Roger W. Smith,'Wesley Branch Rickey'

Smith, Roger W. "Wesley Branch Rickey." Notable Sports Figures. Ed. Dana R. Barnes.
Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 1290-1295. 4 vols.
Page 1290
Wesley Branch Rickey
American baseball executive
The names Rickey and Robinson will always be linked in the annals of sport because of
their respective roles in breaking major league baseball's "color line," a seminal event
which is regarded as having had a monumental effect -- perhaps most of all symbolically,
but also in a practical sense -- on the Civil Rights movement. Wesley Branch Rickey's
determination, in the face of opposition from other baseball owners, to sign a black player
and desegregate professional baseball; his recruitment and signing of Jackie Robinson;
and his orchestration of Robinson's debut in the major leagues opened the door for blacks
in baseball and helped change the course of American history.
Raised on a Farm
Wesley Branch Rickey was born in 1881 in southern Ohio, the son of Jacob Franklin
Rickey, a Wesleyite Methodist, and raised on a farm. Rickey was greatly influenced by
his mother, Emily, who helped to give him a sense of moral purpose and a strong
religious faith. Rickey attended school in a one-room schoolhouse in Rush Township,
Ohio and later in the nearby town of Lucasville but was unable to earn a high school
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(since the school didn't offer one). After completing his schooling, Rickey, who was then
in his late teens, was encouraged by James Finney, a school superintendent and coach, to
take an exam to become a schoolteacher. After a course of intensive self-study, Rickey
earned a teaching certificate and taught for two years in a school in Scioto County.
Rickey learned early that he had to show his command of the class by standing up to
rowdy students, which he did on two notable occasions, using his fists to put strong, older
boys in their place.
In March 1901, Rickey enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) in Delaware, Ohio,
a Methodist school. He had not been expected to go to college and had to talk his father
into letting him attend. Rickey played on the OWU football and baseball teams in his
freshman year. To help pay school costs, he also played baseball during summer vacation
for a local semipro team, earning $25 a game. When he returned to school, Rickey found
to his surprise that playing for money had caused him to lose his athletic eligibility. The
president of OWU, Dr. James W. Bashford, gave Rickey a way to get back his eligibility
by suggesting that he sign a paper denying the charges that he had played for money, but
Rickey said he could not do so and attest to something that was false. In the spring of
1903, the OWU baseball coach resigned and Bashford, who had been impressed by
Rickey's honesty and character in the loss of eligibility incident, asked Rickey, who was
in his sophomore year, to take over as the school's baseball coach. During his first season,
Rickey witnessed a couple of notable instances of overt racism against the only black
player on the OWU team, first baseman Charles Thomas. These incidents made an
"indelible" impression on him.
Tentative Steps in the Big Leagues
Rickey graduated from OWU in 1904 with a B.Litt. degree. Meanwhile, he had become a
professional baseball player during the summer months, when on vacation from college.
He played minor league baseball for two consecutive seasons and at the end of the 1904
season was promoted from the Dallas team in the Texas League to the Cincinnati Reds,
who were in need of help at Rickey's position, catcher. He joined the Reds in September,
but was sent packing (and never got into a game) after the manager found out that
Rickey, because of religious scruples, refused to play baseball on Sundays. Rickey made
it to the major leagues again in 1905 and played parts of two seasons as a catcher for the
St. Browns. He also played in 1907 for the New York Highlanders (the team that
eventually became the Yankees), but an injury sustained during the offseason while
throwing a ball in the OWU gymnasium had impaired Rickey's throwing ability and
ended his playing career prematurely.
Becomes Major League Executive
While playing professional baseball, Rickey continued to coach at the college level. He
spent two years as football and baseball coach at Allegheny College in Meadville,
Pennsylvania. In 1906, he was married to Jane Moulton.
In 1907, Rickey enrolled in the University of Michigan Law School, from which he
earned a law degree in 1911 while also coaching the university's baseball team. In 1911,
he set up a short-lived law practice in Boise, Ohio with two former OWU fraternity
brothers, but the practice foundered, and Rickey soon returned to the University of
Michigan, where he took up coaching again. His University of Michigan team included
the future Hall of Famer George Sisler, whom Rickey would later sign to a contract with
the St. Louis Browns.
