“Some day I’m going to have to stand before God, and if He asks me why I didn’t let that [Jackie] Robinson fellow play ball, I don’t think saying ‘because of the color of his skin’ would be a good enough answer.”
Branch Rickey stood by his principles. Devoutly religious, as a young baseball player, he chose not to participate in games played on Sundays. As a manager later in life, he would keep with this same practice, refusing to even come to the ballpark on Sundays.
Branch dedicated much of his working life to baseball, where he was known as a change-maker and innovator. He helped create what is now known as the “farm system” and the batting helmet. Most importantly, he ended the color barrier, the unwritten rule that kept Black athletes from playing in the MLB.
Branch first encountered racism in baseball as a college student playing on the Ohio Wesleyan University team. On a trip for a game, a Black teammate was refused lodging at a hotel. Branch argued with the manager, who made an exception, letting the teammate stay as an unregistered guest in Branch’s room. Then Branch watched his teammate sit on the bed, weeping from the treatment.
Years later, after becoming a part-owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch took an important step in ending the color barrier when he signed Jackie Robinson, a Black baseball player, to a minor league contract in 1945. Knowing the treatment Jackie was going to receive from fans and other players, he asked Jackie to be the kind of man that “had guts enough not to fight back.” Jackie dealt with “racial slurs, objects thrown at him from the crowd and even death threats,” but he didn’t fight back.
Jackie made his MLB debut on April 15, 1947, and would go on to receive the National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards during his career.
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Sources for “A snapshot biography of Branch Rickey”: https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/rickey-branch / Bentley Image Bank 1912 University of Michigan Baseball Team, Wikimedia Commons / https://www.owu.edu/about/history-traditions/branch-rickey/