Branch Rickey and the Jackie Robinson Story

RickieRobinson

This is a January morning in 1943 and Wesley Branch Rickey is standing outside his house at 34 Greenway South in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, New York City. …Rickey’s face shows eagerness and excitement even after all his years in baseball. He has asked God for help and believes that is exactly what is happening now.

…He waits in cold, fresh air for his ride to downtown Brooklyn, where he runs the Dodgers baseball team. [Yes, that now LA Dodgers team!] While this does not sound so vital, especially in time of war, today he is doing the work of the Lord with all his heart and mind and these large, gnarled hands he waves. He is going to a crucial meeting with the banker who holds the mortgage on the Dodgers baseball team.

Rickey carries with him a Midwestern Christian religious fervor as strong as a wheat crop, and a political faith in anything Republican. Already he is a familiar figure at his new church in Queens, the Church in the Gardens…. On Sundays, Branch Rickey brought with him to church a prayer book and a background of Methodist studies from Ohio Wesleyan University, and sometimes he delivered the sermon. In one, he announced he was here to run the Brooklyn Dodgers and to serve the God to whom they prayed, and the Lord’s work called for him to bring the first black player into major league baseball.

You held the American heart in your hand when you attempted to change anything in baseball. If a black was involved, the cardiograms showed an ice storm.

…In no calling, craft, profession trade, or occupation was color in American accepted. The annals of the purported greats how that everyone was paralyzed with the national disease: color fear.

But here on this street corner stands Branch Rickey, a lone white man with a fierce belief that it is the deepest sin against God to hold color against a person. On this day he means to change baseball and America, too. The National Pastime, the game that teaches sportsmanship to children, must shake with shame, Rickey thought. Until this morning in Forest Hills, there has been no white person willing to take on the issue. That is fine with Rickey. He feels that he is at bat with two outs and a 3-2 pitch coming. He is the last man up, sure he will get a hit.

Taken from the first chapter in the powerful story of this professing Christian and his singular goal to integrate baseball with black players. The book is Branch Rickey: A Life by Jimmy Breslin, and it is my second baseball read this summer (another of those thrift store finds that turns out to be a gem!). The pages quoted here are 5-7.

Branch-Rickey-Breslin

Branch Rickey is the one who introduced the great Jackie Robinson to the major leagues, finally breaking a barrier that opened the door for many other great players. Many may forget the Christian background to the story (Robinson was also a professing Christian), but Breslin tells it straight. You may also be interested to know that when he was a player, Rickey himself refused to play on Sunday, keeping a promise to his godly mother. Yet, sadly, he broke it later as a manager.

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