Rickey was hired in 1912 by Browns owner Robert Lee Hedges (who had known Rickey
from his playing days with the Browns) as a scout and then, shortly thereafter, in 1913,
became an executive assistant in the Browns' front office. Rickey was also appointed
field manager at the end of the 1913 season and served in that capacity for the next two
seasons before being replaced by the Browns' new owner, Philip De Catesby Ball, who
retained Rickey in a front office role. In 1917, Rickey accepted a higher-paying job as
president of the Browns' national league counterparts, the St. Louis Cardinals. The
Browns' owner, Ball, objected to Rickey's departure and undertook legal action in an
unsuccessful attempt to enforce provisions of Rickey's contract with the Browns. Rickey
volunteered to serve in the First World War, was commissioned a major, and served in
France during 1918
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with ballplayers such as Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson in the Army's Chemical
Warfare Unit.
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).
Signs Robinson
In October 1942, in the midst of a deteriorating relationship with Breadon, Rickey
resigned from the Cardinals and shortly thereafter was named general manager of the
Brooklyn Dodgers. The stands at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, where the Cardinals
played, were segregated, but in New York City, the chances for successfully integrating a
major league team seemed much better. In 1943, while reporting to the Dodgers board of
directors on his plan to set up a mass scouting system, Rickey mentioned that he "might
include a Negro player or two"; the idea met with tacit approval. Rickey then engaged his
scouts in a mission to find the "right man" to break baseball's color line. Rickey
announced publicly in 1945 that he intended to establish a new Negro league called the
United States League, which would include a Brooklyn franchise called the Brown
Dodgers. Rickey then had Dodger scouts intensively scout players in the existing Negro
Leagues, including Robinson, who were presumably being scouted to play for the Brown
Dodgers. The new Negro league team was actually a smokescreen, Rickey later
conceded, invented as a ruse to mask his real intentions.
On August 18, 1945, Rickey met with Robinson, who had been scouted by a Dodger
scout, Clyde Sukeforth, and was immediately impressed with Robinson's intelligence,
character, and demeanor. Rickey delivered to Robinson an impassioned discourse on the
abuse Robinson would face as baseball's first black player and why he believed Robinson
had to take the abuse without retaliation. "You will symbolize a crucial cause," Rickey
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said. "One incident, just one incident, can set it back twenty years.... I'm looking for a
ballplayer with enough guts not to fight back." On October 23, 1945, Rickey signed
Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers' minor league affiliate in Montreal. On April 10,
1947, he made the epochal announcement that Robinson, after an outstanding year at
Montreal, was being promoted to the Dodgers roster.
Post-Dodger Years
Rickey's tenure with the Dodgers lasted until 1950, when he was forced out by a fellow
owner, Walter O'Malley, who became the team's president (and who ultimately moved
the team to Los Angeles, earning O'Malley the enmity of Brooklyn fans). One month
after leaving the Dodgers, Rickey became the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a
second division club with whom he was less successful (although he did acquire players
such as Roberto Clemente who provided a foundation for the Pirates' later success).
Rickey stepped down as Pirates general manager in 1955 and remained in an advisory
role with the team until 1959. He was then named president of a proposed new third
league in Major League baseball, the Continental League. The Continental League never
became a reality. But it was a key factor in spurring the expansion of major league
baseball into two 10-team leagues.
On July 23, 1962, Rickey attended Jackie Robinson's induction into the National Baseball
Hall of Fame. Rickey himself was elected to the Hall in 1967 by a unanimous vote of the
Committee on Baseball Veterans. He is one of twenty-three men elected to the Hall of
Fame as "executives" or "pioneers," and one of only four inductees in that category
whose primary role was serving in a day-to-day executive capacity as general manager.
His Hall of Fame plaque sums up his contribution to baseball integration and Civil Rights
simply and matterof-factly by stating, "BROUGHT JACKIE ROBINSON TO
Rickey's Legacy
Rickey was a genuine innovator who had a good bit of the college professor in him. His
chief innovation, of course, was the farm system concept, which enabled teams like the
Cardinals to compete against teams bankrolled by deeper-pocketed owners. Rickey was
continually coming up with newfangled ideas, such as sliding pits, "pitching strings," and
batting tees; he hired the first statistician in baseball (the Dodgers' Allan Roth) and used
mathematical formulas to predict a team's success in offensive and defensive categories
(and to question some commonly held assumptions about whether factors such as
strikeouts are a reliable predictor of a team's ability to prevent runs). Rickey was
interested in his players' moral welfare, and he always made it a point to inquire about a
boy's character and family circumstances before deciding whether to sign him. He often
spoke before the YMCA and other civic groups and was an early sponsor and supporter
of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Sports, Rickey believed, exemplified the moral
percepts that make American great and that help to mold individual character.
