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Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman Hardcover – April 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

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Branch Rickey is mainly remembered for breaking baseball's long-standing segregationist position when he promoted Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, but his influence in the game extended far beyond that single act of courage and foresight. While running the St. Louis Cardinals from 1917 to 1942, Rickey also developed the concept of the "farm system": owning minor-league teams in order to develop prospects for the parent major-league team. Lowenfish, a historian and author of The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball's Labor Wars (1991), meticulously researches Rickey's life and presents a three-dimensional portrait of a man who, in addition to his baseball acumen, was a highly religious, socially conscious visionary. As much as he was revered, particularly in hindsight, Rickey was often in conflict with his peers, who viewed him as arrogant and abrasive, especially toward those who didn't share his values. Though much has been written about Rickey, the depth and thoroughness of Lowenfish's research make this the definitive biography of baseball's most influential executive. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced, balancing the issue of integration with the economic and competitive imperatives of running a professional baseball team. . . . Where Lowenfish is at his best is in explicating the complex and often contradictory impulses that drove his subject, as well as his almost evangelical sense of self. . . . All this leaves us with a question—or a set of questions—about who Rickey really was. To Lowenfish’s credit, he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light. . . . Without him, baseball would not exist as we know it. America would be a different place as well. In these pages Lowenfish traces the evolution of that America through the filter of a remarkable life.”—David L. Ulin, LA Times Book Review
(Los Angeles Times Book Review)

Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, by Lee Lowenfish, provides a thorough account of the life, character, and exploits of this teetotaler Ohio farm boy, the grandson of a horse trader, and a true ‘conservative revolutionary.’”—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe
(Boston Globe)

“[O]ur heartiest recommendation: Branch Rickey – Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish. A fitting and admirable tribute to the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line. Lowenfish, a respected baseball scholar, reportedly spent 10 years researching and writing this book that, at 600 pages, is chock full of revelations and great anecdotes on Rickey’s life.”—Bill Madden, NY Daily News
(New York Daily News)

“It’s an impressive achievement in historical reporting on a unique character and will serve scholars for decades to come.”—Neil Best, Newsday

“If you read one baseball book this summer, make it Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish. The author did a remarkable amount of research in bringing to life this incredible baseball man. . . . Lee Lowenfish is to be congratulated for this monumental work. . . . [O]ne of the best baseball books I’ve read.”—Tom Knight, Brooklyn Spectator
(Brooklyn Spectator)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (April 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803211031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803211032
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,819,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By DB361 on April 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While every major league team is required to retire Jackie Robinson's #42, the Lords of Baseball might also consider having every team display a pair of rimless glasses, an unlit cigar and a bow tie in memory of Branch Rickey. Until that happens, Lee Lowenfish's book stands as an excellent and precise memorial.

Robinson's contribution to baseball and American history is undeniable, but he was acting, to some extent, in his best self-interest. Rickey's self-interest, as normally defined, however, would have been to continue to bar the door to African American participation in the big leagues, while denying the door was even shut. This was the path of his fellow baseball decision-makers, for decades.

Rickey defined his self-interest in broader, even spiritual terms. He was several kinds of paradox: a muscular Christian, a country gentleman who lived and worked in the biggest cities, a tee-totaler who constantly supported and even loved rascals like Leo Durocher, Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin.

Mr. Lowenfish, in addition to being a fine baseball maven and historian, is also a professorial-grade expert on American History. He combines these areas of expertise smoothly, giving depth and meaning to the various events and decisions in Rickey's life. He weaves details from inside baseball and culture into a deeply textured whole.

He also does not see the world in terms of cardboard heroes and villains, a particularly rare and useful point of view when it comes to this story, which has so much genuine and well documented heroism.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bill Emblom on December 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you consider yourself a baseball fan you need to read this book, because Branch Rickey was an integral part of the game's history. The book is 600 pages long, but the reading style flowed easily for me, and held my interest throughout the book. The legal profession's loss was baseball's gain as he devoted practically his entire life to serving the game while serving others at the same time. He spoke his mind and rubbed some people the wrong way, but this conservative Republican knew a wrong when he saw it, and opened up the game of baseball to the Negro race when other owners dared not disrupt the status quo. After a stint at coaching at the University of Michigan where he encountered who he deemed one of his two favorite players, George Sisler, he moved on to St. Louis to cover the lowly Browns where he worked under his favorite superior, Robert Hedges. From there it was to the Cardinals where he placed his stamp on the Redbirds successful teams of the mid-1930s Gashouse Gang, and early 1940's which were under the ownership of Sam Breadon. From there it was on to Brooklyn where he made history by signing Jackie Robinson along with others who would become stars of Roger Kahn's book "The Boys of Summer" during the 1950s. Following the 1950 season he left the Dodgers following a power struggle with "The Big O", Walter O'Malley. The Pittsburgh Pirates came calling, and once again Rickey built a cellar-dwelling franchise into a championship 1960 team with players such as Dick Groat and stealing an unprotected Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers' minor league system. Rickey's last stop was back in St. Louis when Cardinals' owner "Gussie" Busch hired Rickey as a consultant. This proved an unwise move on the part of both Busch and Rickey.Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thomas E. Lyons on August 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
I read this book on the recommendation of other reviewers since I have long been a fan of Branch Rickey. I just finished the book this morning.

About halfway through the book, it became clear that this book is not a biography, in that there is no deep exploration of the personality or history of Rickey. It's a 3rd person telling of the history of baseball teams Rickey presided over, looked at through a Rickey-ian lens. We read about the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals who finally won the World Series, and how Pete Alexander came on in relief, and how Rogers Hornsby missed his mother's funeral to play, and how much of this was the fruit of Rickey's farm system, and many of the key stats of the players. Other teams, seemingly year by year, are discussed comparably.

We don't learn about Rickey's kids or grandkids or even his wife. The book glosses over the FCA. No family or friends were apparently interviewed. The book depends on the picture of Rickey's character that it had already painted as being adequate for the reader to infer what Rickey was thinking and feeling without offering the fun anecdotes that turn a book from a piece of journalism into a true biography.

Now, to be sure, the ethic of a conservative, devoutly Christian, hardworking gentleman is made clear. I learned a bit more about the inside dealings of the Jackie Robinson signing and Dodger politics. That aside, I don't feel dramatically closer to the character of Branch Rickey the man than I did 600 pages ago.
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