Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey

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Ethnic prejudice has no place in sports, and baseball must recognize that truth if it is to maintain stature as a national game."

"Man may penetrate the outer reaches of the universe, he may solve the very secret of eternity itself, but for me, the ultimate human experience is to witness the flawless execution of a hit-and-run."

Thou shalt not steal. I mean defensively. On offense, indeed thou shalt steal and thou must."
- Branch Rickey

The forward-looking "Mahatma"Wesley Branch Rickey, born of Ohio stock in 1881, spent an undistinguished career as a major league player and field manager, but there is something historic about the man.Rickey will forever be remembered for tearing down the color barrier that existed in Major League Baseball until 1947. When Jackie Robinson got the call up from the Minor leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers, he became the first African-American to play at the Major League level in the 20th century.It was a risky move by Rickey; prejudice was widespread in America. A backlash of negative sentiment was sure to follow. The predicted howl would come, but most baseball club owners took a wait-and-see attitude.Tremendous pressure was brought to bear on Robinson to succeed. Had he failed to live up to the standards and playing ability of a Major Leaguer, the integration movement might have been set back for years.Robinson responded by leading the league in stolen bases and earning the first Rookie of the Year award. He would eventually become the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The "Great Experiment," as it was termed, was an unqualified success.That feat, and a shrewd eye for baseball talent, earned Rickey the revered nickname, "The Mahatma," or guru."He (Rickey) could recognize a great player from the window of a moving train," wrote nationally acclaimed sports columnist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times.Rickey the innovatorBranch Rickey was a free thinker, and devised a number of "gadgets" that helped improve the game and help speed the development of the young talent he was accumulating.His first development was the forerunner of what is now the Minor League system, with such talent levels as AAA (a notch below the majors), AA, A, Rookie, and Developmental leagues.In 1919, he took over the St. Louis Cardinals front office as general manager. He began to buy semi-pro teams and stocked them with his own pre-selected talent, thus giving aspiring players a place to hone their skills with help from ex-Major Leaguers, scouts, and managers. His system eventually boasted a network of 32 teams and about 600 players under contract.Rickey then was able to draw the best talent out of the minors to play for the parent club. He signed and promoted to the big leagues the likes of Johnny "Pepper" Martin, Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean and his brother Paul "Daffy" Dean, and Joe "Ducky" Medwick. This talent came together as the "Gashouse Gang," which dominated baseball in the 1930s.In the early 1940s it was Stan "the Man" Musial, Enos "Country" Slaughter, and Marty "Slats" Marion, the foundation of another juggernaut.Of course, this didn't escape the watchful eye of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who thought this system of player development upset the balance of talent, and therefore competition, at the Major League level. Based on this premise and wielding his czar-like powers, Landis raided the Cardinal system, twice awarding free agaency to 70 players.In 1942, Rickey moved on to assume command of the Brooklyn Dodgers. While with the Dodgers, he, along with Minor League director Buzzi Bavasi, set up the first spring training facility in Vero Beach, Florida. They took over a 104-acre plot once used as a civilian small-craft airport, and converted it into the prototype of all Major League facilities. It could be used to gather every Dodger under contract to instruct, evaluate, and assign players at equal levels of ability to the same level in the Minor Leagues.Rickey also brought to the game the first batting helmets, batting cages, pitching machines, and a string to outline the strike zone for pitchers working on their control.The waning yearsAfter such a brilliant career, Rickey was forced out of the Dodger organization in 1950 by owner Walter O'Malley. Rickey was not out of a job long, however. He received a call from the Pittsurg Pirates to help right their listing ship. Nevertheless, the magic, it seemed, was gone. Pirate teams struggled through three straight seasons of 100 lost games (out of 154, at the time).Rickey stepped down from the Pirates in 1955, but resurfaced in 1959 to preside over a third Major League, the Continental League. The American and National leagues intervened to strike an agreement with Rickey to disband his league, while the majors would expand to 10 teams in each league and play a 162-game schedule. That scheme was implemented in 1961.In Rickey's later years, he took to public speaking. He visited Columbia, Missouri, in 1965, where he delivered his acceptance speech as an inductee in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He collapsed in the middle of the speech and died a month later.Rickey was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.

Rickey is the grandson of Branch Rickey, [1] who is best known for spearheading the movement within Major League Baseball to break the color barrier and for creating the framework for the modern minor league farm system. [2] His father, Branch Rickey Jr., served as farm system director for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. [3]

Rickey competed in high school football, wrestling, and baseball. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University, where he majored in philosophy. [4] Like his father and grandfather before him, he played soccer all four years and was co-captain in his senior year. He is a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He graduated in 1967. [5]

He entered the Peace Corps in 1969 where he was assigned to Venezuela. [1] He later worked as a college campus recruiter in the Southern United States and subsequently as regional recruitment director in 1971. [4]

Also in 1969, Rickey began to pursue freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling officiating. He was certified to judge and referee at the Olympic level, which he did at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. [4]

Rickey began his professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1963 at age 17 when he became business manager of their Rookie League affiliate, the Kingsport Pirates of the Appalachian League, in Kingsport, Tennessee. [4] He continued in this capacity during his summers through 1965. [4] After college, he returned to professional baseball in 1972 as assistant director of the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in Sarasota, Florida. The Academy was a major league experiment to take teenage players with overall athletic skill and develop them into major league players. When the Academy was closed by the Royals in 1974, Rickey rejoined the Pirates. [1] Rickey continued in Major League Baseball for over twenty years with Pittsburgh and the Cincinnati Reds as a scout, assistant scouting director during the 1970s, and director of player development in the 1980s. [3]

In 1991, he succeeded Randy Mobley as president of the Triple-A American Association. He remained in this role until after the 1997 season when the league dissolved in conjunction with the 1998 Major League Baseball expansion and Triple-A realignment. Up to this point, three Triple-A leagues had operated in the United States: the American Association, International League, and Pacific Coast League. The directors of each league voted to disband the American Association and disperse its teams among the other two. [6]

Rickey was elected President of the Pacific Coast League in 1998, replaced the retiring Bill Cutler, who served as PCL president from 1979 to 1997. [4] That same year, he was selected as the recipient of MiLB's Warren Giles Award, which honors outstanding service as a league president. [7] He was again honored with the Giles Award in 2014. [7]

Branch Rickey - History

COLUMBIA, Mo. Dec. 9--Branch Rickey, a dominant figure in baseball for half a century, died tonight in Boone County Memorial Hospital at the age of 83.

He broke the color barrier in the major leagues and developed the farm system.

Mr. Rickey had remained unconscious in the hospital since he collapsed with a heart attack the night of Nov. 13 while being inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Mr. Rickey, who developed baseball dynasties with the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers, had left a St. Louis hospital Nov. 13 so he could attend the Missouri-Oklahoma football game and make his acceptance speech at the Sports Hall of Fame banquet that night.

Collapsed During Speech

He was scheduled to go back to the hospital after the ceremonies. But he collapsed shortly after he had started to talk.

"I don&apost believe I&aposm going to be able to speak any longer," Mr. Rickey said as he slumped over before the stunned audience.

The cigar chomping Mr. Rickey, who throughout his career declined to attend Sunday baseball games because of a promise to his mother and who was seldom known to say anything stronger than his famous "Judas Priest," remained in the hospital&aposs intensive-care ward until his death, continuously receiving oxygen.

Mr. Rickey&aposs wife, Mrs. Jane Moulton Rickey, and a daughter, Mrs. Stephen S. Adams Jr. of St. Louis, were with him when he died.

He leaves four other daughters, Mrs. John Eckler of Columbus, Ohio Mrs. Robert Jones of Elmira, N.Y. Mrs. Edward Jakle of Los Altos, Calif., and Mrs. Lindsay Wolfe of Swarthmore Pa. Also among his survivors are many grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

A son, Branch Jr., died several years ago.

Mr. Rickey&aposs body was taken to the Lupton Chapel in St. Louis.

A Teller of Folksy Tales

Branch Rickey was an owlish, rumpled man who gave flowery speeches in answer to simple questions. He had, by his own count, more than a thousand folksy stories to illustrate his points and most of these had been told to him by his mother.

One of them summed up his philosophy of life:

"My father was 86 when he died. As an old man he was still planting peach and apple trees on our farm near Portsmouth, Ohio. When I asked who would take in the fruit he said, &aposThat&aposs not important. I just want to live every day as if I were going to live forever.&apos"

Jackie Robinson, picked to become the first Negro in the major leagues, recalled his first meeting with Mr. Rickey:

"The hand holding mine was hard, gnarled, with the often broken fingers of an ex-baseball catcher. His hair was thick, deep brown. Heavy, bushy eyebrows flapped like twin crows from side to side as he talked."

This description was included in a Reader&aposs Digest article by Mr. Robinson in 1961. He wrote of Mr. Rickey:

"He was taking off his coat, rolling up his sleeves. His mobile face had suddenly taken on a droll, cunning look.

"&aposLet&aposs say I&aposm a hotel clerk. You come in with the rest of your team. I look up from the register and snarl, "We don&apost let niggers sleep here." What do you do then?&apos

"Again, before I could answer, the smudgy cigar shot toward my chin, and he was an umpire waving his huge fist too close under my nose, banishing me from the game. As a race-baiting fan he hurled pop bottles and insults. When the performance was over his shirt was soggy with sweat, his hair matted.

