Wesley Branch Rickey—even the name is wonderfully quirky and unique. And the man himself lived up to the matchlessness of his name. He was another Lincoln; he was Simon Legree; he was a saint, and he was a grievous, unrepentant sinner; he was one of baseball’s best executives and innovators, or he was one of the worst of them to his bosses in St. Louis, Brooklyn, and Pittsburgh. As Ed Fitzgerald wrote in a November 1947 profile of Rickey in Sport magazine, “Rickey is about as uncomplicated as a Rube Goldberg contraption for feeding yourself in bed.”
Rickey was “The Mahatma” or “El Cheapo,” depending on who was writing about him. After signing Jackie Robinson in 1945, and then after promoting him to the Dodgers in ‘47, Rickey was both praised and damned at the same time; there was no in-between. Shortly after his death on December 9, 1965, he was lionized and beatified. A few years later, the revisionists looked at his feet of clay and questioned his integrity. Now the neorevisionists are reexamining Rickey and his legacy. Since Rickey is already long buried, they will praise him and resurrect the good about him that was interred with his bones.
But which Rickey was onstage in Brooklyn in 1947? The answer is easy: all of them. And it is the press that will guide the tour of that season.
Ambivalent press coverage dogged Branch Rickey and his
teams throughout his long career in baseball.
The first stop is a January meeting in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Rickey told the assembled Major League owners that he intended to promote Jackie Robinson that spring. The owners were shocked and voted 15–1 against the move, thereby putting Rickey and Commissioner Happy Chandler on notice. There was nothing the owners could do to prevent Rickey from doing what he felt was best for his club, but it did take steel nerves on Rickey’s part to continue with his plan. What may have worried the other owners was a 1946 report by Yankees boss Larry MacPhail that said owners should brace themselves for poor black fans driving away prosperous white fans.
A second stop takes place on the wintry night