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Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman Paperback – April 1, 2009
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"[A] solid . . . biography of the complicated man who brought Robinson into organized baseball." -Daniel Okrent, Fortune
"It's an impressive achievement in historical reporting on a unique character and will serve scholars for decades to come."-Neil Best, Newsday
"[Lowenfish] delivers a superb biography of one of the most compelling and important figures in American sports. . . . Lowenfish presents this baseball revolutionary not as his admirers or his critics (or Rickey) saw him but as he was, and one can ask nothing more from a biography."-Choice
"Lowenfish weaves the American trifecta of God, family and baseball into Rickey's fascinating life. The significant moments that forever changed the landscape of baseball are all well documented, researched and detailed. So too is the portrait of a man whose life is itself a crucial part of our society and history."-Baseball America
"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
"Lowenfish's take is detailed and nuanced. . . . 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. . . . 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."-David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"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
?If you consider yourself a true baseball fan, then you MUST read The Ferocious Gentleman. Mr. Rickey has influenced how the game is taught more than anyone. Furthermore, his foresight and courage was the major component that permitted the talent level to become Major League with his signing of Jackie Robinson. I was fascinated, and locked in from page one. People often ask me who my heroes are in baseball, the obvious would be to mention a player, Mr. Rickey is among my top baseball heroes. If you haven''t listed him among your heroes to this point, you will after reading this book. Joe Maddon, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays -- Joe Maddon
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Rickey is well-known as the man who worked to integrate Major League Baseball with the signing of another Ferocious Gentleman, Jackie Robinson. Jackie's appearance in the everyday world of professional baseball, and his wholehearted embrace by the fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers was an augury of vast change in the American landscape. A line can be drawn directly from Jackie Robinson to President Barack Obama.
Branch Rickey is a point on that line. Born into a religious (but hardly joyless) Methodist household with strict Sabbatarian views, the Midwestern-born Rickey was a dynamo who excelled in school, coached and played high school and college football, worked to support his family, attended law school, taught Bible classes, and had a short but impressive career in the Major Leagues as a catcher, all at once.
Rickey's personal ethical views were rock steady--he did not drink, rarely swore, worked tirelessly, was strictly monogamous, and never involved himself with Sunday baseball---but he was a believer in American diversity, who befriended Jews, Catholics, African-Americans, and hard-living, ethically flexible reprobates like Rogers Hornsby, Leo Durocher and Dizzy Dean, uncritically.
Rickey seemed to have a touch with marginal teams, turning them from money-losing and dispirited agglomerations of men in uniform into powerhouses of talent and business success. His work with the St. Louis Cardinals, who went from worst to first and became known as the roughnecking "Gashouse Gang" was legendary, as was his work with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who transmogrified from the laughingstock "Daffiness Boys" to the beloved "Boys of Summer." Rickey almost singlehandedly created the farm system, and he instituted scientific techniques in spring training that allowed ballplayers to develop and hone their natural talents, making the game far more interesting and precise.
Rickey's story of how he came to racial awareness has the ring of contrivance, but it is undoubtedly true, though enhanced as a good raconteur's tales always are. One of Rickey's star black college players was denied accommodations in South Bend, Indiana---"It's my skin, Mr. Rickey! If I could only tear it off!"---and this pathos awoke Rickey to the great injustice of color prejudice. Whatever the actual moment held, Rickey was to remember the incident, and it changed him, then our nation, and then the world.
Rickey was far from perfect. He tended at times to be sanctimonious and hortatory, he did not handle losing very well, and he was chintzy with his teams to an extreme, all of which made him unpopular with some. He was obstinate on occasion, a not-altogether bad quality which he used to his advantage in bucking the tide to such magnificent effect.
Considering that Rickey earned $95,000.00 in 1928(!), he certainly knew how to value his own effort. He is the only baseball executive ever to garner a percentage of all trades made to and from his teams.
Ironically, he hated and was hated by his Dodgers business partner, Walter O'Malley, who, like him, was a stocky raconteur, smoked big cigars, wore round rimless glasses on his broad face, and was "El Cheapo II." In photos the two men are hard to distinguish. Rickey however, had an inherent Love Of The Game and a respect for the fans and players that the avaricious, unsentimental and ultimately disgusting Big Oom lacked. Had Rickey retained control of the Brooklyn Dodgers they would still BE the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Branch Rickey was that rara avis, a baseball intellectual, who demanded that his men think, act and work together for the benefit of themselves, their teammates, their fans, their communities, their country, and the world. The life of this courteous, temperate, bespectacled Ferocious Gentleman has had an impact which still reverberates in our collective consciousness today.
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