Thursday, April 11, 2013

Branch Rickey

The new movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson, comes out tomorrow, and from all I've read and heard so far, it's a tremendous baseball movie.

Last night Harrison Ford, who plays Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, was on the Late Show with David Letterman.

I could only find the entire Ford interview, which includes some Star Wars talk and a funny joke told by Ford.

Listen to what he says about his character, Branch Rickey, you can really tell how much he enjoyed playing the man who signed Jackie Robinson for the Dodgers.

I's say Ford is a pretty good likeness for his character of Branch Rickey.

I think sometimes baseball fans forget about Branch Rickey.

I know, it sounds silly.

After all, Jackie Robinson and Rickey are forever linked together, bound together by the stroke of a pen 66 years ago this week.

But for me, Branch Rickey is much more than the man who signed Robinson.

Born in Flat, Ohio, on December 20th, 1881, Branch Rickey was a devout Christian as well as one of baseball's greatest innovators.

On June 16th, 1905, at age 23, Rickey made his big league debut for the old St. Louis Browns.

In that one game, his only game in '05, he was 0-3, striking out twice.

Rickey was back in the big leagues with the Browns in 1906, collecting 57 hits in 65 games, batting .284 with 3 home runs and 24 RBI.

In 1907 Rickey played in 52 games for the New York Highlanders, batting just .182, zero HR, and 14 RBI.

Rickey would go back to college after his release by the Highlanders, attending the University of Michigan, where he received his Bachelor of Law Degree.

Rickey became Michigan's 9th manager in 1910, compiling a record of 68-32-4 from '10-1913.

Rickey was also the man who coached Hall of Fame second baseman George Sisler at Michigan.

Rickey returned to the big leagues in 1914, as manager of his old team, the Browns.

In 1915 Rickey brought his former player Sisler to the Browns, together again, just like at Michigan.

Rickey manged the Browns for three years, served in World War I, then returned to baseball, first with the Browns again, then to the other St. Louis team, the Cardinals.

Rickey managed the Cards for 7 seasons, and although the Cards weren't very good, it's what Rickey did off the field with the Redbirds that changed baseball.

Branch Rickey was a smart man, after all, he did graduated for Michigan.

While serving as the GM of the Cardinals, Rickey started the first ever baseball farm system, agreeing with hundreds of clubs across the USA to train Cardinal prospects.

The Cardinals farm system brought players like Pepper Martin, Ducky Medwick, and a pair of brothers, Dizzy and Daffy Dean.

The Cardinal won World Series in 1926, 31, and 34.

Under Rickey the Cardinals would prosper once again, and in 1942  Rickey's Cards won another World Series, led by a shortstop named Marty Marion and a legend named Stan "The Man" Musial.

In 1943 Rickey headed off to Brooklyn, established "Dodger Town" in Vero, Beach, Florida, and started filling up the Dodgers farm system with Negro Ballplayers, including one Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

Rickey went on to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950, where he was the teams GM until 1955.

When I see "42" I want to make sure I pay attention to the role of Rickey, and not focus all my attention on Robinson.

Yes, the movie is a tribute to a man, Robinson, who withstood years of racial slurs on and off the ball field, but I also want to make sure baseball fans honor Rickey as well, who stood up to the baseball establishment, and brought a black man into the culture of all white baseball.

It's not the honor you take with you,
but the heritage you leave behind.
—Branch Rickey

Play Ball!

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