Jackie Robinson's contracts with Brooklyn Dodgers, Montreal Royals set for display

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An entrepreneur says he has unearthed the sports equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation: one of the original contracts Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Mykalai Kontilai, who is using the discovery to launch his auction business Collectors Café, says he purchased the 1947 documents that broke Major League Baseball's color barrier for an undisclosed amount in 2013. Collectors Café plans to display the contract, as well as the original contract Robinson signed to join the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers' minor league affiliate in 1945, on Monday in New York City's Times Square.

"I want to say what an honor it is for Collectors Café to be affiliated with the great Jackie Robinson and to share these historical documents with the American people and bring all the recognition we can to the memory and work and mission of the great Jackie Robinson," Kontilai said in a telephone interview.

Collectors Café has agreed to donate 10 percent of the net sale proceeds from the auction to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Authenticated by prominent expert John Reznikoff and valued at $36 million for sale, the four-page Dodgers contract bears the names of Robinson, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who engineered the historic desegregation of what was then America's most popular sport, and National League President Ford Frick. Robinson was paid $5,000 for the season.

Kontilai has letters from Robinson's 93-year-old widow, Rachel, and the Jackie Robinson Foundation supporting the eventual sale of the contracts. On Sunday, the Foundation said it had not seen the documents, and was not vouching for their authenticity.

According to Kontilai, the history of the documents that ultimately freed all black athletes from second-class citizenship in professional sports is as follows:

A Brooklyn historian acquired the Montreal Royals and Brooklyn Dodgers contracts, perhaps from Robinson himself, more than 50 years ago. When that historian died, his estate sold the contracts to a New York City collector of sports documents. The collector sold the contracts to Kontilai's company in 2013, shortly before his death. Kontilai said in the interview that neither of the previous owners wanted to be publicly identified and declined to share any information about them.

The authenticator, Reznikoff, has worked with Declaration of Independence printings and hundreds of documents signed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. During the process, which took "a couple of hours," Reznikoff examined the paper and ink using several magnification procedures, including a video spectral comparator that can detect hidden alterations of a document, and compared the signatures with verified examples.

"It passed all the tests with flying colors, everything that I looked at," Reznikoff said this week. "There's a lot of components to a document. There's ink, paper, printing, and everything was consistent."

"I'm 110 percent sure" it's real, Reznikoff said.

The Brooklyn Dodgers document is dated April 11, 1947, and the Montreal Royals document is dated October 23, 1945, according to their $36 million valuation, which was prepared by Seth Kaller, who has handled eight Lincoln-signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, Benjamin Franklin's signed copy of the U.S. Constitution and many other documents.

"Their effect on American history, and even the world, transcends the bounds of sports," Kaller wrote in his appraisal. "Jackie Robinson's contracts are documents of freedom in the same vein as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation."

Robinson integrated Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947, when he played first base against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Over the course of that season, Robinson batted .297, led the league in stolen bases with 29, had a .427 slugging percentage, scored 125 runs on 175 hits and won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award. His performance propelled the Dodgers to the World Series, though they lost to the Yankees in seven games.

Calls and emails to the Los Angeles Dodgers historian and team officials were not returned.

Robinson's courage and achievement in the face of virulent and unrepressed racism by both players and fans, at a time when Jim Crow laws still deprived black citizens of basic human rights, marked an indelible turning point in black history. Television personality Larry King, who is a partner in Collectors Café, once interviewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for what was then his radio show in Miami and described him as the "founder of the civil rights movement."

"I am not the founder of the civil rights movement," the freedom fighter replied, according to King. "The founder of the civil rights movement is Jackie Robinson."

Ryan Cortes contributed to this report.

An April 10, 2016, story on ESPN.com incorrectly reported that entrepreneur Mykalai Kontilai said he had letters from Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, and the Jackie Robinson Foundation supporting the authenticity of contracts Robinson signed with Brooklyn and Montreal. Instead, Kontilai, who owns the contracts, said he had letters from those parties supporting the documents' sale.