Remembering Branch Rickey

Happy Jackie Robinson Day everyone. Hope you all get a chance to take some time out of your Sunday to read some of the wonderful pieces on Robinson today, many of which I’ve linked below. And while you’re at it, take five minutes to remember the man who paved the way for Robinson to break the color barrier, and ask yourself what he might think of the progress (or lack thereof) baseball has made in the 60 years since.

To me, Branch Rickey is what true heroism is all about. I popped in the “Sixth Inning” of Ken Burns’ wonderful PBS documentary called, “Baseball” because it deals with Robinson’s integration, and a story told by the late Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber sums up Rickey in a nutshell.

Rickey was a coach at Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 20th century, and his best player was a black man. Rickey’s team was scheduled to play Notre Dame in South Bend, and upon trying to check his team in, the hotel registrar told him no blacks were allowed. Rickey talked his player into the hotel, agreeing to the condition that he would share his room. He then later found the player in the room, crying and tugging at his skin, saying, “It’s my skin, Mr. Rickey, if I could just tear it off, I’d be like everyone else.”

“Mr. Rickey told me,” Barber recounts to Burns about the day in 1945 when Rickey told Barber of his plans, ” ‘All these years, I’ve been hearing that (kid) cry. Now, I’m gonna do something about it.'”

Again, this is true heroism. Seeing a wrong and trying to right it, especially against a raging current of dissent, takes a character and integrity that all of us should so be so privileged to encounter. Not to say Rickey was a perfect man — he had his eye on the gate as well, when he picked Robinson — but that’s about as close as you’ll see.

One other quick note, pertaining to Saturday’s blog. Heard an interview last night with Jackie Robinson’s daughter, and she said that the choice by more than 100 players to wear No. 42 today in honor of her father did not water down the event at all. Torri Hunter, who was one of those concerned, will be happy to know that.

Here are some of the other links.