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Branch Rickey
Branch Rickey 1912.jpg
Rickey in 1912
Catcher / Manager / Executive
Born: (1881-12-20)December 20, 1881
Portsmouth, Ohio
Died: December 9, 1965(1965-12-09) (aged 83)
Columbia, Missouri
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
June 16, 1905, for the St. Louis Browns
Last MLB appearance
August 25, 1914, for the St. Louis Browns
MLB statistics
Batting average.239
Home runs3
Runs batted in39
Games managed1,277
Managerial record597–664
Winning %.473
As player

As manager

As general manager

Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Election MethodVeterans Committee
Branch Rickey
Battling Bishops
Career information
CollegeOhio Wesleyan University
University of Michigan
Career history
As coach
1904–1905Allegheny College
1907–1908Ohio Wesleyan University
1910–1913University of Michigan
As player
1902–1903Shelby Blues
Military career
Allegiance United States
United States Army seal
U.S. Army
Years of service1917–1918
US-O4 insignia.svg
UnitChemical Warfare Service
1st Gas Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War I
Western Front

Wesley Branch Rickey (December 20, 1881 – December 9, 1965) was an American baseball player and sports executive. He was perhaps best known for breaking Major League Baseball's color barriers by signing black player Jackie Robinson, as well as 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 was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967, two years after his death.

Rickey played in MLB for the St. Louis Browns and New York Highlanders from 1905 through 1907. After struggling as a player, Rickey returned to college, where he learned about administration from Philip Bartelme. Returning to MLB in 1913, Rickey embarked on a successful managing and executive career with the St. Louis Browns, the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cardinals elected him to their team Hall of Fame in 2014.

Rickey also had a career in football, as a player for the professional Shelby Blues and as a coach at Ohio Wesleyan University and Allegheny College. His many achievements and deep Christian faith[1] earned him the nickname "the Mahātmā."

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Branch Rickey: A matter of fairness
  • ✪ Branch Rickey and the Integration


