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.
Now, let me make one other point. The polar opposite of free markets is a command economy. One in which a group of “experts” determine what will be sold, when, at what price, and to whom. The Soviet Union tried this for decades before it collapsed. China is slowly (glacially slow) moving towards free markets. See Hong Kong. There are no examples of a command economy succeeding.
So, you might ask, what does this have to do with Jackie Robinson and the free market system? There are two areas in our society that are strict meritocracies. Meaning that those who produce are rewarded. Those who don’t are cast aside. These areas of society are cut-throat and race and quotas are not only ignored, but would cause an uproar if enforced.
You have Jackie Robinson and Branch Ritchey to thank for the first; Pro Sports. Ethnic minorities dominate in four of the five major sports (I reluctantly count soccer). Why, because the best are not impeded, and for whatever reasons the majority of the best players in baseball, basketball, football, and soccer are black or Hispanic.The good and great are being rewarded. Those who are mediocre and bad find what they are better at and apply their energies there.
The other area is entertainment. I won’t go as far as to say that ethnic minorities dominate the world of entertainment, but you can not argue that race or gender is holding the likes of Oprah Winfrey back. It is the same with Beyonce or Justin Beiber. If they could not entertain enough people to earn the money to make a living they would both do something else. But, because neither race or youth is an impediment in their industry, both are rich beyond their wildest dreams. They are talented. They get paid.
What happens in a command system? You mean like Affirmative Action? Is there anyone that can serious argue that this is a program that works. Colleges are routinely recruiting and admitting minority students, in order to fill some statistical quota, while ignoring others with better test scores and admission portfolios. See the lawsuit against the University of Michigan from 2003.
Can you imagine that working in pro sports? How many black athletes would have to lose there job to admit White, Asian, Jewish, or Muslim athletes, just to make sure they were proportionately represented? I suppose if you enjoy watching a short Muslim guy play NBA center, that would work out just fine.
My overall point is that the cream rises to the top. Jackie Robinson was not selected to break the color barrier just because he was black. He was chosen because he was damn good at what he did. I think sports and entertainment have proven that racism is no longer a major factor in American society. Those who discriminate pay too high a price by ignoring a talented person, just because they are the wrong color. Their competitor will see to it. It’s time to let the free market do its job.