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Monday, 14 May 2007 Term Paper
Williams There is one man who was arguably the most important behind-the-scenes figure in the history of baseball, and whose actions played a tremendous role in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This man led several baseball teams to victory, created the so-called “farm system”, strived to create a third major league in Organized Baseball, and perhaps most importantly, broke through the color barrier that prevented AfricanAmerican athletes from playing major league baseball. This man, who also helped to create the general manager position within Organized Baseball (Behn, 1997), was known as Branch Rickey. Additionally, Branch Rickey’s intensely analytical methods led him to hire the first statistician in baseball. What follows will thoroughly examine the life and accomplishments of Branch Rickey. Emphasis will be put on his many contributions to baseball, while making use of Behn’s “Eight Responsibilities of Public Managers” to show Rickey’s careful usage of Jackie Robinson to integrate the sport. Simply put, what follows will argue that Branch Rickey was the most influential and important person in sporting history. Branch Rickey accomplished more in his lifetime than what would seem possible to the average person. According to an article by Stuart Knee, Rickey attended Ohio Wesleyan University and University of Michigan Law School while managing their baseball teams. Although Rickey was known as a mediocre ball player, he played baseball on multiple professional levels, both in the minor and major leagues; in fact, Rickey played major league baseball with the St. Louis Browns and the New York Highlanders while he was attending law school (Knee, 2003, pg. 72). Once Rickey got into the “front-office” side of baseball, he eventually helped to better organize the sport by assisting in the creation of his own position, which was the
Williams position of general manager. As a general manager, Branch Rickey helped to lead the St. Louis Cardinals (formerly the Browns), the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates to glory. Although much of the success was not seen until after he moved on, each of these teams won pennants in their leagues and World Series’. Each of these instances can be attributed to the guidance and management of Branch Rickey (Behn, 1997). As an organizer of professional baseball, Branch Rickey also helped in the creation of what is known as the “farm system”, in which major league teams would buy and sponsor minor league teams for cultivating new talent. According to Rubinstein (2003), these teams were originally independent teams, but were eventually commandeered by major league teams. Although the minor league had been in existence prior to this, a large part of Rickey’s fame in the baseball world comes from “the analytical way he invented and perfected the farm system” (Behn, 1997). Prior to Rickey, it was not thought of to use the minor leagues to help ball players hone their skills to prepare for the majors. Rickey was originally opposed to the expansion of baseball, but by the late 1950s and early 1960s, he embraced the idea and put much work into having the Continental League accepted into the major leagues (Buhite, 2004, pg. 247). The Continental League used both a new minor league started by Rickey and the existing Western Carolina League to find new talent. According to Buhite, “North Carolina had been a hotbed of minor league baseball for many years; indeed, at various times in its history the state had possessed more minor league teams than any other in the nation” (2004, pg. 247). In earlier expansion attempts around 1915, Rickey and others felt that the sixteen teams that made up the existing American and National leagues were sufficient, and that there was
Williams not enough talent to fill additional teams with players. However, later in life Rickey concluded there was a significant amount of talent that was not being used, and that there was a market that would openly accept new teams, whether those teams were playing within the existing leagues or a new league. Although the existing leagues and baseball authorities were quick to bar the addition of a new league, Rickey’s exploits were enough to convince the existing leagues to expand to include more teams. The single greatest thing for which Branch Rickey was famous was for being the man who was, more or less, responsible for the desegregation of baseball. Of course, Jackie Robinson was the true hero in the integration of the sport due much in part to the hostility that he had to endure, but as Phil Schaaf, author of Sports, Inc. noted, “[Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson] will be forever linked together” (2004, pg. 384). According to Rubinstein (2003), Rickey’s role in integrating baseball, though perhaps inadvertently, played a much larger role in the “achievement of black equality in America” by means of “[setting] the stage for the legal and political landmarks of the Civil Rights movement which was to follow.” As can be seen through Behn’s “Eight Responsibilities of Public Managers” (1997), Rickey was very careful and analytical in strategizing the best possible means of breaking the color barrier in baseball. Behn’s “Eight Responsibilities of Public Managers” are as follows: Excellent public managers must seek to achieve an important public purpose; possess a clear definition of success, including benchmarks along the way; have an overall strategy for achieving their purpose; be analytical about everything; pay attention to the details of implementation; influence people by building coalitions, motivating individuals and teams, and creating a favorable climate of public opinion; recognize and exploit their luck, and when they are not lucky, keep focused on their public purpose and grope their way toward it; and leave the organization better than they found it. Brief illustrations of how Rickey exemplified each of these responsibilities follow.
Williams When Branch Rickey set out to integrate baseball, he had a very clear purpose that was important to many people. Behn (1997), on behalf of the Harvard Business Review, argues that an organization’s management “should seek to make an ‘economic and noneconomic contribution ... to its shareholders, employees, customers, and communities.’” Rickey’s purpose of integrating baseball would do just this. The economic contribution would be in terms of more tickets sold, particularly to an AfricanAmerican audience. Meanwhile, the noneconomic contribution was the integration of the sport, which it has been argued helped in achieving equal rights for African-Americans both in the sporting realm and outside of it. Rickey’s definition of success was, as Behn describes, two-fold. His candidate, Jackie Robinson, would first have to succeed in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor-league farm team, the Montreal Royals, and would then would have to “make it as a regular, every-day, major-league player” for the Dodgers. The first was not so difficult as Montreal was not in the midst of the racial problems that faced the United States at the time. The latter would prove to be much more difficult, which is why Rickey would need a great strategy. Rickey’s strategy was intricate and complex. Rickey was said to have a “six-part plan to integrate baseball.” The “six essential points” were as follows: The man we finally chose had to be right off the field..., he had to be right on the field..., the reaction of his race had to be right, the reaction of the press and public had to be right, we had to have a place to put him, the reaction of his fellow players had to be right. What Rickey was looking for was essentially one excellent black ball player, who was well educated and a good citizen and family man. Rickey’s candidate would have to make a good impression with his own race in addition to impressing the white race.