"His curtain line explained everything. It was the most dramatic I have ever heard, before or since:

"&aposJackie, this talk of organizing a Negro team in Brooklyn was only a cover-up for my real plans. I want you to be the first Negro player in the major leagues. I&aposve been trying to give you some idea of the kind of punishment you&aposll have to absorb. Can you take it?&apos"

Mr. Rickey brought the young Robinson to Montreal in the International League in 1946 and then to the Dodgers the following season, opening the way for numerous Negro stars who followed him into the major leagues.

Mr. Rickey had been a farm boy, teacher, college athletic director, college trustee, college board member, prohibitionist, ballplayer, manager, general manager, club president, part owner and even president of a baseball league.

The sport is indebted to him for the "knothole gang" idea, which helped promote the interest of youngsters in baseball. With this movement he developed the fans who would in the future pay the salaries of the players. Blackboard talks, sliding pits, plays developed exclusively to catch runners off base, these were innovations by Mr. Rickey.

Mr. Rickey, who was never known to play, direct or attend a ball game on Sunday, came from a devout Methodist family. In his later years he was an inveterate cigar smoker, but he never drank or used profane language. He had a reputation as a lay preacher and sometimes spoke at religious meetings.

Notable players whose development was made possible by Mr. Rickey, or with whose success he was associated, included the Dean brothers, Dizzy and Paul, whose place in St. Louis baseball will long be remembered, and Joe Medwick, a star of the "Gas House Gang" era.

Mr. Rickey, who was known as the "master trader" of his time, used shrewd judgment in trading many top stars, often when they had passed their peak as performers but could still draw a high price.

His most famous deal was probably the sale of Dizzy Dean to the Chicago Cubs in 1937. In exchange for the once-great pitcher who was suffering from a sore arm, he obtained the pitchers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun in addition to a sum reported to have been $185,000.

He even traded the incomparable Rogers Hornsby, who had been the playing manager of the Cardinals.

Mr. Rickey always looked for what he called the "young, hungry player with the basic attributes of youth and speed plus strength of arm." The result was a Rickey dynasty of great young players who repeatedly won pennants for the Cardinals and later the Dodgers.

Branch Wesley Rickey was born on a farm at Stockdale, Ohio, on Dec. 20, 1881, the second of three sons, to Jacob Franklin and Emily Rickey, who were known for their piety.

After receiving an elementary school education, Mr. Rickey became a country school teacher. He taught himself Latin, higher mathematics and other subjects, and was able to enter Ohio Wesleyan University. Later he obtained a law degree from the University of Michigan.

The young Rickey earned his way through Ohio Wesleyan by playing both baseball and football. His baseball position was always catcher, which he went on to play in his major-league career.

As a big-league player, Mr. Rickey did not amount to much. In a game against Washington in 1907, when he was catching for New York, there were 13 stolen bases charged against him. In 11 games he was charged with nine errors.

Work Brought on Illness

He entered the big leagues in 1903 with the Cincinnati Reds, but was released because of his scruples against playing on Sundays. He returned the next year from Dallas to the St. Louis Browns, by way of the Chicago White Sox. Meanwhile, he received an A.B. degree at Ohio Wesleyan in 1905, the year in which he married Jane Moulton, after having proposed "more than a hundred times," as he later recounted.

In the off-season of 1908, he toured as a prohibition advocate. The same year he entered the University of Michigan, where he served as baseball coach while getting his law degree.

The strain of work, play and study had its effect, and a touch of tuberculosis sent him to Saranac Lake, N.Y. His health regained, Mr. Rickey went to Boise, Idaho, to practice law. However, in 1913, he accepted the invitation of Robert Lee Hedges, president of the St. Louis Browns, to become a scout for the club.

Mr. Rickey later became club secretary and then field manager. He had Burt Shotton manage the club on Sundays. He was vice president and general manager by 1917, when he was hired as president of the poverty-stricken St. Louis Cardinals. Under the terms of his contract, he was the highest-paid executive in baseball.

After a hitch as a major in the Chemical Warfare Service, he returned to the Cardinals in 1918. Mr. Rickey assumed the field management and started the "farm" idea. It had its origin in 1919, when the Cardinals bought an 18 per cent interest in the Houston club of the Texas League.

In 1920 Sam Breadon replaced Mr. Rickey as president, but Mr. Rickey continued to develop his chain-store idea until at one time he controlled the players of two minor leagues and had interests in, or agreements with, a number of others.

Violently opposed to the Rickey idea from the outset, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball, shook the Cardinal farm structure with a decree that limited the club to only one affiliation in each minor league.

The reign of Mr. Rickey as manager of the Cardinals ended in 1925, when Mr. Breadon replaced him with Rogers Hornsby. Mr. Rickey was retained as vice president and business manager. This arrangement continued until 1942 when, after the Cardinals had won the World Series, reports of a rift between the executives brought an announcement by Mr. Breadon that Mr. Rickey&aposs contract would not be renewed.

Mr. Rickey had taken the Cardinals when the club was $175,000 in debt and, by spending only enough for a railroad ticket at times, had developed players who brought the club the National League pennant in 1926, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1934 and 1942, along with World Series victories in four of those years.

Chosen to Head Dodgers

Shortly after leaving the Cardinals, Mr. Rickey was engaged as president of the Dodgers.

A storm ensued in Brooklyn when Mr. Rickey sold Dolph Camilli and Joe Medwick, Dodger favorites. It did not diminish when there were recurrent reports of friction between him and his club manager, Leo Durocher.

He rehired Durocher as his manager shortly before spring training of 1948, thus ending much wild speculation on that score. But he drew more resentment from the fans when he traded the beloved Dixie Walker to Pittsburgh and later, when the Dodgers were in spring training, he traded Eddie Stanky, the Dodgers&apos sparkplug second baseman, to Boston.

Mr. Rickey&aposs biggest baseball deal after coming to Brooklyn was the sale of Kirby Higbe and others to Frank McKinney, the new president and part owner of the Pirates. It was revealed long after the deal was made that Mr. McKinney had parted with almost $300,000 in the deal.

In November, 1950, Mr. Rickey signed a five-year contract as executive vice president and general manager of the Pirates. When he left Brooklyn, he was reported to have sold his Dodgers stock for $1,000,000.

Although he resigned as chairman in 1959, his rebuilding program paid off in 1960. The Pirates, under field manager Danny Murtaugh, won the National League pennant and went on to take the World Series from the New York Yankees.

After leaving the Pirates, Mr. Rickey was appointed president of the newly formed Continental League. An hour after his appointment, he was conducting the league&aposs first meeting. The eight teams constituting the league were New York, Buffalo, Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta and Denver.

For nearly two years, it appeared that Mr. Rickey&aposs "dream" would be realized, but he was never able to get the league out of the dugout. The final blow was struck by the two existing major leagues.

At the end of 1960, the American League issued franchises to the Los Angeles (now the California) Angels and a new Washington Senator club (the old one moved and became the Minnesota Twins), while the National League made plans to become a 10-team league in 1962 with the admission of the New York Mets and the Houston Colt 45s (now the Astros).

Mr. Rickey returned to the Cardinals late in 1962 as a "consultant on player personnel." He held that position for two years, leaving after a shake-up of the club&aposs executives. The aging, ailing Mr. Rickey was critical of Manager Johnny Keane and other Cardinal executives.

The Rickey influence wrought revolutions in baseball--notably his developing the farm system and breaking the color barrier--that profoundly changed the game.

Ford Frick, a baseball&aposs retiring commissioner, said last night that Mr. Rickey "was a man of great dedication and one whose contribution to baseball would be difficult to over-estimate."

The president of the National League, Warren C. Giles, said, "No one in the game made a greater contribution to baseball than Branch Rickey."

Jackie Robinson, who was signed by Mr. Rickey to break baseball&aposs barrier against Negro players, said "the passing of Mr. Rickey is like losing a father." He said his death was "a great loss not only to baseball but to America."

Casey Stengel, who retired as manager of the New York Mets last September, described Mr. Rickey as "a terrific man in baseball, an outstanding builder." He joined numerous other baseball leaders in praising Mr. Rickey for developing baseball&aposs farm system and breaking the color barrier.

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey was a prominent player, coach and manager of collegiate and professional baseball in America.

Wesley Branch Rickey was born in Flat, Ohio, on December 20, 1881. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1904. Although Rickey played professional baseball for a number of years, he is best known for his contributions to the sport in his executive roles. He left professional baseball in the 1910s. He coached baseball at the University of Michigan and earned a law degree. Rickey served as General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1917 to 1942. He later served as General Manager and President of the Brooklyn Dodgers and finished his career as General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rickey is credited with developing the farm system that still exists today in professional baseball. Players who were not ready to play for a major league team played for farm teams, perfected their skills, and proved that they were prepared to play for a major league team. He also introduced protective helmets for batters, pitching machines, and batting cages.

In 1947, Rickey made history when he signed African-American Jackie Robinson to play in the major leagues. Prior to the integration of professional baseball, African-American players played in their own separate league. Rickey opened the door to change.

Rickey died on December 9, 1965, in Columbia, Missouri. Two years later, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey, a 1904 graduate, was named the most influential figure of the 20th century in sports by ESPN. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement, he spearheaded the integration of major league baseball in the 1940s, when he signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ohio Wesleyan produced this video honoring Branch Rickey in 2011.

Then president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey knew that in order for baseball to be truly &ldquothe national pastime,&rdquo a long tradition of whites-only would have to be broken. With some help and co­operation from baseball commissioner A.B. &ldquoHappy&rdquo Chandler and, eventually, the other Brooklyn players, Rickey and Jackie Robinson made history by inte­grating the long-segregated game.