Evan Caminker: Hi, I'm Evan Caminker, the Dean of the Law School. As part of the school�s celebration of its 150th anniversary, it�s my great pleasure to introduce this short film about a great Michigan Law alumnus. Branch Rickey graduated from this law school in 1911 and went onto become the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He is best known for helping to break baseball�s color line by bringing Jackie Robinson into the all-white Major Leagues. Branch Rickey exemplifies what Michigan law is all about. We care about public values and we care about making the world a better place. As part of this celebration, we recently established a professorship in Branch Rickey�s name, partly through the generosity of two U of M alumni who own baseball teams, Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets, and Sam Zell of the Chicago Cubs. Thank you and I hope you enjoy this film. Male: So much of his life was a little like Mark Twain. You know wherever you go in America, you discover Mark Twain was there and wherever you go in baseball, you discover that Branch Rickey was there. Male: He had enormous self-confidence. He believed in himself and he believed in America and sort of the ideals of America. Branch Rickey III: There were still many, many, many people in the United States who had very strong racial feelings, who did not applaud in any way, my grandfather�s involvement bringing Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues. Male: It was a society and he won against them. Once you put a black man on the field, forget it, it�s a new world. That's what baseball meant to this country. Male: I don�t think anybody really recognized that he would be the forerunner of the whole civil rights movement. David Maraniss: In so many ways he was an arch conservative and the last person that you might expect would be this champion of such an important moment in the 20th century advancement of blacks. Judy Wilpon: He was very dynamic. He wasn�t a big tall man, but he was just an overpowering presence that he brilliant beyond words. I mean he could come up with concepts that were just so far ahead of his time. Male: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson transcend baseball. What they did together is one of the important moments in 20th century�s social history. Male: Wesley Branch Rickey was born in 1881 near Lucasville, Ohio. He grew up inside a progressive political culture, deeply influenced by the new Republican Party, the abolitionist and the anti-slavery movement. Rickey�s parents were staunch Methodists and farmers. Branch Rickey III: Hillside farming, that's what it was, modest, very, very, very humble background and origin for my grandfather to grow up in. Murray Polner: They were very religious. They believe very much in their God, their branch of Christianity, tolerant, open-minded, broad and welcoming, but rigid in many ways, the kind of rigidity that Rickey brought to his later life, such as never play baseball on Sundays. Male: With the Civil War ended 16 years earlier, the towns and villages of Central and Northern Ohio were filled with war veterans. The carnage had shocked the conscience of the nation and small colleges with pacifist sympathies began to dot Ohio, among them, Oberlin and Ohio Wesleyan University. These institutions had welcomed black students since they were founded. Daniel Okrent: If you look at the nature of Methodists in the late 19th century, early 20th century, they're very much reformers in terms of social movements. They were abolitionists. They had been abolitionists, earlier they were the heart of the temperance movement of the anti-liquor movement. Male: As a boy, Branch Rickey�s day on the family farm began before dawn. He put on his hand-me-downs, did his chores and went to school in a one-room school house. Afterward, Rickey played catcher on his brother Orla�s sand-lot baseball team. With high school diploma in hand, Rickey applied for a teaching certificate and taught school. When he finished, he attended Ohio Wesleyan University and joined the baseball team. To pay his way, Rickey also played semi-pro baseball in Portland, Ohio. But when Ohio Wesleyan�s president found out, he revoked Rickey�s amateur status and barred him from playing. He made Rickey the team coach instead. Murray Polner: But he was also knocking off the courses, taking 21 credits, passing flying colors. He was a brilliant student, no question about it. Male: In April of 1901, Rickey embarked on a journey that would change his life. He took his team to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame. Rickey�s team included a star player and catcher. Charles Thomas was a bright young African-American student, excited about the upcoming big game when he, his coach, and his team got to the front desk of the Oliver Hotel. Branch Rickey III: And the clerk behind the counter saw Charles Thomas and said, �He can't stay here.� He sent all the other players to their rooms and he arranged with the clerk that Charles Thomas could go up to his room, my grandfather�s room and wait for him. Branch Rickey: And during that period I can remember him sitting on the edge of the bed pulling his fingers with his great big tears running down in his cheeks, a great effort to control his emotions and he was good at that, properly so. [CHECK ON THIS--around 6:45]and he would say -- that was the only difference that he was a fine student, a fine scholarly fellow. Branch Rickey III: He said that from that point, he had determined if he was ever in a position to do something about that injustice, he would do it. John Bacon: And Rickey told that story the rest of his life, in Sunday sermons, on TV and that clearly was a life changing moment, ended up being a nation changing moment. Murray Polner: He grew out of this whole experience and while he was extremely politically conservative later in his life, he was also extremely socially liberal as we know in racial questions. Male: Rickey�s love of baseball would soon become a tug-of-war with his other love, Jane Moulton. She did not see much future or respectability in the sport. Branch Rickey III: His in-laws were successful and educated and no one in my grandfather�s family had gone to college. He married up from duck run to a daughter of a merchant in Lucasville. He married up, over his head. Male: The honeymoon was a road trip with the St. Louis Browns, to Boston, St. Louis and Philadelphia. Along the way, the young bride began to see and understand her husband�s attraction to baseball. In a letter she wrote, �I saw in his eyes all the eagerness and his basic knowledge that his keen mind had stored away.� Murray Polner: She saw him in the context and we loved it how he put the passion, the speed, the dedication, the skill that was required. It was still a very bucolic sport and it was something that she could understand. She became the rock of his life, critic sometimes, but the rock of his life. Male: He always wanted to go to Law School. He had studied law at Ohio Wesleyan, he did a little bit at Ohio State. Richard Friedman: I have thought of the kind of application essay that Branch Rickey might have written and he might have said, �I have a combination of credentials that makes me unique not only among those who are applying to your law school this year but who�ve ever applied.� Male: By the time Rickey arrived at the University of Michigan Law School in the Fall of 1909, he had played professional baseball for four years, earned a teaching certificate, then two college degrees, and was already married. Male: To some extent he was a man among boys. Male: There are there older students but he was a good deal older, obviously much more mature than most of his classmates. Yes, that's right, an extraordinary life already for a 28-year-old. Male: Michigan�s Law School was one of the most progressive in the country. Rickey�s classmates included several women and blacks to whom the school had already been open for nearly four decades. Among them was Moses Fleetwood Walker, the son of a black Ohio doctor. He had attended Oberlin and then Michigan Law in the 1880s and played baseball for the university. Walker joined the minor league Toledo Blue Stockings, becoming the first known African-American to play professional ball. Eugene Robinson: You know Michigan was early to integrate in some important ways and it�s hard to imagine that some of that didn�t rub off on Branch Rickey. Male: He did very well. He had to negotiate the situation because he already had taken law classes and actually taught some law because when his teacher in Ohio Wesleyan died, Rickey took over the classes. Male: But baseball was never far from Branch Rickey. When an opening came up to coach the team, Rickey began a letter-writing campaign and got the job. Male: Well, he coached for four years all together. He coached the two years while he was a student and then he was invited back actually before he graduated to coach the 1912 and 1913 Seasons. The way he had their best Season in his last season in 1913, he had a very special player that season: George Sisler. Male: Sisler would become a star at Michigan and graduated with an engineering degree. In the years ahead, he played for the St. Louis Browns where he batted .400 and set a Major League record. It stood for 84 years. By 1913, baseball�s popularity in America was soaring. Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson were two of the most famous names not only in baseball, but in the entire country. For Sisler and Rickey, the lure of the professional ranks was too strong and their days at Michigan were drawing to a close. In the summer of 1913, Rickey left the university for a job as general manager of the St. Louis Browns. George Sisler would soon join him and Browns owner Robert Lee Hedges was innovative and he said, �Looking for someone brainy to take the Browns in a new direction.� Rickey wasted no time. He brought new equipment, discipline and training techniques to professional baseball. That winter, Rickey moved the Browns to St. Petersburg, Florida. For the first time a baseball team underwent winter training. �I shall have three batting cages, three handball courts, one sliding pit, and a place for running dashes," he wrote to Hedges. "Hitting alone will not win ball games. I want speed on my team and every man on the squad will know how to slide." Other teams took notice and began copying what Rickey was doing with the Browns. Jimmy Breslin: Baseball at that time was a game played by hillbillies with good eyesight and the owners with the sun�s up, somebody who had money, like Crosley for the Crosley radios. Rickey came in just knowing this -- I don�t know, that�s all it was still. Male: Rickey eventually would leave the Browns for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Gas House Gang earned their name because they often looked unwashed and scruffy when they took the field, then they would beat the pants off the opposing team. Rickey led his Gas House Gang to six national pennants and he continued to innovate. Male: Branch Rickey essentially did invent the Minor League system. John Bacon: Rickey was also way ahead of his time, certainly in the Minor Leagues as a scatter shot system for no system at all, so a few bucks here and there. Barnstorming teams, hundreds of thousands of them around the country. Branch Rickey III: The impact of that law school without question caused him to stand apart in his baseball career. There were no other lawyers in the sport of baseball. His entire way of approaching problem solving, I think changed complexion because of his training at law school. Male: Well Boston was a great place for me. It was the big leagues first of all and every announcer Minor League wants to be a big leaguer. Ernie Harwell: I came out of the Marines in 1946 and began to do playback play for my hometown team, the Atlanta Crackers, and in 1948 I went to Brooklyn to replace Red Barber who was felled by an ulcer on a trip to Pittsburgh. Fred Wilpon: And I lived in a neighborhood that had lots of second generation kids from immigrant families and education was the key. But sports were very, very important. The one identifying factor, Brooklyn, being different than other places in the country or even in New York was they had �Dem Bums,� the Brooklyn Dodgers. They didn�t win much for many, many years. They went on not winning. Male: I was a baseball player, an amateur baseball player in Brooklyn. I used to see Mr. Rickey quite frequently. He didn�t really know me as distinguished from many other players but he did know me and even scouted my best pal at the time whose name is Sandy Koufax and he did pretty well at the Major League level. Male: In 1945, Rickey began telling a small circle in confidence that he intended to bring a black player to the Dodgers. He did not know who or when, but he was determined to do it. For nearly four decades he had carried inside of himself the anger of Charles Thomas� humiliation at the Oliver Hotel in South Bend. Now he was going to do something about it. Rickey settled on a former UCLA star and World War II veteran, an Air Force officer now playing in the Negro Leagues. His name, Jack Roosevelt Robinson. In the Air Force, Robinson had demonstrated a certain reluctance to be humiliated. For example he was court martialed for refusing to move to the back of a military bus. Ernie Harwell: He was an angry guy really in a lot of ways and very outspoken and very opinionated, but he was able to fall back because of the advice of Mr. Rickey had given and before they signed and I think he held it very well. Male: He picked Robinson because of his character and his nature and he knew what Robinson would have to go through and he needed the right guy for that. Branch Rickey: He was everything that I had hoped he would be at that moment. The big surprise with that whole occasion was Robinson. I couldn�t convince him that I was giving him this interview and considering him for a job on our team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson: When I walked in the door, I had no idea why I was being brought into the office and then they have him sit and tell me exactly why and then they go through all of the kinds of things that he envisioned. The prospects of violence and everything and how I have to control myself and it was a meeting that I shall never forget and a meeting that started me thinking that this is perhaps one of the truly great Americans of our time. Branch Rickey: I had to give him an actual picture, my voice, my gesture, but my -- every means I had to have him realize what he was in front and what he was about to agree to. He had to know that he would be called these names and his mother would be attacked and his ancestry as I put it. Well I asked him what he would do. �I kill it.� It was a very resentment that I wanted and yet he had to realize that he must be able to handle himself under those dire convictions. Male: Rickey and George Sisler were reunited in Brooklyn. As a Dodger scout. Sisler recruited Don Lund, a star at the University of Michigan who had lettered in multiple sports. He�d also been a first round draft pick of the Chicago Bears. Don Lund: So he show me to play and the next day we sat down and he said, �Would you meet the Michigan Central Depot? I�d like to take you to New York.� Male: Lund was sent on a long two-year route with various farm teams, among them the Montreal Royals. One of his new teammates was Jackie Robinson. In April of 1947, Lund was called to the Dodgers. Don Lund: And they brought both my contract, Jackie Robinson�s contract and then we joined the Dodgers to open up the season. Male: The contract was signed and Robinson�s arrival at the Dodgers made history, but the decision was not popular everywhere. Robinson endured racial slurs, taunts and even objects thrown at him on the field. Opposing teams were as bad as the fans, but the young players' deal with Rickey was that for three years, Robinson would ignore them and play the best baseball he could. Male: There were some on the Dodgers that were raised in the South and thought differently and was just a little different but they came around and other people were curious and would show up. He�d go to places and everything would be sold out. In Cincinnati, and it wasn't big ballpark, Crosley Field, they�d rope it off in the outfield for people to get in, enough people and so they packed them in and so it was very, very big. Steve Wulf: The great thing about Rickey was that he was doing the right thing but he was also doing the most intelligent thing possible. I mean this was -- you know his great quote is, �Luck is the residue of design.� This was the essence of design to pick Jackie Robinson as the standard bearer. Male: If Rickey had died at age 65 say, if he had never met Jackie Robinson, he would still be regarded I believe as one of the great baseball executives ever because he fundamentally transformed a professional side of the game. Branch Rickey III: When it came time to take down the plaques after he had passed away, it was noticeable. That office did not contain a single plaque that was recognition of having had a role in breaking the color barrier in the Major League Baseball. None whatsoever in the aspect of righting a wrong in race relations and you accept credit for it. He wouldn�t accept credit for it. It made a profound impact on me. Male: Robinson, while he�s scuffling his feet in the batting box to rearrange the dirt, was rearranging the United States of America while he was doing it. Male: He was a guy that did it, but he couldn�t have done it without Branch Rickey. He had the guts and the courage to face the establishment in those days. His fellow owners were all against him going to Jackie Robinson and letting him play and he fought them and he finally won.


