Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson: Precursors to the Civil Rights Movement | HuffPost
Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson: Precursors to the Civil Rights Movement MacLaughlin was his banker, the president of the Brooklyn Trust .. In Brooklyn, we felt a personal relationship with the Dodgers players. Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers' second baseman, has a wide smile that almost matches the wide eyes of Dodgers president Branch. It was Jackie Robinson, of course, not Branch Rickey, who actually broke dent of the Brooklyn Trust Company, which had a controlling . and race relations.
He told Rickey that for this bold plan to work, he would have to find a black player who was better than the other players. Rickey next raised it with the team's board of directors, who unanimously approved the plan and swore each other to secrecy, promising not even to tell their families. That's how dangerous the idea of equal opportunity was in !
ByRickey had launched a widespread talent search for black players. He covered his true intentions by creating a new and bogus Negro League, called the United States League. Even the scouts he hired to look for the players thought they were recruiting for the new Negro League, as did the players recruited.
Rickey's motivations have been the subject of much debate. There were those who said he was merely trying to corner the market on the last unmined source of baseball talent. Even if true, such an explanation is insufficient: Moreover, most of the other team owners were unhappy with his actions when they found out what he was up to, and nearly all of them resisted him. One said that the fans would burn down the park if the Dodgers came in with a black player, and there was widespread fear that black players would attract black crowds that would drive whites away and reduce the value of their teams.
Rickey himself followed a strategy of denying that he was trying to integrate baseball, much less make an impact on the broader society. He believed that making integration the issue would reduce the chances of success, so he continually claimed that "my selfish objective is to win baseball games.
Barnum and part Billy Sunday, as one contemporary described him--and a full review of his life and actions reveals that there almost certainly was a strong moral component to what he did. Given how much opposition he engendered and how against the grain his decision was, it is difficult to conclude otherwise.
In any event, regardless of his motives, what Rickey did had an enormous moral impact and not only on baseball. As a young man, he played baseball for two undistinguished seasons in the major leagues, but he also went to law school, paying his way by coaching a college baseball team. For a baseball man at that time, he was unusually educated. He finished college in three years and graduated near the top of his law school class at the University of Michigan.
Then he gravitated back to baseball in a managerial capacity, ending up as the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, where he remained for twenty-five years, until taking over the Dodgers in Throughout his baseball life, Rickey had a reputation for intelligent design.
He devised new and effective ways to instruct players and sharpen their skills; invented training devices, like base-sliding pits and batting tees, that are commonplace today but were unheard of then; and pioneered the use of complex statistical measures to evaluate performance.
He created what came to be known as the farm system, a network of minor-league teams under the control of the major-league team, where young players could be placed, taught, developed, and evaluated, eventually providing a "harvest" of fresh talent for the parent club.
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This system led to the dominance of the Cardinals, and later the Dodgers, and by the s every team had a farm system. Whatever else he was, Rickey was baseball's first scientist. He was also an extraordinary character. Rickey ostentatiously refused to attend games on the Sabbath, although he would listen to them on the radio and eagerly reap the receipts from Sunday games. He was an ardent supporter of Prohibition, who nonetheless was surrounded by and close friends with hard-drinking men throughout his baseball life.
His pecuniary instincts were legendary: Once, while at Pittsburgh toward the end of his career, he refused to give a raise to the league's leading home-run hitter, saying, "We finished last with you, and we can finish last without you. Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, Rickey "inspired a fierce loyalty and a respect bordering on worship from his associates and players. The hotel at which the team had reservations refused to allow Thomas to lodge there.
Rickey convinced the management to place a cot in his room for Thomas to sleep on, as they would do for a black servant. That night Thomas wept and rubbed his hands as if trying to rub off the color. He claimed to have "vowed that I would always do whatever I could to see that other Americans did not have to face the bitter humiliation that was heaped upon Charles Thomas. For those of us, young and old, who watched the drama unfold, Robinson was the major star, although he described himself as "only a principal actor" in Rickey's play.
Rachel Robinson, his widow, probably got it right when she described them as "collaborators. His father, a poor sharecropper in a deeply racist state where lynchings were not uncommon, abandoned the family when Jackie was an infant. His mother, Mallie, moved the family to Pasadena, California, where she thought they might have a better chance, when Jackie was barely more than a year old. She worked as a domestic, and there were days when meals were missed.