The roots of Rickey's convictions about justice and equality reach back to his days as an Ohio Wesleyan student, and his OWU experiences foreshadowed his promotion of Robinson.

Student, Athlete, Coach, Leader

Branch Rickey was such a talented catcher on the OWU baseball team in 1901-02 that he was offered a professional baseball contract while still at OWU. Upon signing, he became ineligible to continue playing at OWU, so he became the team's coach during his junior and senior seasons.

His great success continued as the OWU coach. In fact, his 1904 championship team won 14 games, a school record that would stand for 81 years.

An Incident that Changed His Life

But Branch Rickey's success on the field was nothing compared to his impact off the field. Rickey encountered racism firsthand as a player and coach, as some other teams refused to play OWU and as hotels denied them accommodation. Rickey's OWU teams in 1903 and 1904 were racially integrated, with Charles Thomas, a black student from Zanesville, Ohio, and one of the first black students in college baseball. (Thomas is in the back row, center, and Rickey back row, far right, in this photo of the 1904 team.)

During that season, Thomas was denied lodging at a hotel in South Bend, Indiana. Rickey refused to take that answer and was able to convince the hotel manager to allow Thomas to stay in his room as an unregistered guest, but the event &mdash and the sight of Thomas sitting on the bed weeping &mdash were burned into his memory and proved to be his inspiration in Brooklyn.

Years later, actor Harrison Ford told this story in the movie 42.

Moral Leadership and Innovation

Born in a farming community in southern Ohio, Rickey had a strong interest in sports, academics, and business &mdash but his moral and religious beliefs always came first. He put his baseball career in jeopardy by refusing to play for the Cincinnati Reds on Sundays. In later years, he stipulated in his contracts as a manager, general manager, and president that he would not manage or even be in the ballpark on Sundays &mdash all to honor a promise he made his mother before signing his first professional playing contract years earlier.

While still playing professional baseball in the summers, he returned to Ohio Wesleyan to coach and teach for several years before returning full-time to major league front offices. Rickey also was credited with developing the farm system of minor league teams while with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1920s and 1930s and pioneering the use of batting helmets while with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1950s. After his stint with the Pirates, his plans to begin a third major league helped prompt the first expansion of Major League Baseball.

Rickey&rsquos dedication to Ohio Wesleyan was a lifetime commitment. He frequently returned to Delaware and served as a lifetime trustee. At the time of his death in 1965, he was national chairman of the University&rsquos capital campaign.

As one measure of its gratitude, Ohio Wesleyan named its new sports facility the Branch Rickey Physical Education Center, dedicated to his memory in 1976.

The Branch Rickey Scholarship

In 2017, Ohio Wesleyan redesigned the OWU Branch Rickey Scholarship, aligning the purpose of the scholarship with the spirit of the man. As college costs have soared at many schools, we are establishing the Branch Rickey Scholarship as our commitment to make a great OWU education affordable for students who have worked hard in high school and have shown they have the ability to succeed in college.

Branch Rickey believed if you have the skills, you should have the opportunity. We do, too.

So, Ohio Wesleyan will award the $30,000 scholarship, renewable for up to four years, to all new students with a 3.6 GPA or higher.

Develops Farm System

Rickey served for twenty-six years as an executive of the Cardinals, and he was also the team's field manager for over six seasons during this period. In 1922, a controlling interest in the Cardinals was purchased by a wealthy St. Louis businessman, Sam Breadon. Although Breadon and Rickey were temperamental opposites, they combined to create one of baseball's most successful franchises. The heart of the Cardinals operation was the much maligned but ultimately successful "farm system" (at first called by its detractors "chain store" or "chain gang" baseball), which was copied in due course by every major league team. Although the idea of a farm system was not entirely new, Rickey almost single-handedly put it into execution and brought it to fruition. By forging working agreements with minor league clubs at various levels, Rickey could develop talent without having to worry that the owner of a rival team would outbid him for a player (as had happened in earlier days, when minor league owners made it a practice to sell their marquee players to the highest bidder).

Branch Rickey's Farm

Baseball fans of today and recent yesterdays are accustomed to watching young players work their way through minor league systems affiliated with the various American and National League teams. This setup, while common in our lifetimes, evolved gradually from a very different arrangement.

During the game's early days, minor league teams were independent of their big brothers. Most players reached the big leagues only after their minor league owner received compensation for them in dollars and/or players. Thus, future Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove would play five seasons and win 108 games for the International League's Baltimore Orioles before moving up to begin his Hall-of-Fame career with the Philadelphia A's. Lefty was far from alone in waiting for a deal to be made and, for some players, the deal and a major league career never came.

Over the years, occasional attempts were made to correct this situation. Charles Somers, owner of Cleveland's American League team from 1910 to 1915, purchased the Waterbury Frolickers of the Eastern Association prior to World War I. Somers, who is better known for having Cleveland's nickname changed from the Naps to the Indians, abandoned the effort due to financial strains caused by the war.

Within a few years after the war, the idea would resurface and would eventually succeed, thanks to the genius of Wesley Branch Rickey. His success in establishing the farm system was but one part of the mix that paved his road to Cooperstown. His other accomplishments included sponsoring Jackie Robinson's journey through baseball's racial color barrier, using the bonus baby system to launch a championship team in Pittsburgh, and forcing major league baseball's expansion in the 1960's.

Rickey grew up on a farm in Ohio and developed an early love of sports. During his college days at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, he organized the baseball and football teams. His athletic skills were sufficient to take him to the majors as a catcher with the St. Louis Browns, but a four-season batting record of .239 with 3 home runs signaled that his love of the game would be channeled in another direction. After obtaining a degree in civil law, Rickey returned to baseball as a scout and, in 1913, he became the manager of the Browns at the age of 32. Again, success was minimal, with second-division finishes marking his two-plus seasons at the helm.

The Browns recognized his organizational talents, however, and in 1916 he was named the team's vice-president and business manager (general manager in today's terms). One season of improved team play could not ease a difficult relationship between Rickey and owner Phil Ball, and an offer from the cross-town Cardinals was accepted by Rickey. Despite legal threats from Ball, Rickey prevailed in the courts and became president and field manager of the debt-ridden and artistically woebegone Cardinals in 1919.

In his new role, Rickey's aggressive, Bible-spouting style became his trademark. And despite a lack of funds, he led the team from the bottom of the pile to middle of the pile over the next six seasons. In 1925 he was replaced as field manager by Rogers Hornsby but continued with the team as general manager.

During his years as field manager, Rickey had learned that winning teams need money, since minor league players were auctioned off to the highest major league bidder. As general manager, he found that the Cardinals were doomed to mediocrity as long as they could not afford to purchase players like the wealthier teams. In 1919 he shelled out $10,000 of borrowed money to purchase pitcher Jesse Haines from Kansas City, and the deal was a bonanza for the next 18 years. It was also the last time the Cardinals would buy a player during the Rickey era.

That same year, Rickey came up with a plan to develop players through a chain of Cardinal-owned teams in various levels of minor leagues. The funds needed to make the plan work were realized when the Cardinals were purchased in 1920 by wealthy automobile dealer Sam Breadon. And the final link came as a new National Association Agreement was struck in 1921, allowing major league franchises to own minor-league teams.

Rickey quickly went to work and the Cardinals bought 18% of Texas League's Houston Buffaloes and then acquired working control of Ft. Smith of the Western Association. In 1921, they purchased the Syracuse Stars of the International League. The first stage was complete, and the second, that of stocking the teams with promising players, followed.

A quick and inexpensive means of finding players was developed as the Cardinals sponsored tryout camps, using the team's popularity in the midwest and south to attract young men with dreams of playing baseball. Success came quickly as three players with considerable talent, Ray Blades, Clarence 'Heinie' Mueller, and Jim Bottomley, were signed to make their way up the chain. Others would follow, and winning baseball would come with them. In 1926, the Cardinals won their first World Series, and their pennant-winning season would be repeated in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1942. Even after Rickey left St. Louis following the 1942 season, his farm system continued to produce Cardinal pennants in 1943, 1944, and 1946. Not only was the team winning, but they were becoming wealthy as he sold players who were of no use to him or who made their contribution and had become replaceable. Thus, Johnny Mize brought over $50,000, a washed-up Dizzy Dean went for $185,000 and two players, and on and on.

Along the way, Rickey was not without opposition. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis represented the most powerful challenge. The objective side of the commissioner viewed the success of the Cardinals as a threat to the integrity of the game. The controlling side of the man took offense at Rickey's personal success, particularly when Landis' baseball salary of $40,000 was almost $10,000 short of Rickey's. The prevailing side of the commissioner is subject to debate.

In the late 1930's, Landis' fury was visited upon the Cardinals, Yankees, and Tigers and their perceived violations of the letter and spirit of baseball's rules. By 1938, Rickey's Cardinals owned not only individual teams but backed entire leagues, such as Arkansas-Missouri and Nebraska State Leagues. To level the playing field, Landis ordered 74 Cardinal farmhands to be given their free agency and imposed similar penalties on other teams.

Never known for docile submissiveness, Rickey regrouped quickly and set out to rebuild his empire. By 1940, the Cardinals owned 32 teams and had working agreements with 8 others, resulting in control of over 800 players. Mr. Rickey's farm was alive and well.