Rickey had a genuine aesthetic appreciation of baseball and an almost evangelical faith in
its place in American life. He was motivated by two guiding principles in challenging
baseball's pre-World War II apartheid policy: a fundamental respect for democratic
principles and "fair play"; and a religious conviction that it was not only the right time to
break baseball's color line but was the right thing to do.
Baseball: An Illustrated History
In the spring of 1903, Ohio Wesleyan was scheduled to play Notre Dame at South Bend,
Indiana. Rickey's star was the first baseman, Charles "Tommy" Thomas, an African
American equally skilled at baseball and football....
[When] Rickey and his team filed into the lobby of the Oliver Hotel at South Bend, the
clerk told Rickey that while he and the rest of the team were welcome, Thomas was not.
Thomas, humiliated, suggested that he just quietly return to Ohio Wesleyan and forget
about playing.
Rickey wouldn't hear of it; he took Thomas to his own room. When the manager
protested, Rickey threatened to take his whole team elsewhere if he didn't cooperate. The
manager backed down.
Many years later, Rickey remembered what happened after he sent for the team captain to
come to his room and talk over strategy for the big game: "Tommy stood in the corner,
tense and brooding and in silence. I asked him to sit on a chair and relax. Instead, he sat
on the edge of the cot, his huge shoulders hunched and his hands clasped between his
knees. I tried to talk to the captain, but I couldn't take my gaze from Tommy. Tears
welled, ... spilled down his black face. ... Then his shoulders heaved convulsively, and he
rubbed one great hand over the other with all the power of his body, muttering, 'Black
skin, ... black skin. If I could only make 'em white.' He kept rubbing and rubbing as
though he would remove the blackness by sheer friction."
Rickey did his best to reassure Thomas, but "whatever mark that incident left on Charles
Thomas, it was no more indelible than the impression made on me." The memory never
left him and the conviction slowly grew that he would someday try to see to it that such
things never happened again.
Source: Ward, Geoffrey C. and Ken Burns. Baseball: An Illustrated History. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
1881 Born December 20 in Little California (later renamed Stockdale), Ohio
1901 Enrolls at Ohio Wesleyan University
1903 Becomes baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan. Plays minor league baseball during
summer at Terre Haute, Indiana and Le Mars, Iowa
1904 Earns B.Litt. from Ohio Wesleyan
1904-05 Plays for Dallas of Texas League. Signs contact with Cincinnati Reds; dismissed
for refusing to play Sundays. Contract returned to Dallas. Traded to Chicago White Sox
and, subsequently, to St. Louis Browns. Plays part of 1905 season with Browns
1904-06 Coaches football and baseball at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania,
plus teaching
1906 Earns B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan. Marries Jane Moulton in June. Plays 65 games for
Browns and has his best year as a player, batting .284, third highest on team. Sold to New
York Highlanders in December
1907 Plays 52 games for Highlanders. On June 28, Washington Nationals (later known as
Senators) steal a record 13 bases on Highlanders catcher Rickey (who had been pressed
into service despite a bad shoulder), setting a record. Enters law school at University of
Michigan in fall
1909 Diagnosed with tuberculosis; spends time at sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York
1910-13 Coaches baseball at University of Michigan. Earns J.D. degree in 1911
1913-16 Serves in executive capacity for St. Louis Browns, with responsibility for
acquiring players and making trades. Also serves as team's field manager from September
1913 to end of 1915 season
1916 Hired as president by St. Louis Cardinals
1918 Serves in Chemical Warfare Unit of U.S. Army
1919 Becomes field manager of Cardinals (retaining title of president)
1920 Sam Breadon buys a controlling interest in Cardinals, takes over as president, and
demotes Rickey to vice-president
1925 Rogers Hornsby is named player-manager of Cardinals, replacing Rickey, who
remains as vice-president and business manager
1942 Resigns as Cardinals GM and becomes president of Brooklyn Dodgers
1944-45 Rickey and associates Walter O'Malley and John Smith acquire controlling
interest in Dodgers
1945 Rickey announces plan (later acknowledged to be a ruse to obscure his real
intentions) to form Brown Dodgers team as Brooklyn's entry in proposed new Black
United States Baseball League
1945 Signs Kansas City Monarchs shortstop Jackie Robinson to minor league contract
1947 Announces that Dodgers have purchased Robinson's contract from Montreal farm
1950 Resigns as president of Dodgers. Named executive vice-president and general
manager of Pittsburgh Pirates
1955 Steps down as Pirates GM and moves into advisory role with team
1959 Resigns as CEO of Pirates and becomes president of proposed Continental League
(which disbands in 1960 without playing a game)
1962 Rejoins Cardinals as senior consultant for player development
1964 Fired from consulting job with Cardinals
1965 Collapses on November 13 while giving speech in Columbia, Missouri and dies on
December 9
Awards and Accomplishments
1967 Elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame
(With Robert Riger) The American Diamond: A Documentary of the Game of Baseball,
Simon & Schuster, 1965.
