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RICKEY AND ROBINSON: The Men Who Broke Base-ball's Color Barrier by Harvey Frommer

RICKEY AND ROBINSON: The Men Who Broke Base-ball's Color Barrier

By Harvey Frommer

Pub Date: April 9th, 1982
Publisher: Macmillan

In 1946, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed a gifted black athlete, Jackie Robinson, to play for his club's top minor-league team, the Montreal Royals--the first direct challenge to baseball's color bar and, for many good reasons, a much-told tale. Frommer (New York Baseball, 1980) offers a pleasant, upbeat look at this unusual pair-up--chiefly, it appears, to keep the story alive. The strongwilled Rickey was a devout Methodist (excused, by contract, from having to work on Sunday) and a genuinely innovative executive (the originator of the farm system); he also had a sharp eye for diamonds in the rough. His mettlesome protÉgÉ Robinson grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Pasadena; starred in baseball, basketball, football, and track from grammar school through college; served as an Army lieutenant during World War II. At about the time that Rickey moved from the St. Louis Cardinals to Brooklyn, he began to tell other club owners, cagily, that ""mass scouting might possibly come up with a Negro player or two."" Robinson was his choice not only because of his playing skills but also because he had the character to take abuse, on and off the field, without boiling over. Rickey backgrounded the press too, and (controversially) warned the black community to be on its best behavior. After his ballyhooed 1947 Brooklyn debut, Robinson went on to superstardom--while critics charged that his appearance in the line-up was as much a matter of good business as good will. Other black athletes, however, cared little about Rickey's motives: they were simply grateful for the chance to play. The new TV medium was also a help at the outset, Frommer notes, in showing that Robinson was not a symbol but a hard-hitting, sure-footed competitor with an unmatched flair for daring on the base paths. Neither Rickey nor Robinson (who died in 1972, of diabetes) lacked for accomplishment after their span in the limelight; but Frommer wisely does not dwell on the anti-climactic years after 1956. The inspirational appeal of the story is still, in this version, its strongest selling point. (For more pith and snap, see Frank Graham, Jr.'s eye-witness account in A Farewell to Heroes, 1981.)