His personal relationship with Breadon soured, however, and in 1942 he moved on to become general manager of the Dodgers, where another successful farm system produced the Hodges, Sniders, and Furillos of another era. As in St. Louis, Rickey traded aging talent for apparent mediocrity and acquired Preacher Roe, Billy Cox, Andy Pafko, and others to supplement the home grown talent.

Inevitably, another falling out would occur, this time with Dodgers president Walter O'Malley. Rickey found himself out of work for a short time before joining the Pirates and raising another Phoenix from the ashes.

After leaving the Pirates in 1955, he continued to impact the game in various roles, including his participation in planning a proposed third major league, the Continental League. While delivering a speech celebrating his induction into the Missouri Hall of Fame on November 13, 1965, he suffered a heart attack. His ensuing unconsiousness lasted until December 9, when he died in Boone County Hospital in Columbia, MO.

The impact of Branch Rickey towers above even the most celebrated of baseball figures. Known in equal parts for being a genius, tightwad, saint, hypocrite, innovator, and poacher, Rickey left a mark on the game which stands alone.

The farm systems of yesteryear, which enforced uniformity of style, technique, and attitude throughout an organization, have given way to a collection of working agreements which provide players with opportunities to make their way to the majors in a less demanding, and often less effective, fashion. For those who have an interest in the empires created by Rickey and others, reviewing the players and teams that comprised the organizations provides an enjoyable diversion.

The Professional Baseball Player Database attempts to recreate each of the organizations for the 1922-2004 seasons, so that fans and researchers can examine the players of each system and compare the prospects for each system as they made their way up, down, or out of a system. Our hope is that they will find enjoyment and illumination in doing so.

Pat Doyle is researcher behind the Professional Baseball Player Database which, in its lates version, contains year-by-year records for minor and major league ballplayers from 1922 through 2004. The newly available Professional Baseball Player Statistics Database is an extension of that product and includes extended statistical categories as well as a listing of games played by position.

Anyone interested in learning more about Minor League players should email Pat Doyle today or visit his website and see the services he offers.

Do you like the article? If you do - please take a moment and tell Pat Doyle. If you don't, take a moment and tell Pat Doyle why not!

Rickey's uproarious, revealing scouting reports

"Definite prospect. … If this fellow had been in the Confederate Army on July 3, 1863, he would have led Pickett's Charge up Cemetery Hill -- 40 yards in front of anybody, completely unarmed, but carrying the flag, and he would not have heeded the general's order to retreat." -- Branch Rickey's scouting report of a pitcher named Ken Barbao, 1952

As the years have gone by, Rickey has mostly been reduced to the man who signed Jackie Robinson and told him, "I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." Oh, it's an extraordinary thing signing Robinson, the most extraordinary thing Rickey (or any other baseball executive) ever did.

But that one towering achievement makes it easy to overlook the simple truth that if Rickey had never signed Jackie Robinson, he would still be one of the five most influential people in baseball history. Rickey basically invented the Minor Leagues and Spring Training as we know them. He was the first to have batters hit off tees, and to have pitchers throw through wire strike zones. Rickey more or less started the modern baseball search for data and advanced analytics.

People have often gone on absurd goose chases to find a single person who invented baseball -- the twin mythologies of Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright have filled countless baseball history books.

But Major League Baseball in 2018 is essentially pulled from the mind of Rickey.

"His work on the hill has an unusual amount of perfection. Intelligent face and manner, shows good breeding." -- Rickey's report of future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, 1954

He was named Wesley Branch Rickey -- Wesley after the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and Branch after Jesus' proclamation in John 15:5: "I am the vine, ye are the branches."

From this, you can tell that Rickey grew up in a deeply religious home in Southern Ohio he maintained those Methodist roots all his life. Rickey used to say, "I'm here to run the Brooklyn Dodgers and serve the God to whom they pray."

With Rickey, though, such piety was always a bit more complicated than first glance. He promised his mother that he would never play baseball on a Sunday, and so even as a general manager, he refused to come to the ballpark on that day. But, Dodgers employees cracked, he still called in to find out the attendance.

This was Rickey. Even now, people disagree about exactly why he signed Robinson. Rickey was unquestionably a man who believed in equal rights. He was also a man who saw a huge untapped market for both great baseball players and ticket buyers.

With Rickey, there were always multiple things at play. He did not intend to go into baseball. Rickey was a backup catcher in the Major Leagues briefly. Then, he was also a teacher. Then, he tried the law. Rickey's first and only client, a kidnapper in Boise, Idaho, spat at his feet. With that, he moved to St. Louis and began a 50-year affair with the sport that he loved.

Oh did Rickey love baseball. He loved playing it, teaching it, coaching it, analyzing it and scouting it. Rickey spent most of his waking hours thinking about baseball. He developed theories, a million theories. He loved talking about the game, loved forming baseball truisms and loved every single thing about it.

"Man may penetrate the outer reaches of the universe," Rickey would say. "He may solve the very secret of eternity itself. But for me, the ultimate human experience is to witness the flawless execution of the hit and run."

To witness that overwhelming love of baseball … well, we have all been given a great gift. Not long ago, the Library of Congress decided to digitize the Branch Rickey Papers -- and, specifically, some 1,750 scouting reports that Rickey wrote. Some of the reports are of extraordinary and famous baseball players -- Roberto Clemente, Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron, etc.

Most are not most are reports on Minor League pitchers like Barbao, the man on top who apparently would have led Pickett's Charge, or a pitiable soul like Edward Cypher, who drew this savage report from the Mahatma, as Rickey was called:

"Cannot catch, cannot throw. If he makes a high-school team, they will never get into the championship -- that's a cinch. He would have to hit .400 to make any club, and it is an even bet he cannot hit .100."

After you read a few hundred of these reports, you realize something: You're really reading a scouting report of Rickey himself. You find what was important to him, what did not matter much, what he believed in and, yes, just how deeply he enjoyed baseball.

"'Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth.' And great players whom management would like to see in Pittsburgh are to be found fault with if they are not as good as they should be. … With the score nothing to nothing, and a runner in scoring distance, he fails to take a chance. On a short fly ball that he could have caught, I am sure, if he had made a dive, he failed to do so. He may not have championship adventure in his soul." -- Rickey's report of outfielder Frank Thomas, 1951

Thomas grew to despise Rickey. The two men had the most intense salary wars Rickey, without fail, refused to give in, and Thomas, without fail, would call Rickey "El Cheapo." Well, it was true, Rickey was savagely cheap, except when it came to his own salary.

But there was something that Rickey saw in his very first scouting report of Thomas that stuck with him, something he felt deeply: He saw Thomas' talent. "The boy can do everything," he wrote. But Rickey believed there are two groups: there are players, and then there are championship players.

Rickey called the first batch "anesthetics" -- the origin of the word is in dispute, but my favorite theory is that Rickey called them that because when you had a team of anesthetics, you would wake up in September realizing you were out of the race.

What Rickey wanted was a team of players who played with force and verve. He loathed players who did not.

"Unadventurous on the basepaths" was a constant Rickey complaint.

"Lacks confidence" was a Rickey black mark.

"Afraid" was the blackest mark.

Rickey's most famous scouting report might be one of Eddie Stanky, a little terror of a ballplayer who Rickey brought to Brooklyn in the 1940s: "He cannot hit, he cannot throw and he cannot outrun his grandmother. But if there is a way to beat the other team, he will find it."

That's what Rickey wanted to see when he scouted. He wanted to know every single thing about a player. Rickey often wrote about the player's parents (Of Leon Beran: "His father is a Kansas wheat farmer"). He wondered about players' social lives (Robert Anderton: "I would be surprised if he is not ignorant of vice, and if so, it is wonderful"). Rickey put a lot of stock in what a player looked like -- as you see above, he liked that Drysdale had an intelligent face.

Mostly, though, Rickey wanted to see fire. And so, when he saw the young Thomas not dive for that ball, it left an impression on him. Thomas became a three-time All-Star, a good player, but Rickey always thought Thomas was more anesthetic than champion.

"This boy is from Mingo Junction, Ohio. He is 6 1/2-foot tall, right-hander, weighs 150 pounds. A gentleman. He is kindly, courteous, straightforward, clean in manner, and you would be proud to have him for your grandson -- intelligent, too." -- Rickey's report of pitcher James Brettell, 1953

Rickey brought this sort of enthusiasm to all of his reports. Even the most minor of prospects drew his full attention. Brettell was, at best, a limited prospect. He pitched two games for Pittsburgh's Class D team in Clinton, Iowa.

But Rickey didn't care. He wanted to know Brettell. And as he came to know him, Rickey decided that Brettell was a high-character person. As it turns out, he was right. Brettell left baseball and served in the Navy for nine years (he threw back-to-back no-hitters as part of the Navy baseball team).

Brettell returned to study at numerous seminaries and became a pastor. He has written numerous books such as "Christianity in Spiritual Perspective: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired?"

See, Rickey was never just scouting baseball.

"Bill Bell is a scaredy-cat, knows nothing about pitching, and knows he knows nothing. He has no confidence in himself and is highly receptive to advice. He has big ears. … Great fastball, great straight-drop curve, a marvelous change of speed on his fastball, and he will have a great change-of-pace curveball. He is a Major Leaguer if ever one was born." -- Rickey's report of pitcher Bill Bell, 1951

Rickey was, as mentioned, a man of contradictions. This comes through in many of his scouting reports -- one minute he will tear someone apart ("Bill Bell is a scaredy-cat") and the next, he is effusive in his praise ("He is a Major Leaguer if ever one was born"). This can be somewhat dizzying.

Incidentally, Bell ended up in the Major Leagues, though he only pitched in five games. He had some control problems. In his first and only big league start, he walked eight. Maybe it was the big ears.

How about this scouting report for Paul Smith, who played three years in the big leagues: "Wears a 6 1/2 hat. Reminds me of an egg with a piece of chewing gum on the little end. No neck -- no size."

And then: "Hits to all fields. Treacherous tricky hitter."

Bell and Smith were among the lucky ones. In other reports, Rickey did not balance out his negativity. Look out below:

Leonard Branch: "I do not know what I said in my previous report about Branch's fastball, but my judgment today is that he doesn't have one."

Duane Powell: "He mumbles when he talks. He has to repeat everything to know what he said."

Pedro Ballester: "He is no good in any way and should have his unconditional release."

Bob Garber: "At this time, if Bob Garber is a Major League pitcher, I am not only a Swiss watchmaker, but I am the best a Swissman has ever put out."

Pete Gongola: "He either can't throw, or he has a sore arm. He is not much of a hitter. The biggest trouble about him is that he can't catch."

"Worked him only to observe his so-called new pitch -- a forkball. He has it. It is not at all in effect a knuckler. It simply doesn't knuckle, but it is a very effective change-of-pace pitch. It spins exactly in direction and rapidity, the same one after another, but he has fine control of it. He can use it as a change of pace. It has indeed marked his improvement. We will see about it." -- Rickey's report of Roy Face, 1955

One of the things you look for when you look at old reports: How often was the scout right -- and, more to the point, how often was he comically, disastrously wrong? It's those disastrous scouting reports that fascinate.

"Needs a lot of help with the bat," one scout wrote about Wade Boggs, for instance. What's striking about Rickey's reports are he rarely seemed to miss.

Take the above report on Face -- he was a 27-year-old fringe Minor Leaguer whose one brief appearance in the Majors two years earlier ended with him 6-8 with a 6.58 ERA. But he worked on this new pitch, the forkball. As Face himself said, nobody in baseball was really throwing a forkball then. Rickey was intrigued.

And Face, armed with that new pitch, became an All-Star reliever who went 18-1 in 1959.

On a 17-year-old Bill Mazeroski, who would go into the Hall of Fame for his defensive prowess: "From a fielding standpoint, he's definitely a prospect."

On Duke shortstop Dick Groat, who later won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1960: "Could play shortstop on the Pittsburgh club much better than anyone we now have."

On future All-Star Bob Friend: "He has every pitch he needs -- fastball and curveball, and changeup on each. And all four are effective. He needs no instruction on any of them."

Then, there's Rickey's famous scouting report of Clemente where he was disappointed in the running speed ("His running form is bad, definitely bad.") and impressed with his "beautiful throwing arm."

"His form at the plate," Rickey wrote, "is perfect."

Naturally, Rickey was not perfect. He did overrate some. This is my favorite one.

"I think he's a great prospective hitter -- with power. Form perfect. Reminds one of Joe DiMaggio very much." That is what he wrote about Jack Shepard, who hit .304 in part-time duty in 1954, though he didn't exactly remind anyone else of DiMaggio.

"Throws his fastball about three-quarters, and it spins very slowly, is a heavy ball. He calls it the ball that does something. Can throw the fastball overhand with good spin, direct backward rotation, but says it doesn't do anything. I asked where he found that out, and he said that he thought about it." -- Rickey's report of Robert Gordon, 1951

I want to spend a second on this wonderful scouting report, because it has to be one of the earlier references to fastball spin rates. These days, spin rates are the rage. We now know that extremely high spin rates on the fastball will create the illusion of the ball rising -- the ball doesn't actually rise, but it fights gravity and drops at a slower pace.

Very low spin rates, meanwhile, like on changeups, will cause the ball to drop more quickly, leading perhaps to ground balls, double plays and other good things for pitchers. Gordon clearly knew how to throw a low-spin-rate fastball that would "do something." His high-spin-rate pitch, meanwhile, probably wasn't high enough, and that's why it didn't do anything.

I love that Rickey was at least thinking about this 67 years ago.

There are so many things in the scouting reports that I love like that -- well, they don't necessarily add up to anything. But they're fun. And they give us just a little bit clearer picture of how Rickey thought.

For instance, there was this bit of wisdom in a scouting report for a player Rickey called Carlsyn: "The difference between a thrower and a pitcher is the difference between a naked man and a man all dressed up."

And this on a pitcher named Arthur Bunge: "The best control of a fastball I have ever seen in any youngster. For about 10 straight pitches, a tomato can would have caught nine of them."

Dennis Meekins "hit, but did not look like a hitter." Bob Purkey, who would go on to an All-Star career, was "a deliberate cuss -- his mind rules his body." And poor Brandy Davis was, "born short. Not the boy's fault he will not go anywhere. Correctly chargeable to his ancestry, immediate or remote. Take your pick. Probably both."

And there was this incredible exchange Rickey had with a left-handed pitcher named Jim Hayden:

"No, but I am in sort of a mess, though."

"Oh, is that so -- what about?"

"About this damn curveball."

"What's that got to do with your girl, if any?"

"Girl? Who said anything about a girl. What I'm talking about is the mess with this curveball."

"I don't see any reason, and I cannot think of any, why he should not hit. This may not be good English, but it makes good sense to me." -- Rickey's report of Warren Goodrich, 1955

One of the things about being a pioneer is that it's hard to imagine a world without the contribution. In other words, yes, we know Rickey was the first to sign a black player, but surely someone else would have eventually. Somebody probably would have come up with the Minor League system as we know it.

Rickey hired Allan Roth, often called the first sabermetrician in baseball. Well, somebody would have figured out that better data could help a team win.

But this is to misunderstand history. We don't know the alternative. We don't know how much longer baseball would have stayed segregated without Rickey. Would we have had Aaron and Willie Mays? We simply don't know how baseball would be shaped without Rickey's efforts.

"Baseball people -- and that includes myself -- are slow to change and accept new ideas," Rickey famously said. Perhaps. But Rickey, fortunately for the game, was much less slow than the others.

Rickey stayed in baseball to the end. On Nov. 13, 1965, he gave a speech as he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Rickey's theme was "Spiritual and Moral Courage." He told a story about the old Cardinals player Jim Bottomley, who suffered a serious left-hip injury. Bottomley, Rickey said, insisted on playing, and was told that if he had to slide, he should do so on his right side, so not to hurt himself all over again.

Late in the game, Bottomley stole second -- and he slid on his left side, badly reinjuring his left hip. He still came around to score the winning run.

"After the game," Rickey told the crowd, "I asked him, 'Why, Jim, did you do that?' And Jim looked at me and said, 'Rick, didn't you see the shortstop standing there? I had to make the slide on the left to avoid being tagged.'"

"It was," Rickey concluded, "the price of courage."

Seconds later, Rickey collapsed. It was his last public statement. He died less than a month later.

“Reese & Robbie” 1945-2005

Note to Readers: Recent historical research has cast doubt on where, when, and whether the 1947 “arms-around-the-shoulders” moment between Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, as described below and in many other accounts, actually occurred. Ken Burns in his April 2016 PBS Jackie Robinson film, and others, have challenged the accuracy of the story. ++ — j.d., 3/20/16

Brooklyn, NY sculpture of Pee Wee Reese left and Jackie Robinson, commemorating Reese’s May 1947 "arm-around-the-shoulders" support of Robinson during racial heckling by fans at a Cincinnati Reds game. Photo:

Robinson, however, wasn’t just any player. He was the first African American to play on a professional baseball team. Baseball then was still an all-white affair, as black ballplayers played in the “separate and apart” Negro League, as it was called. Robinson, however, was chosen by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, Branch Rickey, to be the first black player to play for a professional team in Major League baseball.

Robinson had been signed by the Dodgers in 1945 and had played for the Dodger’s minor league team a year earlier in Montreal, Canada. He had made his major league debut with the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field on April 15th, 1947. So this game in Cincinnati was among the earliest of the Dodgers’ road games that year, with Robinson being introduced for the first time to fans beyond Brooklyn. In Cincinnati that day, however, they were not particularly welcoming of Robinson.

The Pee Wee Reese-Jackie Robinson monument is a work by sculptor William Behrends. Photo, Ted Levin.

Also taking infield practice that day was Dodger shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, a veteran player and team captain. But Reese on this day walked diagonally across the field to join Robinson, where he began a conversation with the rookie and put his arm around Robinson’s shoulders as he spoke with him.

Reese then, according to sportswriter Roger Kahn, “looked into the Cincinnati dugout and the grandstands beyond,” as the slurs and heckling were coming from both Cincinnati ballplayers and fans. Some were shouting out terms like “shoeshine boy” and “snowflake” and worse. Reese, however, did not call out at the taunters or the Cincinnati dugout. But he kept his arm around Robinson’s shoulder while talking to him, which soon helped quiet the crowd and defuse the hostility. It was a moment for many who saw it say they will never forget, as a hush fell over the field and stadium. For Robinson and Reese, the moment became an important bonding experience that helped forge a long friendship. Years later Robinson would tell Roger Kahn: “After Pee Wee came over like that, I never felt alone on a baseball field again.”

Pee Wee Reese, Brooklyn Dodgers, on a 1953 Topps baseball card.

Reese was still finishing up his World War II military tour in the U.S. Navy in 1946 when Jackie Robinson was signed to the Dodgers’ baseball organization. Robinson would begin his play that year with the Dodgers’ minor league team in Montreal, Canada. But in 1947, when Robinson reported to the main Brooklyn Dodger’s spring training camp, Reese was the first Dodger to walk across the field and shake his hand. “It was the first time I’d ever shaken the hand of a black man,” Reese would later say. “But I was the captain of the team. It was my job, I believed, to greet the new players.”

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jackie Robinson & Brooklyn Dodger’s general manager, Branch Rickey, shown in a 1948 photograph. Click for collector plaque.

Rickey wanted a candidate who had the guts not to strike back. He asked Robinson to promise he would not fight back for his first three seasons – even though he would surely hear every imaginable kind of slur and insult. However, Robinson’s first test at the major league level – he already had a season’s worth of taunts at the minor league level in 1946 – came not from fans, but from his own Brooklyn Dodger teammates.

Jackie Robinson & Pee Wee Reese, circa 1950s.

But Pee Wee Reese became one of the most popular players of his day, known among fans and teammates as the “Little Colonel.” Not only was he the Dodgers’ captain in those years, he almost appeared to be their manager on occasion, bringing out the line-up card to the umpires at the start of games, a practice usually reserved for managers.

Brooklyn Dodgers players on opening day, April 15, 1947, from left: John Jorgensen, Pee Wee Reese, Ed Stanky and Jackie Robinson.

Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and pitcher “Preacher” Roe celebrating after beating the New York Yankees in game 3 of the 1952 World Series.

That first year for Robinson, his teammates, and the Dodger organization was a rough time. Reese, who was also Robinson’s roommate when they traveled, did what he could to help buoy Robinson through the worst of insults and hard times. But in the end, it was Robinson’s play that won the day and would gradually win fan support. Still, under great pressure in that first year, Robinson’s play was outstanding, and he won the Rookie of the Year award.

“Thinking about the things that happened,” Reese would later say of Robinson’s ordeal, “I don’t know any other ballplayer who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a hundred miles an hour. To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I’ve ever seen in sports.”

“Pee Wee” Reese

Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

By 1942, Reese made National League All-Star team at age 24. Then with World War II, he went off to serve in the U.S. Navy for two years. Back with the Dodgers in 1946, Reese was named to the National League All-Star team again, a distinction he would win in eight more consecutive seasons.

Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers, shown on 1957 Topps baseball card.

In 1953 Reese again was an important player in the Dodgers’ National League pennant run, compiling a .271 batting average and scoring 108 runs. The Dodgers went 105–49 that year but again lost the world Series to the Yankees. In 1954, now 36 years old, Reese compiled a .309 batting average. The following year he scored 99 runs as the Dodgers won their first World Series with Reese garnering two RBIs in Game 2 while also making some outstanding defensive plays. By 1957, Reese was playing less as starter, and after moving with the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958 as a backup infielder, he retired. In 1959, he coached with the Dodgers, a year they won the World Series. After that, Reese enjoyed a broadcasting career for a time, working with CBS, NBC, and the Cincinnati Reds. He later became director of the college and professional baseball staff at Hillerich & Bradsby, maker of Louisville Slugger bats. Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. Reese passed away in 1999. At Reese’s funeral, Joe Black, another African American ballplayer who helped integrate baseball, spoke of how he and others had been moved by Reese’s support for Robinson when the insults were flying:

“…When Pee Wee reached out to Jackie, all of us in the Negro League smiled and said it was the first time that a white guy had accepted us. When I finally got up to Brooklyn, I went to Pee Wee and said, ‘Black people love you. When you touched Jackie, you touched all of us.’ With Pee Wee, it was No. 1 on his uniform and No. 1 in our hearts.”

Jackie Robinson

Among other things, Jackie Robinson had been a track star at UCLA in 1940.

Following high school, Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College, where he continued his athletic career excelling in basketball, football, baseball, and track. After junior college, he transferred to UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.

In 1939, he was one of four black players on the UCLA football team, a time when mainstream college football had only a few blacks in the game. In 1940, Robinson won the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship long jump event, baseball then being his “worst sport.”

Jackie Robinson in his U.S. Army officer’s uniform, was acquitted in a court martial for a “back-of-the-bus” incident & false charges. Click for photo.

Meanwhile, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers had been searching for a prospective black ball player to help break the color barrier in professional baseball, and in August after meeting with several prospects, he began meeting with Robinson. Satisfied that Robinson would commit to not fighting back, Rickey signed him to a contract of roughly the equivalent of $7,300 a month in today’s money. The deal was formally announced in late October 1945 that Robinson would be playing for the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals minor league team for the 1946 season.

Jackie Robinson at his first minor league game, Jersey City, N.J., April 18, 1946.

In March 1946 the Triple-A Royals were scheduled to play an exhibition against their parent club, the Dodgers. However, both Florida towns of Jacksonville and Sanford refused to allow the game to be played in their parks, citing segregation laws. Daytona Beach, however, agreed, and the game was played on March 17, 1946.

The Dodgers, however, didn’t forget the incident, as the following year they shifted their spring training from Jacksonville, their previous spring training home, to Daytona.

Jackie Robinson at his Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, April 15,1947.

Next came the big leagues. But some of the Dodgers’ players weren’t happy to be playing with a black man, as some had signed a petition saying they would not play. Rickey delegated team manager Leo Durocher to address the problem head on, which he did in a locker room speech.

“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a … zebra,” he told his players. “I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”

Example of hate mail Jackie Robinson received, May 20, 1950, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: National Baseball Library.

There were also lots of incidents on the road, like that at Crosley Field where Pee Wee Reese interceded. In August 1947 in St. Louis, Cardinals player Enos Slaugher purposely slid high into Robinson at first base, spikes first, slicing open Robinson’s thigh. Still, even with this onslaught of taunts, rough play, and death threats, Robinson finished the 1947 season with a .297 batting average, 125 runs scored, 12 home runs, and a league-leading 29 stolen bases. His performance earned him the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award, then a single award covering both leagues. Robinson’s play that year also helped the Dodgers win the National League Pennant, then meeting the New York Yankees in the 1947 World Series, though losing to the Yankees in seven games. The taunts and threats for Robinson, however, would continue for years.

In 1949, after working with retired Hall-of-Famer and experienced batsman George Sisler, Robinson improved his batting average to.342. He also had 124 runs batted in (RBIs) that year, 122 runs scored, 37 stolen bases, and was second in the league for doubles and triples. Robinson became first black player voted into the All-Star Game that year, and also the first black player to receive the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. A popular song was also made in Robinson’s honor that year – a song by Buddy Johnson that was also recorded by Count Basie and others – “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” The song became a pop hit, with the Buddy Johnson version reaching No. 13 on the music charts in August 1949. The Dodgers, meanwhile, won the pennant again, but also lost again to the Yankees in the World Series.

Jackie Robinson, once on base, was always a stealing threat, having very quick feet, a good sense of timing, and smart base running.

Branch Rickey, then with an expired contract and no chance of replacing Walter O’ Malley as Dodger president, cashed out his one-quarter ownership interest in the team and became general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1951, Robinson had another good year, finishing with a .335 batting average, 106 runs scored, and 25 stolen bases. He also again led the National League in double plays made by a second baseman with 137. Robinson kept the Dodgers in contention for the 1951 pennant with a clutch hitting performance in two at bats in an extra inning game that forced a playoff against the New York Giants – that later game ending badly for the Dodgers with the famous Bobby Thomson home run giving the Giant’s the pennant.

Pee Wee Reese & Jackie Robinson featured on the October 1952 cover of “Sport” magazine turning a defensive “double play” .

By 1953 Robinson began playing other positions, as Jim Gilliam, another black player, took over at second base. Robinson’s hitting, however, was a good as ever, compiling a .329 batting average, scoring 109 runs, and 17 steals. The Dodgers again took the pennant and again lost the World Series to the Yankees, this time in six games.

During the 1953 season, a series of death threats were made on Robinson’s life. Still, on the road, he would speak out and criticize segregated hotels and restaurants that poorly served the Dodger organization, including the five-star Chase Park Hotel in St. Louis, which later changed its practices.

In 1954, Robinson had a .311 batting average, scored 62 runs, and had 7 steals. His best day at the plate that year came on June 17th when he hit two home runs and two doubles.

Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series still angers Yogi Berra who claims Robinson was out. Photo: Mark Kauffman/SI. Click for related photo.

Over ten seasons, Jackie Robinson had helped the Dodgers win six National League pennants, taking them to the World Series in each of those years, winning the Series in 1955. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star games from 1949 to 1954, received the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1949. But Jackie Robinson’s career, of course, was marked by much more than his outstanding play as he became a powerful impetus for, and one of the most important figures in, the American civil rights movement that grew through the 1950s and 1960s.

Pee Wee Reese-Jackie Robinson statue at the entrance of KeySpan Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Ted Levin.

Since then, Jackie Robinson’s life and legacy have since been commemorated on postage stamps and presidential citations special anniversary commemorations and also having his playing numeral, 42, retired by all Major League baseball teams.

In 1973, his wife Rachel created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has since awarded higher education scholarships to more than 1,200 minority students and is also involved in other baseball history and leadership development programs.

In 1999, Time magazine named Robinson among the world’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century, while Sporting News placed him on its list of Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Yet among all the Jackie Robinson commemorations and honors — and there are many others enumerated elsewhere — the 2005 Reese-Robinson sculpture in Brooklyn commemorating that moment in May 1947 when the two ballplayers made a powerful social statement by simply standing together, remains one of the more interesting and instructive honors, capturing a moment that stands out in baseball as well as the nation’s social history.