Early life

Rickey was born in Stockdale, Ohio, the son of Jacob Frank Rickey and Emily (née Brown). Rickey was a relative of Beth Rickey, a Louisiana political activist.[2]

He graduated from Valley High School in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1899, and he was a catcher on the baseball team at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he obtained his B.A. Rickey was a member of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity.[3]

Rickey was a Master Mason in Tuscan Lodge #240 in Saint Louis. After arriving in Brooklyn, Rickey joined Montauk Masonic Lodge #286 in Brooklyn.[4]

Stricken with tuberculosis, he took the "cure" in Saranac Lake, New York in 1908 and 1909 at the Trudeau Sanatorium. Later, he moved into the Jacob Schiff cottage.


Professional playing career

Before his front office days, Rickey played both football and baseball professionally. He played in both baseball's minor and major leagues.


In 1902, Rickey played professional football for the Shelby Blues of the "Ohio League", the direct predecessor to the modern National Football League (NFL.) Rickey often played for pay with Shelby while he was attending Ohio Wesleyan. During his time with Shelby, Rickey became friends with his teammate Charles Follis, who was the first black professional football player. He also played against him on October 17, 1903, when Follis ran for a 70-yard touchdown against the Ohio Wesleyan football team. After that game Rickey praised Follis, calling him "a wonder."[5] It is also possible that Follis' poise and class under the pressures of such racial tension, as well as his exceptional play in spite of it, could have inspired Rickey to sign Jackie Robinson decades later.[6]Although Rickey stated his inspiration for bringing Jackie Robinson into baseball was the ill-treatment he saw received by his black catcher Charles Thomas on the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team coached by Rickey in 1903 and 1904 and the gentlemanly way Thomas handled it. When Rickey signed Robinson, Charles Thomas' story was made known in the papers[7]


In 1903, Rickey signed a contract with Terre Haute, Indiana of the Class B Central League, making his professional debut on June 20. Rickey was assigned to Le Mars, Iowa of the Class D Iowa–South Dakota League. During this period, Rickey also spent two seasons–1904 and 1905—coaching baseball, basketball and football and teaching at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania where he also served as Athletic Director.

Rickey debuted in the major leagues, with the St. Louis Browns in 1905. Sold to the New York Highlanders in 1907, Rickey could neither hit nor field while with the club, and his batting average dropped below .200. One opposing team stole 13 bases in one game while Rickey was behind the plate, setting a record which still stands a century later. Rickey also injured his throwing arm and retired as a player after just one year.

Return to college

Rickey attended the University of Michigan, where he received his LL.B.[8]

While at Michigan, Rickey applied for the job as Michigan's baseball coach. Rickey asked every alumnus he had ever met to write letters to Philip Bartelme, the school's athletic director, on his behalf. Bartelme recalled, "Day after day those letters came in."[9] Bartelme was reportedly impressed with Rickey's passion for baseball and his idealism about the proper role of athletics on a college campus.[10] Bartelme convinced the dean of the law school that Rickey could handle his law studies while serving as the school's baseball coach.[11] Bartelme reportedly called Rickey into his office to tell him he had the job if only "to put a stop to those damn letters that come in every day."[12] The hiring also marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship and business relationship between Rickey and Bartelme. Bartelme and Rickey worked together for most of the next 35 years, and in 1944 a California newspaper noted: "He and Rickey have had a close association in baseball ever since Bartelme was head of the athletic department of the University of Michigan where Rickey took to baseball just as a means to build up his failing health." During his four years as head baseball coach from 1910 - 1913 his record was 68-32-4.[13]

Return to professional baseball

Rickey batting for the Browns in 1906.
Rickey batting for the Browns in 1906.

Rickey returned to the big leagues in 1913, as a front office executive with the Browns. He was responsible for signing young George Sisler. Rickey became the team's manager for the final 12 games of the season, and managed the team for two more full seasons. But the Browns finished under .500 both years.

World War I (1917–19)

Rickey served as an officer in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. He commanded a chemical training unit that included Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson.[14] Rickey served in the 1st Gas Regiment during the war, and spent over four months as a member of the Chemical Warfare Service.[15]

St. Louis Cardinals (1919–42)

He then returned to St. Louis in 1919, but clashed with new Browns owner Phil Ball and jumped to the crosstown rivals Cardinals, to become team president and manager. In 1920, Rickey gave up the team presidency to the Cards' new majority owner, Sam Breadon.

The Cardinals wore uniforms for the first time that featured the two familiar cardinal birds perched on a baseball bat over the name "Cardinals" with the letter "C" of the word hooked over the bat in 1922. The concept of this pattern originated in a Presbyterian church in Ferguson, Missouri, at which Rickey was speaking. He noticed a colorful cardboard arrangement featuring two cardinal birds perched on a branch on a table. The arrangement's designer was a woman named Allie May Schmidt. Schmidt's father, a graphic designer, assisted Rickey in creating the logo that is part of a familiar staple on Cardinals uniforms.[16]

Under Rickey's leadership as on-the-field manager for six relatively mediocre years, the Cardinals posted winning records from 1921 to 1923. Breadon fired him early in the 1925 season. However, he could not deny Rickey's acumen for player development, and offered to let him stay to run the front office. An embittered Rickey stated, "You can't do this to me, Sam. You are ruining me." "No", Breadon responded. "I am doing you the greatest favor one man has ever done to another."[16]

Rickey had wisely invested in several minor league baseball clubs, using them to develop future talent and supplement the Cardinals major league roster. At 43 years of age upon his firing, he had been a player, manager and executive in the Major Leagues. However, there had been little indication to this point that he would ever belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although he was not the first executive titled as a general manager in Major League Baseball history — his actual title was business manager — through his activities, including inventing and building the farm system, Rickey came to embody the position of the baseball operations executive who mastered scouting, player acquisition and development and business affairs, which is the definition of the modern GM.