Williams Furthermore, the person to integrate baseball would have to be friendly to the press and the public, and be able to get along with his teammates. Most importantly though, Rickey’s candidate would need to be able to keep silent in the face of racial ignorance and intolerance, and he would need to be able to turn the other cheek. After scouting the Negro League and interviewing his potential candidate, Rickey determined that Jackie Robinson would be the right man for the job. The interview that Robinson endured was more a test of character than anything else was. According to Joseph Dorinson (1997, pg. 124), Robinson was subjected to “three hours during which he [was] hectored, lectured and tested.” It has been noted that during this interview Jackie Robinson asked, “Do you want a coward, a ball player who’s afraid to fight back?” to which Rickey replied, “I want a ball player with guts enough not to fight back” (Sullivan, 2004, pg. 331). Rickey constantly analyzed his choices. Behn (1997) reports that “Brach Rickey was analytical about everything he did.” He prepared for the expected outcomes of his strategy and analyzed them as they came. His analyses of these outcomes allowed him to make the best choices possible for his purpose. As seen in the list of “six essential points” that Rickey’s candidate needed to have and the intense interviewing process of Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey paid extremely close attention to details. It was noted that Rickey would “fly a couple thousand miles to help decide on the location of a new water cooler or the color of a uniform” (Behn 1997). Rickey would pay close attention to all of the seemingly minute details that came with picking Robinson as his pioneer in integrating baseball. To expand on Rickey’s first “essential point” that Robinson would need to be the right man off the field, Rickey noted
Williams personal characteristics that he valued in Robinson. These characteristics included attending church, being engaged to an educated woman, and refraining from drinking and smoking (Behn, 1997). According to Behn, a good public manager should be influential and motivational. Rickey successfully influenced his Dodgers to accept Robinson as a teammate by using sympathy as a motivational tool. Behn notes that the word sympathy’s Greek origins means to suffer, and that therefore to sympathize with someone is to suffer with them. Consequently, when hecklers such as Ben Chapman and his Philadelphia Phillies would insult Robinson, even Robinson’s teammates who were most bitter about him being on the team would stand up for him (Behn, 1997). Rickey was often extremely lucky, but when he was not he always kept focused and continued to work toward his goals. Though Rickey did not often embrace and exploit his good luck, he certainly recognized it. According to Behn, “Branch Rickey did not believe in luck”; Behn quotes of Rickey “Luck is the residue of design” (1997). In a similar fashion to all of the teams for which Branch Rickey acted as general manager, he left the Brooklyn Dodgers, the baseball industry, the sporting industry, and all of America in a better position when he and Jackie Robinson successfully integrated major league baseball in 1947. According to Rubinstein (2003), professional basketball and professional football integrated shortly after baseball. It was expected that a certain number of white supremacists and “racial purists” would be unhappy with integrating baseball, but many African-Americans were unhappy about this as well. In particular, owners of Negro League teams were unhappy with the loss of much of their talent and fan base, and thus the money that they would lose as a
Williams result. Rubinstein quotes one Negro League owner as saying, “I have heard that Mr. Rickey is very religious. If such is true, it appears that his religion runs towards the almighty dollar (2003). However, it can be argued that integration in baseball was truly for the greater good, and that Rickey’s intentions were moral. Furthermore, while it can be argued that Branch Rickey was not necessarily the most important and influential person in the history of baseball, it is impossible to argue that he was not one of them.
Williams References Behn, R. (1997). Branch Rickey as a public manager: Fulfilling the eight responsibilities of public management. Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory (Transaction), 7(1), 1. Retrieved Thursday, April 19, 2007 from the Business Source Premier database. Buhite, R. (2004). The Continental League and Its Western Carolina League Affiliate: Branch Rickey's Second Finest Hour. North Carolina Historical Review, 81(4), 426-460. Retrieved Thursday, April 19, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database. Dorinson, J. (1997). Black Heroes in Sport: From Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali. Journal of Popular Culture, 31(3), 115-135. Retrieved Thursday, April 19, 2007 from the International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text database. Knee, S. (2003). Jim Crow Strikes Out: Branch Rickey and the Struggle for Integration in American Baseball. Culture, Sport, Society, 6(2/3), 71-87. Retrieved Thursday, April 19, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database. Rubinstein, W. (2003). Jackie Robinson and the integration of major league baseball. History Today, 53(9), 20. Retrieved Thursday, April 19, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database. Sullivan, E. A. (2004). Were baseball players better role models then or now?: Then. In W. Irwin & E. Bronson (Eds.), Baseball and philosophy (pp. 329-331). Popular culture and philosophy. Chicago: Open Court. Schaaf, P. (2004). Sports, Inc.: 100 years of sports business. Amherst, NY: Prometheus. [relevant pages 23, 43, 384, 385].