has served as Jackie Robinson Day for all players, fans, and personnel — a testament to a hero both on and off the field.
Many athletes today continue to honor Jackie’s legacy through their work. With the help of his LeBron James Family Foundation, the basketball legend has donated millions toward improving living and education standards for the people of Akron, Ohio — his hometown.
But what is perhaps James’ most significant act of giving is the creation of his I Promise School. After learning of Akron’s high school dropout rate, James created the IPS to provide a stable education for at-risk children.
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2. Serena Williams: Like James, Williams has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in youth scholarships, but she’s even worked to build schools in underprivileged nations like Jamaica and Kenya.
Not only that, but Williams is also active in violence prevention. Her Serena Williams Fund is dedicated to assisting families and communities affected by senseless violence.
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3. J.J. Watt: While he’s definitely not the type of guy you’d want to cross on the football field, as president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, the football star has raised over $1 million toward helping children get involved in athletics within a safe environment.
Watt’s giving doesn’t stop there, as in 2017, he was a major part of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey recovery effort. Through crowdfunding and his own personal donations, Watt raised almost $40 million for the city and was subsequently named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
4. Maria Sharapova: Tennis and charity seem to go hand in hand, as, like Williams, Sharapova is also actively engaged in helping those in need. Through her Maria Sharapova Foundation, the legendary Russian tennis player has donated over $500k to communities affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
Sharapova is also heavily involved in global disaster recovery and tragedy relief efforts as well. The tennis star donated $50k to those affected by the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004 and even aided fellow competitor Monica Puig in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
5. Russell Wilson: The star quarterback holds dozens of charity events in and around Seattle, and in 2016, his Wilson’s Why Not You Foundation raised $1.06 million for the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Strong Against Cancer initiative.
While Wilson’s charitable contributions are no doubt impressive, the personal relationships he’s forged through his philanthropy are just as valuable. When he isn’t training or prepping for game day, Wilson makes weekly visits to Seattle Children’s to spend time with sick fans.
6. Kristi Yamaguchi: A shift from figure skating to charity work may not seem like a natural transition, but the 1992 Olympic champion has taken to her new passion in stride. Yamaguchi works to provide literacy programs to underserved children nationwide.
Yamaguchi has also expanded into the world of fashion through her active lifestyle brand, Tsuya. The clothing line is designed to empower women to look and feel their best, and a portion of the proceeds from Tsuya sales are donated to her youth literacy efforts.
7. John Cena: The WWE legend is one of the most charitable athletes out there, having granted the most wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with 500… and counting!
Even in the ring, Cena has been an ambassador for numerous charities. From late 2011 to early 2012, Cena sported a “Rise Above Hate” shirt to promote the “Be a Star” anti-bullying campaign, and during his October appearances, he wore pink in support of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
8. Mia Hamm: For a woman that’s done it all both in and out of the sports world, Mia Hamm’s charitable pursuits are no less impressive. As the founder of the Mia Hamm Foundation, the soccer legend strives to empower and create athletic opportunities for young women.
Mia Hamm Foundation
Since her brother’s death from aplastic anemia in 1997, Hamm has also been an advocate for the demand for bone marrow and cord blood transplants in the U.S. Through her foundation, Hamm encourages enrollment in the national bone marrow registry.
9. Eli Manning: He’s won two Super Bowls and raised millions for causes like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Operation Smile, and the Wounded Warrior Project. Surprisingly, however, the future Hall of Famer’s mission of giving extends far beyond the borders of New York and New Jersey.
In 2007, Manning donated $2.5 million to the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson, Mississippi to create The Eli Manning Children’s Clinics. The quarterback is also heavily involved in his hometown of New Orleans, having assisted in the delivery of 30,000 pounds of relief supplies following Hurricane Katrina.
10. Colin Kaepernick: There’s no denying the good that Kaepernick has done since taking a stand against injustice in 2016. The former NFL star pledged to donate $1 million to “organizations working in oppressed communities” and has since encouraged other celebrities to do the same.
The Grueling Truth
Kaepernick’s philanthropic efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, and since 2016 he has received numerous accolades. In 2017, Kaepernick was named GQ‘s “Citizen of the Year” and honored with Sports Illustrated‘s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. In 2018, he was given the Ambassador of Conscience Award and the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal.