What is history but a myth agreed upon?
he stole them.
By John B Holway
April 16 baseball marks the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinsons debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, honoring Branch Rickey as one of the saints of baseball, if not American, history.
Its one of the great myths of baseball that have become so enshrined as facts that they are steadfastly believed more than the truth. Robert Redford is planning a film on Rickey. Will he feed the myth or challenge it?
The next nickel
Rickey pays for Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Joe Black,
or Junior Gilliam will be the first.
These ex-Negro Leaguers led
Its like coming into a mans store and stealing the goods right off the shelves, said Cumberland Cum Posey, owner of the Washington Homestead Grays.
Rickey was not the games Abe Lincoln; he was its Jesse James.
The Jackie Robinson revolution was a blessing to black players. But it was a disaster to black owners, who saw their life investments wiped out.
Rickey did pay a pittance (reported at 1,000 to 3,000 dollars) for pitcher Dan Bankhead.
However, when he tried to steal Monte Irvin from the
His excuse was that Monte, just back from the Army, thought his skills had declined and had turned Rickeys offer down. There are several holes in this story. First, whoever heard of a player, black or white, saying he didn't want to play in the Major Leagues because he wasn't good enough? Sec, Monte had the best year of his life in 1946, leading the league with .411. Third, in 1948 he batted .313 but allegedly felt he was at last ready for the majors.
The whites called the black owners racketeers. Many of them were gambling kings; it was one of the few ways a black man could raise enough capital to buy a team -- without gamblers there would have been no Negro Leagues. But Robinsons owner, JL Wilkinson, was not a gambler. Neither was Posey.
When Rickey stole their players, he himself became a bigger racketeer thany any black owner had been.
Branch made a show of his Christianity. He had promised his mother he would never play ball on Sunday; however this didn't prevent him from religiously depositing the Dodgers Sunday gate receipts in the bank every Monday morning.
There are several ways to live a Christian life. One is not to play ball on Sunday. Another is to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Branch Rickey passed the first test He flunked the second cold.
He was not a revered Methodist saint. He was a pious Methodist hypocrite.
When Rickey had been general manager of the
Not until the death of hard-line
There were many other players, mostly villains, in baseballs integration drama:
Veeck. The flamboyant
owner of the
Veeck reportedly paid Wilkinson $5,000 for Satchel Paige, who repaid Bill a thousand-folded by drawing sell-out crowds wherever he pitched and winning six crucial games as the Indians won the 1948 pennant in a playoff. The cynical might say that Bill wouldn't sign Satch in 47, when he was still under contract to the Monarchs, but waited until 48 when the Monarchs were almost dead and Paige had left them.
Scholars also debunk Veecks story that he had earlier tried to buy
Jackie Robinson. He was just as self-centered as Rickey. One of his first acts as a big leaguer was to sneer at the Negro Leagues for traveling by bus all night or staying in second-rate black hotels and said he was glad to be out of them. It wasn't said in sympathy. (It wasn't our fault, Manley retorted.)
Not once did Jackie thank the owners who had kept the leagues alive through the Depression, giving him the showcase to jump to the majors. Nor did he thank the veteran players, who had helped him enter the promised land while they stayed behind on Mt Pisgah and cheered his success.
Willie Mays was different. You were the pioneers, he told a reunion of old-timers, you taught me to survive, you made it possible for us. Robinson didn't say anything like that.
white owner of the
Wilkinsons partner urged him to sue, but Wilkie refused. I won't stand in the way of a man who has a chance to better himself, he said quietly.
In all, Wilkinson lost some 30 men to the white majors Robinson, Paige, Banks, Howard, Hank Thompson, and others. He got almost nothing for them. He would die, blind and infirm, in a nursing home at the age of 90, greatly mourned by all his old players.
It was therefore left to someone else to speak for the conscience of the game.
womanizer he may have been, but Ted had the humanity to say what nobody else
in baseball would: It was time
to open the doors of
So the history of baseball integration was not a simple moralistic tale of two heroic, saintly men. It was a tale of many men, of greed and rapacity, courage and timidity, leavened by flashes of magnanimity.
Yet the miracle of integration did take place. If one seeks a divine plan, it
may be that out of the all-too-human failings of sinners and hypocrites, the miracle was brought forth. Rickey probably would not have freed the slaves if he had had to pay a fair price for them. But, whatever his true motivation was, he was the instrument by which the miracle was accomplished.
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant;
Success in circuit lies.
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truths superb surprise.
As lightening to the child is eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.