Branch Rickey: Wikis

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Branch Rickey

Catcher/Manager/Executive
Born: December 20, 1881(1881-12-20)
Portsmouth, Ohio
Died: December 9, 1965 (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
Career statistics
Batting average     .239
Hits     82
Runs batted in     39
Teams

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
Induction     1967
Election Method     Veterans Committee

Wesley Branch Rickey (December 20, 1881 – December 9, 1965) was an innovative Major League Baseball executive 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, and for introducing the batting helmet.

Rickey's many achievements and religious faith[1] earned him the nickname "the Mahātmā."

Contents

Biography

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Early life

Rickey was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, USA, the son of Jacob Frank Rickey and Emily Brown Rickey. He was a catcher on the baseball team at Ohio Wesleyan University and, in 1903, signed a professional contract with Terre Haute, Indiana of the Class B Central League, making his professional debut on June 20. However, Rickey was not ready for the rigors of the tough Central League and was assigned to Le Mars, Iowa of the Class D Iowa-South Dakota League. Later, he spent two seasons in the major leagues, debuting as a St. Louis Brown in 1905. He hit fairly well, hitting two home runs in the same game on August 6, but fielded poorly, a fatal flaw for a catcher. 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 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. (During this period, Rickey also spent two seasons--1904 and 1905--coaching baseball and football and teaching at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.)

For his undergraduate degree, he attended Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan, where he worked as the baseball coach while going to school.

He 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 2 more full seasons. But the Browns finished under .500 both years.

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. Rickey served in the 1st Gas Regiment during the war. He spent over four months as a member of the Chemical Warfare Service.[2]

He then returned to St. Louis in 1919, but clashed with new Browns owner Phil Ball and jumped to the crosstown Cardinals, to become team president and manager. In 1920, Rickey gave up the team presidency to the Cards' new majority owner, Sam Breadon. He then led the Cardinals on the field for another five seasons, before his firing early in the 1925 season.

His 6+ years as a manager were relatively mediocre, although the team posted winning records from 1921-23 and Rickey wisely invested in several minor league baseball clubs, using them to develop future talent for the Cardinals major league roster. He was 43 years old, had been a player, manager and executive in the Major Leagues and had shown no indication whatsoever that he would ever deserve to belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But even though he was not the first general manager in Major League Baseball history — his title was business manager — Rickey (as inventor of the farm system) would come to embody the position of the baseball operations executive who mastered scouting, player acquisition and development and business affairs — the definition of the modern GM.

Rogers Hornsby replaced Rickey to become a player-manager, and in 1926, his first full year as manager, he led the Cardinals to their first World Series championship.

Farm system and other innovations

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 Series that year 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, and Dean's brother Paul. The Deans and Medwick were integral parts of the 1934 Cardinals, who won the franchise's third World Series title.

Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis was concerned that Rickey's minor league system was going to ruin the game of baseball by destroying most existing minor league teams, and he twice released over 70 Cardinal minor leaguers in attempts to stop what he perceived to be a cover-up. Despite Judge Landis' best efforts, however, 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.

Rickey was a good friend of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail, himself a sound baseball man. MacPhail was drafted into 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.

Branch continued being an innovator 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. [1] 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 the Dodgers, however, involved breaking baseball's color barrier, which had been in place since the mid-1880s, not as a written rule, but merely a policy. 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 Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract. 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.

Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers

People noted 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. An African-American player, Charles Thomas, was extremely upset at being refused accommodation at the hotel where the team stayed because of his race. Rickey 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 a reasonable price. At the time, Mexican brewery czar Jorge Pasquel was raiding the US for black talent (eg: 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 US major leagues.

Five days before the start of the 1947 season, Rickey purchased Jackie Robinson's contract from the minor leagues. Amid much fanfare, Jackie debuted, turned out to be a fantastic 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, losing in 7 games to the New York Yankees. But Rickey's vision and action had set the stage for the previously mediocre Dodgers to be contenders for decades to come. And it opened the door for other innovative leaders like Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians, who integrated the American League soon thereafter.

Later career

In 1950, there were four owners of the Dodgers, each with one quarter of the franchise. When one of the four 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 his power would be gone, for example, he would no longer take a percentage of every franchise sale, Rickey declined. 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 to O'Malley, Rickey instead offered the club percentage to a friend for a 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. After leaving the Dodgers, Rickey was offered the position of general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Health problems forced Branch Rickey to retire in 1955, however his contributions would help lead to a World Championship for Pittsburgh in 1960.

Death

Rickey became a public speaker in his later years. He collapsed in the middle of a speech in Columbia, Missouri as he was being elected to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He died a month later on December 9, 1965.

Honors

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, and in 2009 he was elected the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1992, the Rotary Club of Denver created the Branch Rickey Award, which is given annually to a Major League Baseball player in recognition of exceptional community service.

In Ohio, a portion of U.S. Route 23 (commencing at the boundary of Franklin and Delaware counties at Lazelle Road and extending northward to the City of Delaware at State Route 315) was designated the "Branch Rickey Memorial Highway."

In Delaware, Ohio, South Henry Street between Olentangy Avenue and East William Street is also known as "Branch Rickey Way." All the athletic fields for Ohio Wesleyan University are located on South Henry Street.

At the University of Michigan Law School, the Branch Rickey Collegiate Professor of Law is held by the dean.

Legacy

Branch Rickey is attributed with the famous quotation: "Luck is the residue of opportunity and design." (Quoted by Larry King 7/12/2006.) His descendants also became involved in baseball: his son, Branch Jr., who died four years before his father, and Branch Rickey III, currently president of the Pacific Coast League.

References

  1. ^ Branch Rickey: A Register of His Papers in the Library of Congress (full view)
  2. ^ Polner, Murray, and Rickey, Branch. Branch Rickey: A Biography, (Google Books), McFarland, 2007, p. 76, (ISBN 0786426438).

Other reading

  • Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, by Lee Lowenfish (University of Nebraska Press). Nominee for the 2007 CASEY Award (see The Casey Award; Roy Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf).

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Wesley Branch Rickey (December 15, 1881December 9, 1965) was actively involved in Major League Baseball for 50 years. During his career in baseball, he developed the farm system and signed the first Hispanic major league player, Roberto Clemente. However, his most significant accomplishment was helping to integrate organized white baseball in 1946, when Jackie Robinson played his first and only season with the minor league club Montreal Expos. Robinson would integrate Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Contents

Sourced

  • ....Humankind, -- that all men anthropological come from the same source, with the same potentials, must have a potential equality in chance and opportunity and that is so right, I think, that posterity will look back upon what we are doing today in our domestic issues here. They will look back upon it, I think, with incredulity and they'll wonder what the issue was all about. I really think so. It's solved in baseball. It'll be solved educationally. It'll be solved everywhere in the course of time. [1]
  • My eight years in Brooklyn gave me a new vision of America, or rather America gave me a new vision of a part of itself, Brooklyn. They were wonderful years. A community of over three million people, proud, hurt, jealous, seeking geographical, social, emotional status as a city apart and alone and sufficient. One could not live for eight years in Brooklyn and not catch its spirit of devotion to its baseball club, such as no other city in America equaled. Call it loyalty, and so it was. It would be a crime against a community of three million people to move the Dodgers. Not that the move was unlawful, since people have the right to do as they please with their property. But a baseball club in any city in America is a quasi-public institution, and in Brooklyn the Dodgers were public without the quasi.
    • On the relocation of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles; quoted in Bob McGee, The Greatest Ballpark Ever: Ebbets Field and the Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Rutgers University Press, 2005, ISBN 0813536006), p. 294 [1]
  • Baseball people are generally allergic to new ideas; it took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms, and it is the hardest thing in the world to get Major League Baseball to change anything—even spikes on a new pair of shoes—but they will eventually...they are bound to.

About Branch Rickey

  • Branch Rickey made me a better man.
    • Bobby Bragan explaining why he had come to Rickey's funeral. Bragan, who was a catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, had initially tried to stop Rickey from integrating the team. [3]

Notes and references

External links

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