Branch Ricky, Breaking The Color Barrier And Baseball Innovator
Branch Ricky was a baseball player and executive who is probably is best remembered for breaking the color barrier signing Jackie Robinson. This was his greatest feat but if you look closely at the man himself, it is incredible what an innovator he was. Rickey was from Stockade Ohio. After high school he went on to play catcher for the Ohio Wesleyan University baseball team. He played both professional baseball and football. An interesting football story was when Rickey played for the Shelby Blues in a league called the “Ohio League” he became friends with a player named Charles Follis who was the first black professional football player. It is said that after watching Follis run almost the length of the field for a touchdown, Rickey was influenced forever that anyone talented should be able to play sports regardless of ethnicity. Rickey went on to manage then run the front office for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1931 “Rickey’s Cardinals” got the nickname the “Gashouse Gang.” They won 101 games and and the World Series. One of the most innovative things he did in St. Louis was to develop the farm system as a feeder to their minor league teams. He had the vision to realize teams would have to keep replacing their starters and the more players under contract getting experience playing, the better chance for success. Rickey left St. Louis for Brooklyn and created the very first full-time spring training facility in Vero Beach Florida. Ricky bounced around after Brooklyn to the Pittsburgh Pirates and then back to St. Louis. He was credited as the first to encourage the use of the batting cage, pitching machines and batting helmets. When he was with the Pirates, all the players began wearing helmets when hitting by order of Rickey. He tried to mandate the players wear the helmets in the field but this never caught on. He also set up sand pits to practice sliding and though it never has been verified, some think he was the first to develop the original batting tee in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. Another innovation by Branch Rickey was the use of statistics in baseball in great detail. In fact some historians consider him the originator of sabermetrics. It is said that he was the first to hire a statistician and the man he hired, Allan Roth convinced Branch Rickey the importance of on-base percentage as opposed to batting average. He also had the vision to see how effective the platoon system can be and began to encourage the use of righty pitchers against righty hitters and lefty pitchers against lefty hitters late in games.
The most memorable achievement associated with Branch Rickey will always be the breaking of the color barrier and signing Jackie Robinson to a contract. But looking deeper, Branch Rickey should get more notoriety for the things he gave baseball. His place in the baseball Hall of Fame is very much deserved.
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