Barber, Red. 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball. Garden City, NY:
Doubleday, 1982.
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Burk, Robert F. Much More Than a Game: Players, Owners, and American Baseball
Since 1921. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Chalberg, John C. Rickey and Robinson: The Preacher, the Player, and America's Game.
Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2000.
Cohen, Stanley. Dodgers! The First 100 Years. New York: Carol Publishing Group,
Dictionary of American Biography: Supplement Seven, 1961-1965. New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1981.
Dorinson, Joseph, and Joram Warmund, Eds. Jackie Robinson: Race, Sports, and the
American Dream. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998.
Frommer, Harvey. Rickey and Robinson: The Men Who Broke Baseball's Color Barrier.
New York: Macmillan, 1982
Golenbock, Peter. The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and
Browns. New York: HarperCollins, 2000, 1995.
Helyar, John. Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball. New York: Villard
Books, 1994.
Herzog, Brad. The Sports 100: The One Hundred Most Important People in American
Sports History. New York: Macmillan, 1995.
Honig, Donald. Baseball America: The Heroes of the Game and the Times of Their
Glory. New York: Macmillan, 1985.
Lieb, Frederick G. The St. Louis Cardinals: The Story of a Great Baseball Club. New
York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1944.
Mann, Arthur. Branch Rickey: American in Action. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.
Martinez, David H. The Book of Baseball Literacy. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Monteleone, John J., ed. Branch Rickey's Little Blue Book: Wit and Strategy from
Baseball's Last Wise Man. New York: Macmillan, 1995.
Obojski, Robert. Bush League: A History of Minor League Baseball. New York:
Macmillan, 1975.
O'Toole, Andrew. Branch Rickey in Pittsburgh: Baseball's Trailblazing General Manager
for the Pirates, 1950-1955. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.
Parrott, Harold. The Lords of Baseball: A Wry Look at a Side of the Game the Fan
Seldom Sees--the Front Office. New York: Praeger, 1976.
Polner, Murray. Branch Rickey: A Biography. New York: Atheneum, 1982.
Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Skipper, John C. A Biographical Dictionary of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jefferson, NC:
McFarland, 2000.
Stockton, J. Roy. The Gashouse Gang and a Couple of Other Guys. New York: A. S.
Barnes, 1945.
Sullivan. Neil J. The Dodgers Move West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Tygiel, Jules. Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1997
Tygiel, Jules, Ed. The Jackie Robinson Reader: Perspectives on an American Hero. New
York: Dutton, 1997.
Voigt, David Quentin. American Baseball, Volume II: From the Commissioners to
Continental Expansion. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
"Branch Rickey, 83, Dies in Missouri." New York Times (December 10, 1965): 1.
Dexter, Charles. "Brooklyn's Sturdy Branch." Collier's (September 15, 1945): 116.
Graham, Frank, Jr. "Branch Rickey Rides Again: The Return of the Mahatma." Saturday
Evening Post (March 9, 1963): 66-68.
"Baseball Branch Rickey." (November 30,
"the BASEBALL Branch Rickey." (November 30, 2002).
"BrainyQuote: Branch Rickey." (November 30, 2002).
"Breaking the Color Line: 1940-1946.#x201D; (December 16,2002).
"A Jackie Robinson Society Exclusive Interview with Branch B. Rickey [grandson of
Branch Rickey]." (November
30, 2002).
The Jackie Robinson Story [film]. Dir. Alfred E. Green. Perf. Jackie Robinson, Ruby
Dee, Minor Watson, Louise Beavers, Richard Lane. MGM, 1950.
Lurie, Mike. "Rickey As Much a Pioneer As Robinson." CBS SportsLine, May 28, 1997. (December 16,
"National Baseball Hall of Fame: Branch Rickey."
(November 30, 2002).
Pappas, Doug. "Only four GMs in Hall of Fame." June 26, 2002. (December 7, 2002).
Transcript of interview with Branch Rickey by Davis J. Walsh [1955?]. Library of
Congress, Manuscript Division,
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Branch Rickey Papers. (November 30,
West, Jean. "Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson (Interview Essay)," by Jean West.
10 (November 30,
Sketch by Roger W. Smith