Pulitzer Prize-winner Jimmy Breslin scores a solid base hit with
this concise, lively biography of game-changing baseball manager
Numerous biographies of Branch Rickey have been written over the
years. Several of them are very good, but none is quite like
Breslin's spirited and idiosyncratic little book.
Branch Rickey is the latest in the "Penguin Lives" series of
short biographies. Like the other entries in this long-running
series, the book is a model of concision. Even at a slim 147
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Breslin manages to include a
of short autobiographical digressions and quirky personal asides.
result is a lively portrait of a man the author refers to as a
"Great American" that is informative and highly entertaining.
Wesley Branch Rickey (1881-1965) is best remembered as the
manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who initiated the integration of
modern major leagues. His signing of Jackie Robinson to a Dodgers
contract in 1945 electrified the nation, changed the face of the
national pastime, and dealt an early blow to segregation in
Why did Rickey defy the status quo, not to mention the other 15
owners of major league teams, by making an assault on the
rule that kept black players out of organized baseball? He told
press that he just wanted to win a pennant for Brooklyn, which is
least partially true. A more cynical view holds that Rickey saw
crowds at Negro league games and wanted to bring some of those
and their dollars, to Ebbets Field. A devout Methodist and an
of Lincoln, Rickey had strong moral convictions and a penchant
the grand gesture.
Whatever his motive, being the first to tap into the
talent in the Negro leagues enabled Rickey to build a dynasty
won the National League pennant seven times between 1947
(Robinson's rookie year) and 1956 (his last year in the majors).
Rickey grew up in a family of modest means in rural Scioto County
southern Ohio. He and his older brother, Orla, played baseball on
sandlot fields. In the summer of 1903, while a student at Ohio
Wesleyan University, he was a catcher for several minor league
and was called up to the Cincinnati Reds in late August. Traded
that season, he made his first major league plate appearance with