Second baseman Rogers Hornsby, winner of two Major League Baseball Triple Crowns, replaced Rickey to become a player-manager, and in 1926, his first full year as manager, Hornsby then led the Cardinals to their first World Series championship.

Fruition of the farm system

Rickey with the Cardinals
Rickey with the Cardinals

By 1930, Rickey's Cardinals, known as the "Gashouse Gang", were the class of the National League. They won 101 games in 1931 and won the World Series in seven games. The star of the 1931 World Series was rookie Pepper Martin, one of the first Cardinal stars that came from Branch's minor league system. Soon, other minor league graduates joined the team, among them future hall of famers Dizzy Dean and Joe Medwick, nicknamed "Ducky", and Dean's brother Paul "Daffy" Dean. The Deans and Medwick were integral parts of the 1934 Cardinals, who won the franchise's third World Series title.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Baseball, was concerned that Rickey's minor league system was going to ruin baseball by destroying existing minor league teams, and he twice released over 70 Cardinal minor leaguers. Despite Landis' efforts, Rickey's minor league system stayed in existence, and similar systems were adopted by every major league team within a few years. Arguably, the farm system saved the minor leagues, by keeping them necessary after the television age began and minor league attendance figures declined.

Rickey continued to develop the Cardinals up until the early 1940s. In his final year at St. Louis, 1942, the Cardinals had their best season in franchise history, winning 106 games and the World Series title. The team was led by a new crop of players developed by the Cardinals, two of whom, Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, became Hall of Famers; and several others, among them future MVP Marty Marion, who were among the best at their position during their eras. Even their manager Billy Southworth was a product of their farm system.

Brooklyn Dodgers (1942–50)

Rickey was a good friend of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail, himself a sound baseball man. MacPhail enlisted in the army to serve in World War II after the 1942 season, and the Dodgers hired Branch Rickey to replace him as President and GM, ending a tenure of over two decades with the Cardinals. In 1945, the Dodger ownership reorganized, with Rickey acquiring 25 percent of Dodger stock to become an equal partner with three other owners.

Further innovations

Rickey continued to innovate in his time with Brooklyn. He was responsible for the first full-time spring training facility, in Vero Beach, Florida, and encouraged the use of now-commonplace tools such as the batting cage, pitching machines, and batting helmets. He also pioneered the use of statistical analysis in baseball (what is now known as sabermetrics), when he hired statistician Allan Roth as a full-time analyst for the Dodgers in 1947. After viewing Roth's evidence, Rickey promoted the idea that on-base percentage was a more important hitting statistic than batting average.[17] While working under Rickey, Roth was also the first person to provide statistical evidence that platoon effects were real and quantifiable.

Breaking the color barrier

Rickey's most memorable act with Dodgers involved signing Jackie Robinson, thus breaking baseball's color barrier, which had been an unwritten rule since the 1880s. This policy had continued under a succession of baseball leaders, including Landis, who was openly opposed to integrating Major League Baseball for what he regarded as legitimate reasons. Landis died in 1944, but Rickey had already set the process in motion, having sought (and gained) approval from the Dodgers Board of Directors in 1943 to begin the search for "the right man."

On August 28, 1945, Rickey signed Robinson to a minor league contract. Robinson had been playing in the Negro leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs. On October 23, 1945, it was announced that Robinson would join the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' International League affiliate, for the 1946 season. He would end up as the league's batting champion, and led the Royals to a dominant league championship.[18]

There was no statute officially banning blacks from baseball, only a universally recognized unwritten rule which no club owner was prepared to break that was perpetuated by culturally entrenched racism and a desire by club owners to be perceived as representing the values and beliefs of everyday American white men.[18] The service of black Americans in the Second World War, and the celebrated pre-war achievements of black athletes in American sports, such as Joe Louis in boxing and Jesse Owens in track, helped pave the way for the cultural shift necessary to break the barrier.

Rickey knew that Robinson would face racism and discrimination.[19] Rickey made it clear in their momentous first meeting[20] that he anticipated wide-scale resistance both inside and outside baseball to opening its doors to Negroes. As predicted by Rickey, right from the start Robinson faced obstacles among his teammates and other teams' players. No matter how harsh the white people were towards Robinson, he could not retaliate. Robinson had agreed with Rickey[21] not to lose his temper and jeopardize the chances of all the blacks who would follow him if he could help break down the barriers. Usually placing fourth in team stats he still made history ending up in Baseball's Hall of Fame.

Red Barber recounted in Ken Burns's documentary Baseball that Rickey's determination to desegregate Major League Baseball was born out of a combination of idealism and astute business sense. The idealism was at least partially rooted in an incident involving a team for which Rickey worked early on. While managing at Ohio Wesleyan University, a black player, Charles Thomas, was extremely upset at being refused accommodation, because of his race, at the hotel where the team stayed. Though an infuriated Rickey managed to get him into the hotel for the night, he never forgot the incident and later said, "I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball." The business element was based on the fact that the Negro Leagues had numerous star athletes, and logically, the first Major League team to hire them would get first pick of the players at an attractive price. At the time, Mexican brewery czar Jorge Pasquel was raiding America for black talent (e.g., Satchel Paige), as well as disgruntled white players, for the Mexican League with the idea of creating an integrated league that could compete on a talent level with the U.S. major leagues. However idealistic, Rickey did not compensate Monarchs ownership for the rights to obtain Robinson,[22]:p.37 nor did he pay for rights to Don Newcombe, who would also join the Dodgers from a Negro leagues club. Rickey also attempted to sign Monte Irvin but Newark Eagles business owner Effa Manley refused to allow Irvin to leave her club without compensation. When she threatened to sue him in court, Rickey stopped the pursuit of Irvin, who would later sign with the New York Giants.[23]:p.277

Amid much fanfare, Jackie debuted, and turned out to be a success. Robinson was baseball's first rookie of the year, and while he was often jeered by opposing baseball players, managers, and fans, he became extremely popular with the American public. His success became the crowning achievement of Rickey's illustrious career. His Dodgers would make the World Series that year. Although they lost in seven games to the New York Yankees, Rickey's vision and action had set the stage for the Dodgers to be contenders for decades to come. And it opened the door for other leaders like Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who integrated the American League in 1947, as well.

