Jackie Robinson’s story has been told in books, films, and even a Broadway play. This is because it is such an important and compelling story of moving our still great nation forward. But, one thing I have noticed is that there is one aspect to the story that is almost completely untold. Social justice was not the only reason behind Branch Richey’s push to integrate Major League Baseball.
The two main players in this story, Jackie Robinson, who was a great baseball player, great man, and the exact right person for the job in 1947, and Branch Richey who had seen and disliked the Jim Crow south (and discrimination in the north) while playing or managing both football and baseball; focused baseball and our nation on racism when #42 debuted at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Attendance soared at Ebbets Field and when the Dodgers visited other cities. That should not be ignored.
Jackie, as both he and Richey anticipated was subjected to harsh treatment by fans, opposing players, opposing managers, and even his own teammates. I can’t possibly do justice in describing that, and also keep this blog reasonable in length. So, apologetically, I’m not going to try.
Branch Ritchey was an astute baseball man. He created, quite literally, the modern farm system by buying existing minor league teams and turning them into teaching stops for players he acquired. He introduced statistical analysis, the batting helmet, and the batting cage (among other things) to the Dodgers, and by the fact of the Dodgers’ success their use spread throughout baseball.
The word success in that last sentence is my belated point. Jackie Robinson played 10 years with Brooklyn. In those ten years the Dodgers took the National League pennant six times, finished second three others, and won the World Series in 1955. Branch Richey was interested in success and he knew that the black players languishing in the mismanaged Negro Leagues would be a great enhancement. The first team to sign a black player would have a leg up on signing the best of those players.
The principle that the free market rewards decisions that result in a desirable outcome (winning games or making money) was directly at play in the decision to sign Jackie Robinson. Building a winning team was most definitely a reason why Richey took the heat, he knew he would, by being the first to play a black man in majors.
Rewarding winning, or making money is not an evil or even a bad thing for society. The creature comforts that you take for granted are a direct result of the free market rewarding someone with money for producing a good or service that was desired by the general public. Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb to free the world from darkness. That was just a secondary (and very large) benefit. He did it to make money.