6/27/11 - branch rickey has to sell the owner first

In today's excerpt - on a cold January morning in 1943, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walks to an early morning meeting in Forest Hills, New York. Before he can make history by recruiting Jackie Robinson to be the first black baseball player in the major leagues, he must first face George V. McLaughlin, the powerful head of the Brooklyn Trust Company and owner of the Dodgers, and get his permission:

"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.

"At 7:00 a.m. on this same morning, George V. McLaughlin leaves his duplex at 35 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn. The great park lawns across the street brittle with frost. He still hasn't the slightest idea of what beyond team finances Branch Rickey wants to discuss. ... As the head of the financially creaky Dodgers baseball team, McLaughlin walked through a world of smiles, claps on the back, and congratulations. If you were prominent enough, you could get players' autographs from George V. and become a towering figure with your kids. In his Brooklyn, only rosary beads blessed by the Pope could mean more....

"McLaughlin was not famous for working with or socializing with blacks. ... At some point in the business talk, Rickey mentioned to McLaughlin that he wanted to make a large expenditure for scouts. These men would find good players who were too young to be drafted into the war now but would serve someday soon, and then, God willing, come home strong and swift and eager to play. Some of the prospects now were as young as fifteen and sixteen; there was this boy in Compton, California, everybody called him Duke, last name Snider. Rickey's plan would bring all that young talent to play alongside returning Brooklyn veterans. McLaughlin was in favor.

" 'By the way, all these scouts would cost a lot of money,' Rickey said.

"McLaughlin still loved the idea. 'We'll get a march on all of them.'

"Rickey now made a careful choice of his words and tone. Be passionate. No, entirely inappropriate. Be nonchalant. Not that, either. Why not just try the truth? This is no coward we have here. This is a secure man. So he told McLaughlin that by looking for all this new talent, the scouts might come across 'a Negro player or two.'

"McLaughlin showed nothing. Of course he knew exactly what this meant. Rickey was not just throwing out a casual idea. The man would bring a stranger under the roof, a black who should be mowing lawns and instead would be running bases in this white national sport.

"Then George V. started to count.

"His friend Bill Shea remembered: 'He figured that at the least there were a million blacks who played baseball. He knew right there in that room that it was only sensible to look for players who could make the Dodgers. And fill seats at Ebbets Field and all over the league. The players who could do it were out there.'

"McLaughlin had an old style of reasoning that came from years in police stations and bank negotiations. 'If you want to do this to get a beat on the other teams and make some money, then let's do it,' he told Rickey. 'But if you want to do this for some social change, forget it. We want to win and make money. Don't try to bring principle into this. If this doesn't work for money, you're sunk.'

"Rickey tingled inside. He had found a man whose seemingly flat indifference to the enormity of the subject, reducing it from a religious calling to a way of making more money, gave hope. What these two men had just done was agree to put their hands into the troubled history of America and fix it, starting in a baseball dugout.


Jimmy Breslin


Branch Rickey


Viking Book


Copyright 2011 by Jimmy Breslin


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