Later career with Dodgers

From 1945 through 1950, Rickey was one of four owners of the Dodgers, each with one quarter of the franchise. When one of the four (John L. Smith) died, Walter O'Malley took control of that quarter. Also in 1950, Branch Rickey's contract as Dodger president expired, and Walter O'Malley decided that were Rickey to retain the job, almost all of Rickey's power would be gone; for example, he would no longer take a percentage of every franchise sale; Rickey declined a new contract as President. Then, in order to be a majority owner, O'Malley offered to buy Rickey's portion. Seeing no reason to hold on to the club, Rickey decided to comply. However, in a final act of retaliation against O'Malley, Rickey instead offered the club percentage to a friend for one million dollars. His chances at complete franchise control at risk, O'Malley was forced to offer more money, and Rickey finally sold his portion for $1,050,000.

Pittsburgh Pirates (1951–55)

After leaving the Dodgers, Rickey was offered the position of general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates, joining them on November 1, 1950. During the 1953 season, the Pirates became the first team to permanently adopt batting helmets on both offense and defense. These helmets resembled a primitive fiberglass "miner's cap". This was the mandate of Rickey, who also owned stock in the company producing the helmets. Under Rickey's orders, all Pirate players had to wear the helmets both at bat and in the field. The helmets became a permanent feature for all Pirate hitters, but within a few weeks the team began to abandon their use of helmets on defense, partly because of their awkwardly heavy feel. Once the Pirates discarded the helmets on defense, the trend disappeared from the game.[24]

After presiding over a last place season with the Pirates, Rickey proposed cutting the pay of power superstar Ralph Kiner. When Kiner objected, Rickey famously quipped, "Son, we could have finished last without you!" Health problems forced Rickey to retire in 1955; in his five full seasons as general manager, the Bucs finished eighth (and last) four times and seventh once. However, Rickey's contributions would help lead to a World Championship for Pittsburgh in 1960. In 2000, author Andrew O'Toole noted, "The core of the 1960 championship team [notably Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Elroy Face and Vern Law, among others] was put together and nurtured by Rickey."[25]

Rickey fast-tracked youngsters like Law and Bob Friend, signed by his predecessor, Roy Hamey, to the majors. He signed Groat off the Duke University campus, drafted Face and Clemente from Brooklyn's minor league system, and his scouts and minor league instructors found Mazeroski and developed him for MLB delivery in 1956. Moreover, Pittsburgh's farm and scouting system would continue to be highly productive into the 1970s, especially in developing Latin American players signed by scout Howie Haak, whom Rickey brought from the Dodgers.

Rickey remained on the Pirate masthead as chairman of the board for almost four full seasons after Joe L. Brown succeeded him as general manager in October of 1955. He also held a small amount of stock in the club. But that association ended in the middle of August 1959, when, nearing his 78th birthday, Rickey took on another challenge as the chief executive of a proposed third major league, the Continental League.

President of Continental League

A significant shift in population from the Eastern and Midwestern United States to the West and South after World War II wreaked havoc with the established 16-team, two-league major league structure, opening up growing markets and triggering a two-decade-long series of franchise relocations beginning in 1953. In 1957, these were dramatized by the transfer of each of New York City's National League teams, the Dodgers and Giants, to California, abandoning their established fan bases. When New York attorney William Shea was unsuccessful in his attempts to attract Senior Circuit teams from smaller markets (including the Pirates) to New York, he announced plans for a third major league in professional baseball, the Continental League, on July 27, 1959, to begin play in April 1961. In addition to New York, the Continental would be represented by clubs in Denver, Houston, Minneapolis–Saint Paul and Toronto, plus three additional markets to round out an eight-team league.[26]

Three weeks after the formation of the new circuit was announced, on August 18, Rickey sold his stake in the Pirates, resigned as board chairman, and signed a 16-month contract to become the first president of the new league at a reported $50,000 annual salary. He immediately led a delegation of Continental League owners to a summit meeting in a Manhattan hotel with Commissioner of Baseball Ford Frick, the presidents of the National and American leagues, and a delegation of MLB club owners. The established leagues were wary of a new challenge to baseball's antitrust law exemption,[27] when the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Emmanuel Celler, a Brooklyn Democrat enraged by his borough's loss of the Dodgers, introduced legislation that would place baseball under antitrust law.[28] This concern led Frick and his entourage to publicly treat the Continental League with respect; at the meeting, Frick asked Rickey and the other league presidents (Warren Giles and Joe Cronin) to form a committee that would set up ground rules to govern the admission of the Continental to eventual equal status with the two major leagues.