Although it wasn't the Deep South, Pasadena reflected the general racism of the time, compounding the pressures of poverty. When Mallie was able to buy a house in an otherwise white neighborhood, efforts were made to drive the family out. Jackie's older brother Mack was an outstanding athlete, winning a silver medal at the Berlin Olympics, by finishing second to the legendary Jesse Owens in the meter sprint. Despite his fame and his college education, Mack could find nothing other than janitorial work, as blacks were excluded from competing for other, more attractive jobs.
So, as he was growing up, Jackie Robinson was no stranger to racial subjugation. He, too, was a world-class college athlete, the first student at UCLA to win varsity letters in four sports: One rival coach called Robinson "the best basketball player in the United States," while another observer said he was the greatest ballcarrier in college football. He set records in track and field, won golf and swimming championships, reached the semifinals of the national Negro tennis tournament another example of segregated life in America at the timeand, as a player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, often astonished the others with his skills at Ping-Pong.
By the time he was drafted into the Army infew if any athletes had ever been so successful at so many sports. As one of his Dodgers teammates was later to observe, his combination of athletic skills and fiery competitiveness was astounding. In the Army, Robinson repeatedly confronted the pervasive racism of the military at the time. Despite his college education, he was initially denied admission to the Officers Candidate School at Fort Riley Kansaswhere he was based, gaining a spot only after Joe Louis intervened.
Then he was banned from the Fort Riley baseball team, despite his obviously superior skills, and told he had to play "with the colored team. This was what "separate but equal" meant back then. When, as an officer, he tried to obtain more equality, even within segregation, by requesting more seats for black soldiers at the base PX, he was asked, over the phone, by a superior officer who obviously did not know Robinson was black, "How would you like to have your wife sitting next to a nigger?
Nonetheless, his refusal led to his being court-martialed for insubordination. He was acquitted and in November received an honorable discharge. As a college-educated man at a time when few ballplayers were, and as a nonsmoker and nondrinker, Robinson did not fit in well with the rough-and-tumble barnstorming life.
Nor was he as tolerant as others of the insults of segregation they regularly experienced as they traveled.
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Teammates remembered him as talented but certainly not the best player in the Negro Leagues. They also remembered Robinson's fiery temper. He thought the young man was talented enough as an athlete and liked the fact that Robinson was educated and abstained from alcohol. Robinson's temperament both attracted and worried Rickey. His refusal to buckle under to discrimination and strength of character were exactly what Rickey wanted.
But Robinson's explosive aggressiveness concerned Rickey: Rickey strongly believed that it would be necessary for Robinson to contain himself if the experiment was to succeed. More than a decade before Martin Luther King Jr. It was the first time they had met. Rickey talked for a while about his extensive search and his investigation of Robinson both as an athlete and a person.
He then revealed the true purpose of his search: Robinson reportedly was both stunned and skeptical, and later said it had taken him a long time to convince himself that Rickey meant it. Tygiel describes what happened next: He portrayed the hostile teammate, the abusive opponent, the insulting fan, the obstinate hotel clerk. Rickey challenged the black man with racial epithets and verbally transplanted him into ugly confrontations.
Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who's afraid to fight back? When the Dodgers president posed as a player who had just punched Robinson in the cheek, the man who had fought Jim Crow in the army replied, "I get it. What you want me to say is that I've got another cheek.
Until Robinson was established, Rickey told him, he would have to retreat from confrontations. According to the one witness to that meeting, Robinson did not answer for a long time.
Rickey, I think I can play ball If you want to take this gamble, I will promise you there will be no incident. Although once Robinson was established, his fiery temperament was very much in evidence on the field, during those first crucial years, and despite extraordinary provocation, Robinson remained contained and focused, at what cost to himself one can only guess.
Before the meeting ended, Robinson signed a contract to play for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' top farm club. After a successful season with Montreal, Robinson was promoted to the Dodgers. On April 15,the opening day of the season, he stepped out onto the Ebbets Field diamond.
Everyone knew it was a landmark event for baseball. Not many understood that it was also a landmark event for America. In his first 37 games, Robinson was hit by pitches six times. In the prior season, no player was hit more than six times in the entire game schedule. There were death threats in some cities where the Dodgers played, including threats to shoot Robinson from the stands if he took the field. On several occasions, the team as a team decided to take the field anyway, as a unit, and at one game, Pee Wee Reese, the team captain and a southerner from Louisville, Kentucky, walked up to Robinson on the field and put an arm around him while they talked.
