He looked at the items carefully one by one until he spotted it. Could it be the one? He noticed that the signature was worn, but he could make out an “R” and an “O.” If he was correct about this, it would be worth a huge fortune. But there was only one way to find out the truth. So he took a pencil and began to rub it into the wood. Then the letters became more clear.
Sue McEntee had lots of her mind. Her cluttered home was starting to drive her nuts. Her house was filled with piles of old books, toys, and unused tools. Her garage was becoming cramped with junk too. It was time to get rid of all of it and have a garage sale. But little did Sue know, she was about to make a huge mistake—one of the biggest of her life.
Sue set up a table in her driveway and began to organize everything into neat piles. There were so many things just taking up space; an old plastic Jack-O-Lantern, camping gear that hadn’t been used in years. Her kids were grown now and they didn’t want these things either. It was time to finally let stuff go. Even the old baseball bats that they collected over the years would be up for grabs. She placed them all in a neat row and didn’t even think twice about the wooden bat, but she should have.
Bruce Scapecchi woke up feeling it was a great day to go on a treasure hunt. His favorite pastime was checking out the local garage and estate sales, antique shops, and thrift stores. He loved the mystery of not knowing what he might find. Sometimes, he would find a hidden treasure among the trash. It wouldn’t happen often but just enough to keep him coming back for more. Bruce had a good feeling about today.
During the middle of summer, Bruce would visit anywhere from 2 to 5,000 garage and estate sales. He’s been a collector most of his life, and his keen eyes know just what to look for. But when Bruce came to Sue’s garage sale, he scanned thru everything so fast that he almost missed it.
Just as Bruce was about to walk away, he spotted it! There in a neat row with the metal baseball bats laid out under the table was a wooden bat. It wasn’t modern like the rest of the bats. To the untrained eye, the wooden bat looked old and worthless. Bruce couldn’t believe it! The price tag was only $1!
He picked up the old wooden bat. He noticed the grip was nice and smooth from years of use. It was heavy too. He looked at the lettering more carefully in the sunlight. The words were worn off. But he had a strong feeling that there was something extra special about this old wooden bat.
So Bruce could either buy the wooden bat for $1, or he could let the seller, Sue McEntee, in on the secret. If he quickly bought the bat and resold it, he could make a nice amount of cash. So he was faced with a moral dilemma.
He made his decision quickly, and then asked Sue, “Do you know what this is?” She seemed confused for a second, but then replied, “Well yeah, it’s a bat.” He knew from her response she didn’t have a clue what he was holding. The old wooden bat could be a very big piece of American history.
Bruce told her quietly, “I think you might have something here. It’s hard for me to tell, but there’s one true way. I want you to go inside and get a pencil.” Puzzled with his request, Sue walked into her house to get a pencil. Then, Bruce rubbed the pencil lead on a small part of the old bat.
He held the lead pencil sideways and continued to rub it into the wood. The grey lead filled the grooves of the letters. He held the bat up to the light to show Sue. There it was, the name carved into wood: Jackie Robinson. But how in the world did Sue have such a rare item?
Sue explained to Bruce, “My uncle Joe Hatten played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was a left-handed pitcher and they called him Lefty Joe and he and Jackie played baseball together in the 40s. And yes he was one of the few players that would room with Jackie.”
Jackie Robinson, also known as Brooklyn Dodger Jack Roosevelt Robinson, was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB). He received many awards including National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949—the first black player so honored. So the old wooden bat symbolized a very important time in history.
Robinson had an exceptional baseball career. Some other awards he received include MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and All-Star for 6 consecutive seasons. In 1962, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sue’s revelation blew Bruce away. “…I just thought that was incredible,” he said in an interview.
Bruce’s exciting discovery made the news and it spread all over town. It just so happened that the College World Series baseball tournament was hosting an exhibition about the history of African-American baseball players. The chairman and president of the institution, Jim Beatty, got wind of Sue’s rare baseball bat.
What was even more surprising was that Beatty had been told about the garage sale find by two baseball fans who happened to see the story on the local news. If the bat was officially authenticated, with Sue’s permission, Beatty could put it on display at one of the College World Series exhibitions
Jackie Robinson’s life story is so iconic that it was made into a feature film called “42.” The movie starred Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, and Harrison Ford as Branch Ricky, the Brooklyn Dodger’s manager. Beatty was excited when the Great Plains History Museum reached out to him after the film’s release.
Beatty explained: “Everyone coming in, especially the kids, the first thing they ask about is Jackie Robinson. So we point them to the display. The movie has been a huge plus in terms of increasing awareness of not only Jackie Robinson, but also the courage of many – not the least of whom was Branch Rickey – in order to make that happen.”
Sue came to terms with the baseball bat’s true value back at her home in Des Moines, Iowa. She had this to say about the bat: “We’re going to keep it. I mean, the stories with my uncle and Robinson. Yeah, it’s not going anywhere.” Fortunately for Sue, Bruce is an honest man to tell her she had something of extreme value at her garage sale.
Bruce Scapecchi’s keen eye led him to discover a very valuable piece of history at Sue’s garage sale. He saved the iconic baseball bat from being sold for a measly dollar. Sue is extremely grateful and promises to treasure the rare bat. She assured baseball fans that she has no intentions of parting with the bat anytime soon.