As those rules were taking shape, Rickey presided over the admission of the Continental League's three remaining founding franchises: Atlanta, Buffalo and Dallas–Fort Worth. He made public appearances—like being the "mystery guest" on the prime-time TV quiz show What's My Line?—to advance his view that a third, eight-team league would be more beneficial to baseball than expansion of the two existing circuits. But behind the scenes, National and American league owners were working on their own plans to expand their loops and scuttle Rickey's start-up league. In August 1960, they offered the Continental League's owners a deal: each established league would add two new franchises by 1962. In return, they demanded that the new circuit disband.[27] Against Rickey's advice, his owners agreed to the compromise and the new league perished, still on the drawing board.

In 1961, Minneapolis–Saint Paul got a 60-year-old American League franchise, the transferred Washington Senators, with an expansion team replacing them in the capital. In 1962, the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s were admitted to the Senior Circuit as expansion teams. By 1993, all of the Continental League's cities except Buffalo were in Major League Baseball.

Return to Cardinals

After negotiations broke down in May 1961 that would have seen Rickey take over the Mets as their first president and general manager,[29] he went into temporary retirement. On October 29, 1962, Rickey returned to the Cardinals exactly 20 years to the day he left to become general consultant on the development of Cardinal players and special advisor to owner August A. Busch Jr. He wanted to come home to Missouri after suffering a heart attack in Canada a year earlier and after the death of his son, Branch Jr.[30]

But Rickey's second stint with the Cardinals was marred by controversy. He recommended that Cardinal icon Stan Musial be compelled to retire, even after the eventual Hall of Famer's stellar 1962 season, in which Musial, 41, had finished third in the National League batting race (hitting .330 in 135 games played), and broken Honus Wagner's NL record for career hits. Rickey wrote to Busch: "He can't run, he can't field, and he can't throw. Twenty-five Musials would finish in last place."[31] Musial would play one more campaign before retiring from the field in September 1963.

Rickey also undermined St. Louis general manager Bing Devine, who had begun his baseball career under Rickey in the late 1930s as an office boy. He was a vocal critic of one of Devine's highest profile (and most successful) trades, when he acquired veteran shortstop Groat from Pittsburgh after the 1962 season. Rickey believed that Groat, 32 at the time, was too old.[32] Groat, however, still had two prime years left. He batted .319 (1963) and .292 (1964), and was runner-up in the National League's 1963 Most Valuable Player Award balloting. He was the NL's starting shortstop in both the 1963 and 1964 All-Star games, and helped lead the 1963 Cardinals to a second-place finish. But the 1964 team fell behind in the standings and seemed stalled in fifth place in mid-August. When Busch fired Devine on August 17 and replaced him with Rickey protégé Bob Howsam, the 82-year-old consultant and special advisor was cast as the cause of Devine's downfall.[33] The controversial firing embarrassed Busch when the team Devine assembled caught fire in the season's final six weeks, won the National League pennant, and triumphed in the 1964 World Series. After the season, Busch terminated Rickey's contract, ending his long baseball career.

Rickey near the stadium in Cincinnati
Rickey near the stadium in Cincinnati


A public speaker in his later years, on November 13, 1965, Rickey collapsed in the middle of a speech in Columbia, Missouri, as he was being elected to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He had told a story of physical courage and was about to relate an illustration from the Holy Bible. "Now I'm going to tell you a story from the Bible about spiritual courage," he said. Rickey murmured he could not continue, collapsed and never spoke again. He faltered, fell back into his seat and slipped onto the floor. He never regained consciousness. His brain was damaged when his breathing stopped momentarily, though his heart picked up its rhythm again. Through the next 26 days, hospitalized in a coma, there was little change.

On December 9, at about 10 p.m. he died of heart failure at Boone County Memorial Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, 11 days before his 84th birthday. Branch Rickey was interred at Rush Township Burial Park in Rushtown, Ohio, near where his parents, his widow Jane (who died in 1971), and three of his children (including Branch Rickey Jr., who died from complications of diabetes at age 47 in 1961)[34] also rest. Rickey's grave overlooks the Scioto Valley, about three miles from his boyhood home in Stockdale, Ohio.[citation needed]

Honors and legacy

In addition to Rickey's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1967, in 1997 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame,[35] in 2009 he was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame.[36] In January 2014, the Cardinals announced Rickey among 22 former players and personnel to be inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum for the inaugural class of 2014.[37]

A ballpark in Portsmouth, Ohio, once used by the Portsmouth Explorers, a charter member of the Frontier League before the club folded in 1996, is named in Rickey's honor.[38] The Branch Rickey Arena at Ohio Wesleyan University is also named in his honor.

A section of State Highway 23 in Ohio, running north from the Franklin County border to the city of Delaware, has been named the Branch Rickey Memorial Highway.[39]

In 1992, Rotary International of Denver, Colorado, created the Branch Rickey Award, which is given annually to a Major League Baseball player in recognition of exceptional community service. Outside of Coors Field in Denver is a monument to Rickey by the sculptor George Lundeen, dedicated in 2005, with this simple inscription:

It is not the honor that you take with you but the heritage you leave behind.

Another quotation attributed to Rickey is:

Luck is the residue of design.[40]

His descendants also became involved in baseball: son Branch Jr. was an executive with the Dodgers and Pirates for over two decades prior to his 1961 death, and grandson Branch Rickey III, who served as a farm system director with the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, has been president of the Pacific Coast League since 1999.[41] A nephew, Charles Hurth, was a longtime minor league executive who served as president of the Double-A Southern Association and, briefly in the spring of 1961, as the first general manager of the Mets when Rickey and the team were still discussing a top role in the New York front office; Hurth and Rickey were ultimately replaced by George Weiss, the former Yankee executive.