This gesture did not go unnoticed, and Reese and Robinson and their families became lifelong friends. Most of the other white players--a veritable melting pot of American ethnicity, with names like Snider, Shuba, Erskine, Hodges, Abrams, Reiser, and Furillo--came to admire Robinson; if they had racial demons, they exorcised them, and some would later describe the experience as transforming. There were attempts by a number of southern players to refuse to play with Robinson, and a petition was circulated, but both Rickey and the then field manager, Leo Durocher, responded swiftly and firmly.
Their decision to do so, and the unwillingness of most of the players, including southerners like Reese, to support the petition, doomed it. In the end, a few of the most recalcitrant players were traded by Rickey to other teams, and additional black players were signed.
Everyone in this drama was forced to confront what Myrdal had called the American dilemma. Most resolved the conflict in the direction of the ideals of fairness and individual merit. Other problems were external to the team.
There was organized hostility from the other team owners. Although no record exists of this effort, and most of the owners at the time subsequently denied it, Happy Chandler, the commissioner of baseball at the time and a former governor of Kentucky, would later confirm that the owners had condemned Rickey by a vote. There was skepticism from star players. Bob Feller, probably the leading pitcher of his time, said loudly that he thought Robinson would never be able to hit an inside pitch.
Robinson hit plenty of inside pitches; he won the batting championship inand between and hit for an average of.
This feat was equaled by only two other players at the time, Ted Williams and Stan Musial, two of the greatest hitters of all time. Finally, there was a lot of ugly and vicious race-baiting harassment from opposing players during the game, which only gained Robinson sympathy from his teammates, especially in light of his refusal to be provoked, as he had promised Rickey at the start. Throughout all this, Robinson quickly became one of the league's star players, and in the end Rickey's experiment proved to be a spectacular success.
Robinson's performance under unimaginable pressure was truly one of the greatest athletic triumphs, if not the greatest, in American history. But it was more than that, much more. Robinson's struggle against the entrenched racism of the time, taking place as it did within the national pastime, in front of crowds numbering in the tens of thousands every day, and reported on a daily basis in the mass media, was a drama that involved millions in a way they could never otherwise have been involved.
As one prominent black civil rights leader said some years ago, describing his childhood in South Carolina: I lived in Brooklyn and, although many black families also lived in Brooklyn, I never saw any as a child. Separation of the races was not legally imposed in New York, as it was in the South, but in some ways racial separation in the North was even more perfectly maintained.
Incidentally, the last letter from your Mother on August 3rd, was about as sweet as anyone could receive from a fine lady. If you want to see it sometime I would be pleased to show it to you and I know she would not object. Best wishes to Rachel as well. I am very pleased over your letter and am honestly sorry we have not been able to sit down and discuss our differences. Differences, I feel certain would be solved if we find out what they really are. My mother has been telling me of her interest and how friendly everyone is.
She is really a fine person, but I am certain you know her concern is for her children, and sometimes requests are a bit out of the question. I told her of my letter and she was very pleased. Give my regards to Mrs. Thank you for your follow up letter of the 16th. By all means budget your time to spend a few hours with me when you next get to California. Immediately, we received a warm and gracious answer in which he invited us to have a get-together….
The truth is not that we are feuding but that two guys in the game—one still in and the other retired—have had differences and that both of us want to talk to each other about those differences. Branch Rickey is one of the great human beings. It was because of my love and admiration for him that I had my difficulty with Mr. That is the only thing that caused the resentment. I had already damaged one leg and later it was almost to cost me my life.
Davis led the National League in batting in and I gave his mother a good pitch, too. You knew it would be funny because Fresco is famous for his sense of humor.
But Fresco also lashes out at people. He is startlingly outspoken. For instance, he says Branch Rickey should have shared the credit for bringing Jackie Robinson into organized baseball.
The move would not have been possible without the permission of other stockholders: I have grown to respect him a great deal in recent years and my wife has a sincere affection for him and Mrs. Today I sometimes am annoyed at criticism that is heaped his way. I must admit, however, I used to be his severest critic. There have been many changes and many more Negroes on the Dodgers since I retired. Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella were the camp leaders at Vero. They were Negroes like me and their presence reassured me.