The Statues

Reese-Robinson sculpture in Brooklyn sits atop a pedestal with descriptive engraving about the 1947 incident in Cincinnati. Photo Ted Levin.

The genesis of the project came about shortly after Pee Wee Reese’s death in August 1999, with some fans looking for a way to commemorate Reese’s playing career. Stan Isaacs, a columnist with Newsday, suggested that instead of naming a parkway or highway after Reese, that a statue in Brooklyn honoring the famous Reese-Robinson moment in 1947 would be a fitting tribute to Reese. Isaacs’ suggestion was subsequently mentioned during a TV broadcast of a Mets baseball game. Then New York Post writer, Jack Newfield, picked up the idea, writing about it in several columns. By December 1999, then Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani embraced the proposal and a committee was formed study the project. Giuliani became one of the lead donors for the project, making a $10,000 gift after he left office. The project then lapsed for a time following September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Close-up of Pee Wee Reese-Jackie Robinson sculpture. Photo: “Mets Guy in Michigan” website.

At the dedication ceremony for the Reese-Robinson sculpture in 2005 are, from left: Rachel Robinson, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Dorothy Reese, and NY city councilman, Mike Nelson . Photo: Ted Levin.

“This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.”

At the dedication ceremony in November 2005, there were a number of speeches given by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, various baseball dignitaries, local officials, and Reese-Robinson family members. They all had good things to say.

“The Reese family is extremely proud to be able to share in the unveiling of this very special statue with the Robinson family,” said Reese’s wife, Dorothy.

“Pee Wee didn’t see Jackie Robinson as a symbol, and, after a while, he didn’t see color. He merely saw Jackie as a human being, a wonderful individual who happened to be a great ball player. My husband had many wonderful moments in his life, but if he were alive today, I know he’d say this honor was among the greatest in his life. I share in that sentiment.”

Michael Long’s 2021 book, “42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,” includes 13 essays from sportswriters, cultural critics, and scholars on Robinson’s legacies on civil rights, sports, nonviolence and more. 256 pp, NYU Press. Click for copy.

“When Pee Wee Reese threw his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulder in this legendary gesture of support and friendship,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, “they showed America and the world that racial discrimination is unacceptable. Pee Wee and Jackie showed the courage to stand up for equality in the face of adversity, which we call the Brooklyn attitude. It is a moment in sports, and history that deserves to be preserved forever here in Brooklyn, proud home to everyone from everywhere.”

Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel, also spoke at the ceremony. “The Robinson Family is very proud to have the historic relationship between Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese memorialized in the statue being dedicated at KeySpan Park,” she said. “We hope that it will become a source of inspiration for all who view it, and a powerful reminder that teamwork underlies all social progress.”

See also at this website, “A Season of Hurt: Aaron Chasing Ruth,” about the career of Milwaukee /Atlanta Braves star, Henry “Hank” Aaron, including the racial torment he endured during 1972-74 as he pursued and surpassed, Babe Ruth’s career home run mark.

Additional baseball history at this website can be found at “Baseball Stories, 1900s-2000s,” a topics page with links to 14 baseball-related stories. For sports generally, see the “Annals of Sport” category page.

Other “statue-related” stories at this website include, for example: “RFK in Brooklyn,” “The Rocky Statue” (at the Philadelphia Art Museum), and “The Jackson Statues” (Michael Jackson). Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle.

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Date Posted: 29 June 2011
Last Update: 21 March 2021
Comments to: [email protected]

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Reese & Robbie, 1945-2005,”, June 29, 2011.

Sources, Links & Additional Information

The late 1940s-early 1950s were the heyday of "stadium pins” or “pinbacks,” produced for sale at stadium concession stands to depict and support favorite players collectables today. Jackie Robinson is shown in this 1947 Rookie-of-the-Year pin. According to one source, no player aside from Babe Ruth has been the subject of more pins than Jackie Robinson.

Newspaper coverage of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut by the black-owned “Pittsburgh Courier” (Wash., D.C. edition), Saturday, April 19, 1947.

CD cover of Natalie Cole’s version of “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?,” 1994 release, Elektra. also used in Ken Burns “Baseball” film. Click for CD.

Sept 1953: Jackie Robinson & Pee Wee Reese, center, in the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout. Look Collection, U.S. Library of Congress.

Pee Wee Reese & Jackie Robinson turning a double play during March 1950 spring training in Vero Beach, FL. Photo Phil Sandlin, AP.

Tim Cohane, “A Branch Grows in Brooklyn,” Look, March 19, 1946, p. 70.

“Sport: Rookie of the Year,” Time (cover story) Monday, September 22, 1947.

“Jackie Robinson’s First Year As a Dodger,” Look, January 6, 1948.

Jackie Robinson, “My Future,” Look, January 22, 1957.

Red Barber, 1947, When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982.

Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer, New York: Perennial Library, 1987.

Maury Allen, Jackie Robinson: A Life Remembered, New York: F. Watts, 1987.

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, pp. 285-300.

Ben Couch, “Robinson, Reese Now Together Forever Statue of Former Brooklyn Dodgers Teammates is Unveiled,”, November 1, 2005.

Rachel Robinson and Lee Daniels, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait, New York: Abrams, 1996.

Jules Tygiel, Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson,” New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, 448pp.

“Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson, “Online Exhibit, Library of Congress.

Ira Berkow, Sports of the Times, “Standing Beside Jackie Robinson, Reese Helped Change Baseball,” New York Times, March 31, 1997

“Rachel Robinson Recalls How the Late Pee Wee Reese Helped Jackie Robinson Integrate Baseball,” Jet Magazine, September 13, 1999.

Press Release, “Mayor Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Markowitz Unveil Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese Monument,” Office of the Mayor, New York, NY, November 1, 2005.

Ted Levin Photos, “A Monument for Tolerance: Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese,”, November 2005.

Scott Simon, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball,

Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007, 176pp.

“Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King: They Changed America,” Padre steve’s World, January 18, 2010

“Remembering Jackie Robinson, 1946,”, 2006.

Roger Kahn, Letter to the Editor, “The Day Jackie Robinson Was Embraced,” New York Times, April 21, 2007.

Jonathan Eig, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, 336 pp.

Barry M. Bloom, “Jackie Robinson: Gone But Not Forgotten Dodgers Legend Continued to Be a Force after His Playing Days,”, June 4, 2007.

“Jackie Robinson: An American Icon,”, October 31, 2009.

Re: Reese-Robinson “arms-around-the-shoulders” moment:

“Robinson Movie and Incident at Crosley Field,” From The Reds Hall (The Official Blog of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum), April 12, 2013.

Branch Rickey

Born: December 20, 1881

Died: December 9, 1965

Branch Rickey was a major league baseball player who became an innovative baseball executive he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. He was known for breaking major league baseball's color barrier by signing African American player Jackie Robinson, for drafting the first Hispanic superstar, Roberto Clemente, for creating the framework for the modern minor league farm system, for encouraging the Major Leagues to add new teams through his involvement in the proposed Continental League, and for introducing the batting helmet. He famously promised his mother he would not play baseball or attend a game on a Sunday, a promise he kept, although he later invented the Sunday double-header.

He served in World War I with Christy Mathewson in the Chemical Warfare Service. He spent the winter of 1908-'09 in Saranac Lake, successfully curing incipient tuberculosis.

Adirondack Daily Enterprise , December 16, 1957

Art Mann Tells The Story:

Remember Branch Rickey At Trudeau San In 1909?

How many in Saranac Lake know that Branch Rickey, great baseball executive, took the cure for tuberculosis at Trudeau Sanatorium?

A new book has just been published about the man who built up the great St. Louis Cardinal teams of the twenties and thirties and the championship Brooklyn Dodger teams, and who introduced the Negro ballplayer to big league baseball.

Written by Arthur Mann, "Branch Rickey. American In Action", had wonderful reviews in New York papers yesterday.

Branch Rickey played his last game of big league baseball Friday, September 13th, 1907, quitting when his arm gave out. He was a pitcher for the New York Highlanders. For much of the following year he studied law, campaigned for the Prohibitionist ticket, and coached baseball. He became over-tired and sick. He had TB. Let the book describe his time in Saranac Lake.

…relief. At best, you could delay the inevitable, but not for long. Branch and Jane Rickey made the sorrowful trip to Trudeau Sanatorium, at Saranac Lake, New York, plagued through the day-long ride by their thoughts. He was weak from weariness and worry over his interrupted plans and the uncertainty of ever returning. He asked himself silently, over and over, for an answer to what had happened, and why it had happened. And how bad was it?

"There followed ten of the grimmest possible days. Hope was a fickle and transient thing, often no more than a brief reflection of morning sun that scurried away when Rickey's harried mind reviewed the immediate past.

"'My physical pain,' Rickey said in recounting the experience, 'was considerably less than the mental strain, which was largely self-imposed. Determination of degree was still a major problem. Roentgen ray equipment was [illegible]

" 'Dr. Lawrason Brawn, head of the Sanatorium at that time, was a pioneer in the field of tuberculin test .and supervised my exposure to five steps. If you failed to react on all five, you were negative. I reacted on the third, indicating incipiency, and calling for strict bedrest, stepped-up diet and no exercise until my fever had subsided. Regaining weight was the big problem. I couldn't do it. I force-fed myself — raw eggs with orange juice in the morning and again at night, if I hadn't eaten anything else. After ten days, I was still skinny, but well enough to be moved into the Jacob Schiff cottage, near the entrance gate to the grounds.