Moreover, Rickey's influence continued to loom large after his passing, especially in the National League. One year after his 1965 death, five of the league's ten general managers—Howsam (Cardinals), Devine (Mets), Buzzie Bavasi (Dodgers), Joe L. Brown (Pirates) and Bill DeWitt (Reds), as well as NL president Giles—had at one time worked under Rickey during his long executive career.

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ Rickey, Branch (1890–1969). "Branch Rickey papers". Library of Congress.
  2. ^ "Tom Sharpe, "Eizabeth Ann 'Beth' Rickey, 1956-2009: David Duke nemesis dies in Santa Fe Activist who helped scuttle neo-Nazi's political career had hoped to rebuild life here"". Santa Fe New Mexican. September 13, 2009. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  3. ^ Redrup, Jessie Dunathan. "Branch Rickey with Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers". Branch Rickey Collection. Ohio Wesleyan University. Archived from the original on June 15, 2013. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  4. ^ "Well Known Freemasons". Grand Lodge of British Columbia. Archived from the original on September 8, 2013.
  5. ^ Roberts, Milt (1980). "Charles Follis" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 2 (1): 1–5. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 27, 2010.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Nash, Kimberly. "Breaking Pro Football's Color Line: The Story of Charles W. Follis". Bleacher Report.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Law Quadrangle Notes" (PDF). Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  9. ^ Murray Polner, Branch B. Rickey (2007). Branch Rickey: A Biography, p. 57. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-2643-8.
  10. ^ Lowenfish, p. 49,
  11. ^ Lowenfish, p. 50.
  12. ^ Polner, p. 57.
  13. ^ "Bartelme Is Scout". Fresno Bee Republican. 1944-06-20.
  14. ^ Baseball (TV series)
  15. ^ Polner, Murray, and Rickey, Branch. Branch Rickey: A Biography, (Google Books), McFarland, 2007, p. 76, (ISBN 0-7864-2643-8).
  16. ^ a b "Theme of the week". Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  17. ^ "Goodby to Some Old Baseball Ideas".
  18. ^ a b Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Major League Baseball. By: Rubinstein, William D., History Today, 00182753, September 2003, Vol. 53, Issue 9.
  19. ^ Beyond the box score: Jackie Robinson, civil rights crusader, Negro History Bulletin, 1995 p. 15.
  20. ^ "Jackie Robinson Breaks Baseball's Color Barrier, 1945".
  21. ^ I never had it made. Jackie Robinson; New York, 1972, p. 54.
  22. ^ Ilan Stavans, ed. (2012). Béisbol. The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood. ISBN 9780313375132.
  23. ^ Simons, William M. Alvin L. Hall, ed. The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2000. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0786411201.
  24. ^ "Oakland A's Fan Coalition – Athletics baseball enthusiasts dedicated to watching a winner". July 12, 1980. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  25. ^ O'Toole, Andrew (2000). Branch Rickey in Pittsburgh: Baseball's Trailblazing General Manager for the Pirates, 1950-1955. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 4. ISBN 0-7864-0839-1.
  26. ^ Spink, J. G. Taylor (1960). "Official Baseball Guide and Record Book". St. Louis, Missouri: Charles C. Spink and Son.
  27. ^ a b Shapiro, Michael (22 July 2009). "Fifty Years Later, the Continentals Sit in the What-If Drawer". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  28. ^ Edmonds, Ed (1994). "Over 40 Years in the On-Deck Circle: Congress and the Baseball Anti-Trust Exemption". NDL Scholarship. South Bend, Indiana: Notre Dame University Law School.
  29. ^ McDonald, Joe (3 January 2015), "What If Branch Rickey Ran the Mets in 1962?"
  30. ^ "Branch Rickey Returns to Cardinals After 20 Years". Nevada, Missouri: Nevada Daily Mail. 30 October 1962. p. 6. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  31. ^ O'Neill, Dan (20 January 2013). "Musial: Stan's Final Farewell". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  32. ^ Lowenfish, Lee (2007). Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 585. ISBN 978-0-8032-2453-7.
  33. ^ "Why Gussie Busch Fired Bing Devine in the Cardinals' Championship Year". Retrosimba. 15 August 2014. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  34. ^ "Branch Rickey Jr. Dies". The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973). April 11, 1961.
  35. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  36. ^ "College Baseball Hall of Fame: Hall of Famers: 2009 Inductees".
  37. ^ Cardinals Press Release (January 18, 2014). "Cardinals establish Hall of Fame & detail induction process". Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  38. ^ "Branch Rickey Park". Shawnee State Bears. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  39. ^ "Branch Rickey Memorial Highway". Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  40. ^ The Yale Book of Quotations, citing The Sporting News, February 21, 1946.
  41. ^ Paisley, Joe (August 5, 2015). "Commissioner Branch Rickey III likes what PCL is doing while watching Colorado Springs Sky Sox lose". TCA Regional News.
  42. ^ Harris, Aisha (September 21, 2012). "Trailer Critic 42". Slate.
  43. ^ "Actress Kelley Jakle of "42"". The McCarthy Project. March 29, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2014.

Further reading

  • Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman, by Lee Lowenfish (University of Nebraska Press); winner of the Seymour Medal for 2008, nominee for 2007 CASEY Award, Roy Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf
  • Branch Rickey: A Biography by Murray Polner Atheneum; Signet; and MacFarland, publishers
  • Branch Rickey by Jimmy Breslin; Viking 2011

External links

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