As for the club, no one spoke to us about being Negro; all they wanted us to do was to play ball Now, in Vero, I heard about discrimination in the town.
But we were five miles away. The Cardinal-Dodger exhibition game at Vero Beach was a trial run of the new techniques. Red Patterson was of great help and we feel his know how made things fit better into place. I am told everyone considered the day a success; much of it was due to your cooperation. Rachel sends her best wishes and thanks as well. I have been in and out of town a great deal and Mrs. Louis in and even later, a Negro was not permitted as a paid spectator to sit in the grandstand.
The ownership of Brooklyn at the first meeting in New York approved Negro employment. The very first move I made when I came into Brooklyn was to investigate the first problem of the six that faced me in the employment of the Negro and that was the approval, the support of ownership. I felt it was the right man. Over the years we have had occasion to show interest in a matter that was dear to her heart.
I do wish to extend to you and Mack our sympathy at losing a fine lady. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, 15 future Hall of Fame players participated in the one-time exhibition game. Memorial Center in Atlanta. I am pleased to see baseball is turning to younger executives, perhaps this move will effect a change and the sport will move as it did in the first forties.
Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson: Precursors to the Civil Rights Movement
There should be more concern about the future of the games Black stars and a place in baseball for those who have made a contribution, and have the ability. Perhaps we can chat sometimes sp. Rickey left the club, there were real problems between me and Mr. As I review the memorable events of last Sunday, I still question whether or not I was able to truely sp.
However, I want you to know that I was never so moved by the response of the fans as on that day. It is my sincere hope that you will be able to present them with a championship this year.
I also want you to know how pleased I was with our meeting at which was sensed a truer understanding of the nature of the things that evoked problems between baseball and me. While I know that no one individual can do it all, it is my firm opinion that a right mental attitude is essential for satisfactory results. Please express my thanks to the entire staff, and those responsible for a truely sp.
With warm personal regards. I am planning to be in Cooperstown on Monday, August 7, when the Dodgers will be playing the New York Yankees in an exhibition game and more important Sandy Koufax will be officially enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
If possible I would like you and Rachel to be with me on that occasion.
My exact travel plans are not firm at this time, however, I imagine I will be arriving in Cooperstown the day before. May I suggest you mark your calendar and as the date approaches, we can discuss it further. Thank you for your letter of June 15 informing me that you plan to be in Cooperstown on Monday, August 7.
I regret very much my inability to be with you at that time. With warm personal regards and all good wishes. I'm going to be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.
Was he as much involved with the integration of major league baseball as Branch Rickey? When we went to spring training inMr. He took care of that by developing a nine-hole golf course and we also ended up having an hole golf course. Postmaster General William F. May 23, — A. The game was played on a Dodgertown field near the Vero Beach airport.
The Dodgers would not play in their home stadium on the Dodgertown site until Holman Stadium opened the next year in Rachel addressed the crowd from the field before the Dodgers played the San Francisco Giants.
The finest amateur baseball stars from around the world participate, as 44 players representing 28 countries participate in this historic event. Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh is an honorary coach.
The West won the game, Jackie Robinson would hit a home run in the first inning for the Dodgers and he and Campanella would both go on to have great careers and be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In all our conversations at home about Jackie and Rachel, I never sensed anything other than respect and admiration. I care a lot about Peter. He was in good shape.
Well, let me separate him from me because I was angry that the Dodgers would trade him to the enemy Giants. I felt they should have had enough of a sense of history and enough appreciation for what he did to retire him with honors instead of selling him off to the Giants as if he was an old used car. Walter O'Malley came in later and was a different kind of person. He didn't quite have the investment in Jack or social change that Rickey had. I also don't know how he felt about being compared to Rickey all the time.
Robinson And Durocher's Complicated — And Changing — Relationship | Only A Game
I think that must have been tough. My friendship with you has had a very special meaning for me because of our shared history, and your extraordinary capacity for giving support. I trust that this feeling is mutual and forever. In any case, I wish you a deeply satisfying new phase of your career, and much happiness with your grown-up family. My love to Annette. Hope to see you soon. You may have read that I have signed an option agreement with Howard Baldwin and Robert Redford to do a film.
Looking forward to seeing you next month. Again, thanks so much for your support and your interest in my David. Photos and memorabilia from his career are displayed on the walls with his name signature as prominent as his Baseball Hall of Fame career.