Part 2: Care for Yourself & Justice to Others; Do They Have to Fight?

Part 3: Care for Yourself & Justice to Others; Do They Have to Fight?


Aesthetic Realism seminar:
   "Care for Yourself & Justice to Others;
Do They Have to Fight?" Part 2
with a discussion about Branch Rickey
By Michael Palmer

Thomas said, “If I could just get the color off I’d be as good as anybody else.” Outraged at the terrible injustice Thomas had met, Rickey tried to console him, saying, ”a time will come when there’ll be equal opportunity for all”  And he vowed, “Tommy, we’ll lick this one day.” 

     Three years later, at the age of 25, Rickey married Jane Moulten, the daughter of a well-to-do store-owner in his hometown. She and her family were hoping Rickey would have a more stable career than in baseball, perhaps in business or law, but they soon saw where his heart was. The Rickey’s honeymoon turned out to be a road trip to four cities for his St. Louis team. Writes biographer Murray Polner, “It allowed Jane... to see how much the game meant to her husband and his ability as a teacher.”


In his essay “Justice Near and Far,” Eli Siegel points to a deep fight in every person and very much in Branch Rickey: 

"Man is an acquisitive and careless being, but his deepest desire, akin to his desire for happiness, is to be fair to the other realities accompanying him in this world."
As an executive with the Browns and then the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1900’s, Branch Rickey showed his great care for baseball in his ability to encourage and teach young players and come up with ideas to improve the game. He was the first to have a team go to spring training in Florida, and he developed training techniques—such as sliding pits-- that are still used. Meanwhile, he also created the farm system where players skills are honed in the minor leagues so they’d be ready for major league careers.  While the Cardinals farm system made for outstanding teams in the late 1920’s and 30’s, it also showed Rickey as “an acquisitive and careless being.” He was able to form a monopoly tying up players to minor league teams for years in the Cardinals organization even when they were good enough to play in the major leagues with other teams. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis called the practice “outrageous and a form of slavery.” Landis was right and many players’ careers were ruined by their being tied to one team for years. Rickey was choosing wrong care for himself--profits and acquisition--over justice.  Mr. Siegel writes about this fight in the self:
"History consists largely of man’s attempts to acquire what he sees as justice for himself with the rather clever desire of not giving it to another."
Over these years, Rickey, like other baseball executives, did what he could to discourage the formation of a players union and he got the reputation for paying players as little as possible. Biographer Lee Lowenfish wrote:
"Branch Rickey was an old hand at dealing with players wanting more money and he was serenely confident of being able to use his verbal skills to talk down any player’s salary demands to a level more to his liking."
This was a tremendously unjust and ugly thing, and I do not think that deeply Rickey was “serenely confident.” Rickey was in a huge fight between a genuine love for the game and a narrow, contemptuous desire to get what could just for himself. In an Aesthetic Realism Consultation, he might have been asked. “What effect do you think this fight had on you?” During these years, Rickey suffered from Meniere’s Disease—an inner ear ailment that causes vertigo, nausea and a general lack of balance. And, as time went on, he had periodic heart trouble as well.


In TRO 591, Eli Siegel wrote:

"The desire for good sense in every field is an instinct: there is a possibility of it at the time we are born, and it’s always there."
The desire for good sense was also in Rickey. As he moved from St. Louis in late 1942 to take over as General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey felt there was something big missing in his life, and remembering how Charles Thomas had been treated some 40 years earlier, he began the process of getting a Black player for the Dodgers. Said Rickey, “The Negro in America was legally, but not morally free.” This was true of baseball in the segregation horribly practiced for so many years. I remember seeing it graphically when I was a boy while in our family car as we drove past Yankee Stadium. I was surprised to see the Stadium lights on because I knew the Yankees were on the road. When I asked my father who was playing, he told me “the Black Yankees of the Negro League.” I had read about the accomplishments of legendary players in that league such as Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and knew there was something terribly wrong that they had to play segregated, with little or no publicity and very few fans as was the case that day. But I wasn’t as angry at this injustice as I should have been. 

      About this time, in late 1945, after convincing the conservative Dodger ownership that segregation in baseball had to end, Branch Rickey sent a top aide to scout Jackie Robinson in a Negro League game in Chicago. Rickey had heard of Robinson’s ability and knew that he had also excelled in other team games at UCLA—in track, football and basketball. And he knew that in the Army during the war, Robinson had been unjustly charged with conduct unbecoming an officer for refusing to move to the rear of a segregated bus at a Texas army base. Told of Robinson’s fight for vindication, Rickey had big respect. “A man of ideals,” he said,“ a battler.” 

     Several months later, Rickey invited Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers office at 215 Montague Street in Downtown Brooklyn. This was 9 years before the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court Ruling; 18 years before Dr. King would lead the valiant protests in Alabama.
In “Justice Near and Far” Mr. Siegel wrote:

"Man will not be fully human until he is interested in justice with great intensity and with the comprehen- siveness which does not wish to miss any of its forms."
     Rickey showed some of that intensity in the meeting with Robinson. He began by saying, “I’m interested in bringing you into the Dodger system.” ”Then, surprisingly, he asked, “Do you have a girl? Robinson said, “Yes, her name is Rachel and we intend to be married.” “Good, ”said Rickey heartily,  He felt Robinson would need that support in what lay ahead. Rickey knew that Robinson would be the target of terrible abuse and insults and he was worried that if Robinson fought back it would—in his words—“set the cause back a hundred years.” And Rickey asked Robinson to ignore the insults, the abuse, and not respond for three years. He thought it to be clever strategy, but I think he was also deeply ashamed. He was asking this man,  Jackie Robinson to endure horrible abuse in silence for three years. 

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