" 'It was quite a while, about August, when I was given what was known as two hour exercise. which meant walking very slowly for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. When I got that allowance, I was able to go to the workshop where Mr. Scholfield was in charge of what is now known as occupational therapy. I made leather wallets and. hand-tooled them. I read every available book on tuberculosis. I did some fine picture-framing. Then they made me a paid assistant to Mr. Scholfield, which helped my fast depleting finances. And I also won the croquet championship of the Sanatorium.

"Finally, he could reach Dr. Wynn's, outside the grounds, where Jane was living, and walk slowly through the wooded paths of Mt. Pisgah and plan again. Once a week he hired a spirited team and a topless phaeton from Pop Hutchens at $3.75 a day. Jane and he drove through the lush countryside, enjoyed picnic lunches and were able to laugh once more. At summer's end he left Saranac conditionally, still tethered by probations and promises of rest and check-ups."

And Branch Rickey for fifty more years has kept going, going at full blast, to become perhaps the greatest of baseball leaders.

Branch Rickey - History

The number 󈬚” is sacred in Major League Baseball. On April 15, 1997, it became the only number retired throughout the entire league. It is prominently displayed in every Major League park. Forty-two is synonymous with the man who most famously wore the number on his jersey — Jackie Robinson. Beginning in 2004, Major League Baseball permanently named April 15th Jackie Robinson Day each year, marking the day in 1947 when Robinson, a 28-year-old rookie, courageously ran onto Ebbets Field transforming one of the most sacred spaces in American culture.

The lionization of Robinson as a significant hero of civil rights in America is heartening but there is an oft-forgotten hero of the saga. Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger president who signed Robinson, were equally indispensible partners in what Rickey deemed the “great experiment.”

Rickey meticulously planned and shaped the master narrative for integrating the national pastime but it could not have been accomplished without a unique player of great ability, personal courage, and unfathomable self-control. Rickey said of Robinson, “God was with me when I picked Jackie. I don’t think any other man could have done what he did those first two or three years.” And Robinson would say that in his estimation Rickey did more for African Americans “than any white man since Abraham Lincoln.”

It is easy to miss the historical magnitude of that moment in 1947 for the advance of civil rights in America. Consider that when Rickey signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in baseball, it was a year before President Truman ordered the US military desegregated, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, eight years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, 10 years before President Eisenhower used the US military to enable the Little Rock Nine to attend Central High School in Arkansas, 16 years before MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech, 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 18 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Looking back on his role in the integration of baseball Robinson concluded, “I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor.” Robinson’s overstated, self-deprecating, observation is helpful in remembering that breaking the color barrier in baseball did not begin with the “great experiment.” Mr. Rickey’s drama began with his family’s Midwestern Baptist and Wesleyite Methodist roots. His father was described as a “pious, devout, religious man … a genuine New Testament Christian” and his mother is said to have taught Branch countless Scripture stories even before he could read. Biographer Murray Polner described Rickey as a conservative evangelical Christian whose religious faith was the decisive factor in his commitment to racial equality. Rickey would often repeat the family motto he learned as a child, “Make first things first, seek the Kingdom of God, and make yourself an example.”

Biographer Jimmy Breslin argues, “It was Rickey who broke the color line in baseball” and his motive was that “he thought it was God’s work.” Breslin unflinchingly states, that because of the consequences, Rickey accomplished “the single most important act in the history of this nation.” Rickey said, “I believe a man can play baseball as coming to him from a call of God.” Looking back on Rickey’s life and legacy, one would have to conclude that he viewed being a baseball executive as a call of God as well.

Branch Rickey was a baseball man to the core. He loved the game from childhood. Playing professionally for the St. Louis Browns, Rickey told a reporter his goal in life was “to be both a consistent Christian and a consistent ballplayer.” By all accounts, he was successful in the former but his professional playing career was less than stellar. He possessed a career batting average of .239 with three home runs in three seasons and as a catcher he holds the record for allowing 13 stolen bases in a single nine-inning game. In 10 years as a Major League Baseball manager, Rickey accumulated a pedestrian 597 wins and 664 losses.

In 1926, Rickey moved exclusively into his role as a baseball executive that would lead into his induction in the baseball Hall of Fame. Rickey-led teams won four World Series championships in his 29 years. He revolutionized baseball and gained a competitive edge over other clubs by his innovation of using farm clubs to develop players for the big league club. Rickey was known as a Bible-quoting, tight-fisted Republican, a fierce competitor, and a shrewd negotiator whom players referred to as “El Cheapo.” It was said that Rickey’s everyday speech resembled a sermon and second baseman Eddie Stankey once retorted after negotiating his contract with Rickey, “I got a million dollars’ worth of free advice and a very small raise.”

In 1903, Rickey was the 21-year-old head baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan University when his Christian conviction collided head on with his love for the great game. Charles Thomas was recruited by Rickey to play catcher and was the only black player on the team. OWU traveled to South Bend, Ind., for a game against Notre Dame. When they arrived the hotel clerk refused to allow Thomas to stay because of a whites-only policy. Rickey persuaded the hotel to allow Thomas to go to his room and later requested a cot. That evening Rickey found his catcher sobbing and rubbing his hands and arms convulsively while muttering, “It’s my skin. If only I could wipe off the color they could see I am man like everybody else!” Rickey told him to “Buck up!” and said, “We will beat this one day!” but later noted, he never felt so helpless and vowed at that time that he would do whatever he could to end such humiliation.

As an executive for the St. Louis Cardinals, Rickey unsuccessfully pushed for an end to segregated seating at the park and tested the waters for racial integration of the team but feared that a premature attempt in the wrong place would set back the cause. When Rickey left the Cardinals for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 he immediately took the initiative to integrate baseball. The cultural moment and the location of the Dodgers in Brooklyn made it an opportune time for Rickey to act. Americans of all races were fighting in World Ward II against racist ideology in Europe while racist Jim Crow laws were in place back home. The tragic irony was slowly becoming apparent to many Americans. In Brooklyn, Rickey was in a place where he could make a credible case to ownership of potential profits if they were the first club to sign black players. Rickey used his business acumen to serve his conviction that segregation was morally indefensible.

In March 1945, Branch Rickey met at Joe’s restaurant with Red Barber, the beloved Dodgers broadcaster, to tell him of his plan to sign a black man to play for the Dodgers. Barber was initially appalled but recalls Rickey telling him that he had to act because he had heard Charles Thomas crying for 41 years. At that time, he did not know who that player would be but later that summer scouts had narrowed the list down to a handful of players. It seems the initial plan was to sign several players at once but instead Rickey settled on Jackie Robinson.

In their first meeting, Aug. 28, 1945, Rickey stunned Robinson with the news he wanted him to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He grilled him for hours and made him commit to three years of non-retaliation. Rickey read to him from Giovanni Papini’s book “Life of Christ” and pointed him to the biblical account of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Rickey told Robinson, “We can’t fight our way through this Robinson. We’ve got no army. There’s virtually nobody on our side. No owners. No umpires. Very few newspapermen. And I’m afraid many fans will be hostile. We’ll be in a tough position. We can win only if we convince the world that I’m doing this because you are a great ball player and a fine gentleman.”

Rickey believed that the right player, who was also the right person, full of moral courage, willing to commit to non-retaliation for three years — except with his play on the field — could end what he called an “odious injustice.” There is a sense in which Rickey laid out an incipient strategy that would be later utilized by Martin Luther King Jr. in the larger Civil Rights movement. Rickey said about signing Robinson, “I couldn’t face my God much longer knowing that His black creatures are held separate and distinct from His white creatures in the game that has given me all I own.”

In his excellent biography on Branch Rickey, Lee Lowenfish describes him in the sub-title as “Baseball’s Ferocious Gentlemen.” What an apt and powerful description. He was ferocious. Journalist John Chamberlain described Rickey as “one of the slyest men who ever lived, but in all fundamentals, a man of honor.” He was passionately driven to succeed and made no apologies for turning a profit in the process. Yet his aggression and fierceness were guided by his Christian conviction and worldview. His life embodied Jesus’ admonition to His disciples, sheep in the midst of wolves, to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

On November 13, 1965, Branch Rickey stepped to the podium to speak after having been inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Baseball’s ferocious gentleman had left the hospital against the advice of his doctors because, as he often said, “it is better to die ten minutes sooner than to live doing nothing.” He rose to speak about a topic he had lived — courage. He spoke of having objectives on which there is no price and began to tell the biblical story of Zaccheus, who he said, “Had the greatest amount of courage of any man in the Bible.” He did not get to finish telling about one of his favorite biblical characters because — while still speaking — he collapsed, and less than a month later died.

Perhaps adding one word to Lowenfish’s descriptive title of Rickey would prove helpful — Baseball’s Ferocious Christian Gentleman. But I fear the moniker, “ferocious Christian gentleman” sounds oxymoronic in contemporary evangelical circles where manhood is often reduced to being a nice guy and God is envisioned as a kind of cosmic smiley face. Where Christian discipleship is cheapened to generic niceness, men pursue comfort and respectability in the place of self-sacrificial “great experiments” that demand ferocious Christian gentlemen.

Billy Graham said of Branch Rickey, “He was a man of deep piety and integrity — that rare combination of a ‘man’s man’ and a Christian man, at the same time.” Here’s hoping Graham is wrong and the combination is not so rare, because our churches are in desperate need of some ferocious Christian gentlemen.

Watch the video: show em the CURVE!


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