Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey
Some of Branch Rickey's innovative
contributions to baseball include sliding
pits, batting cages, and
blackboard drills.

The rules of baseball have remained relatively stable throughout this century. Off the field, however, revolutionary changes have taken place, and no man had a greater impact on what happened to baseball outside the white lines than Branch Rickey. His biggest fight was the campaign to integrate baseball.

Born to fundamentalist Methodist parents, Wesley Branch Rickey’s (1881-1965) early life was characterized by three themes: education, organization, and baseball. He received several bachelor’s degrees, and a law degree from Michigan, where he also coached baseball. His playing career was undistinguished; he started in the low minor leagues in 1900 and finished for the New York Highlanders in 1907. While coaching at Michigan, he was hired as manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1913. Unsuccessful, he moved to the St. Louis Cardinals front office in 1917. He also managed the Redbirds from 1919 to 1925.

His managing career was less distinguished than his playing career. Rickey was a seriously religious man who wouldn’t play or attend games on Sundays. It was as a club operator that Rickey was peerless. He had a keen eye for talent and was a man able to take advantage of his times.

Rickey began to acquire minor-league clubs in the 1920s. He saw the value of owning his own source of players, both to stock the Cards and to provide trade bait. “The Mahatma” maintained that the farm system was borne of necessity.

By the time the Cards won their first pennant in 1926, they owned 10 clubs, and by 1938 they were an established power, owning or controlling 38 clubs and the contracts of hundreds of players. Commissioner Landis, who opposed farm systems, ordered the release of 74 Cardinals minor-leaguers in 1940. Under the control of Rickey, the Cardinals won pennants in 1926, ’28, ’30, ’31, ’34, and ’42.

Rickey, who moved to Brooklyn in 1942, is best remembered for bringing Jackie Robinson to “organized” baseball. With the support of commissioner Happy Chandler and the infinite patience and considerable talent of Robinson, the color line was broken in 1947. Rickey also signed Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe out of the Negro Leagues, providing Brooklyn with three talents who helped the Dodgers dominate the NL in the 1950s.

Rickey’s last venture in baseball was an attempt to launch a third major league in 1960, spurring the major-league expansion in the early 1960s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

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