“That thing that can write great symphonies, that can write great tragedies is this use of time.”
1956 speech in Atlanta
One of the things I learned in the movie 42 was how deliberate Branch Rickey was in integrating professional baseball when he signed Jackie Robinson to a contract—and how much time it took to pull off his “experiment” of ending segregation in baseball.
It made me wonder where Branch Rickey came from and the answer turns out to be a small town in Ohio.
Rickey was born in Stockdale, Ohio and raised on a farm and educated in a one room school house. He was a devout Christian in the Methodist tradition with a sense of a calling. In a sermon once said that the Lord’s work called for him to bring the first black ballplayer into major league baseball.
Writer Jimmy Breslin, in his book Branch Rickey, gives this glimpse into the intellect of Rickey; “He never went to high school, but his first job was as a schoolteacher. Later he taught college freshman English, Latin, Shakespeare, and Greek drama, and read for the law in his free time.”
Rickey graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and law school at the University of Michigan. He was an officer in the Army during World War 1.
He was also a good enough baseball player himself to briefly play major league baseball (and he was also paid to play football in Ohio), but it was his role on the management side in baseball where he would make his mark. He became president of the St. Louis Cardinals when he was 36-years old and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as president and general manager when he was 62-years-old.
When in 1945 he broke the race barrier by signing Jackie Robinson as the first black professional baseball player in the modern era Rickey was 64-years old. And according to various reports it was on his mind since seeing a racial injustice happen when he was in college. Call it the 40 year plan.
“We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
The take away is you can be raised on a farm in a small town in Ohio and with a little faith, education and persistence–and forty years of patience—you can change the world.