Joanne Murphy didn’t see much in the old Bible that someone had left in a pile of books donated to the Sacramento Public Library’s volunteer fundraising group.
Its cover – which wasn’t high-end to begin with – was cracked and dry, ripping along a crease more than 50 years in the making.
It had lain in a box for months – and then languished in her workshop as she avoided the tough work for restoration.
Finally, about a week ago, Murphy, a retired emergency room physician who has been learning how to restore books, picked it up. She glanced at the water damage on some of its pages, and frowned at the work that would need to be done to restore its brown and gold cover.
The only interesting thing about it was the inscription page. It referenced a sports team called the Pirates, and the year, 1953. After that was a long list of signatures.
It almost didn’t seem worth it.
But then Murphy thought about her teacher, a rare book expert who was helping her learn how to fix the binding on old books. Always check the signatures, he’d taught her. That’s one thing you don’t ever want to neglect.
She peered at the list. Maybe, she thought, she recognized a name: Joe Garagiola.
She took the book into her husband, who immediately recognized the name of the baseball great, along with several others.
The Bible, it turned out, had been a gift to baseball legend Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who broke the sport’s color barrier by hiring Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Robinson made baseball history again two years later when he was named Most Valuable Player, and he moved in 1958 with the team to Southern California, where he had grown up.
In 1953, when he received the Bible, Rickey was president of the Pittsburgh Pirates. According to an obituary posted on the website of the New York Times, Rickey came from a religious Methodist family, never once in his long career playing, directing or attending a game on a Sunday.
As a young man, Rickey had lobbied in support of Prohibition, and had a reputation as a lay preacher, according to the obituary, which was written by United Press International after Rickey’s death in 1965.
In her attempts to authenticate the Bible, Murphy tracked down one of Rickey’s grandsons, Christopher Jakle, who lives in the Sacramento area. Rickly’s daughter, identified as Mrs. Edward Jakle in the obituary, had lived in the Bay Area suburb of Los Altos at the time of its 1965 writing.
But Jakle had never seen the Bible, and did not know how it might have ended up among 500 boxes of donated books in a Sacramento warehouse.
Now repaired, the book will be put on display at the library for Black History Month in November, said Don Burns, a spokesman for the Sacramento library system.
He said it was highly unusual for a rare book to show up in the thousands of boxes that the system receives each year.
“I’ve been here for almost 21 years and this is the first I’ve heard of something of that sort,” Burns said. “It’s like ‘The Antiques Roadshow.’ “
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