March 12, 2016
Mrs. Rickey Says No
Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat, Red Barber and Robert Creamer (1968)
GM Larry MacPhail had hired Red Barber to announce the Cincinnati Reds games,
About then - the fall of 1942 - Larry MacPhail announced that he was leaving the Dodgers to go into the Army. ...I was no party to the high-level discussions by the Brooklyn board and I had no idea what was going to happen, but the next thing I knew Branch Rickey had severed himself from the job with the Cardinals in St. Louis and was installed as MacPhail's successor at Brooklyn. I was delighted. Rickey came east and with Mrs. Rickey took a furnished apartment in Bronxville ... only a few miles from where Lylah and I were living ...
He had not been in the apartment in Bronxville very long before he called up and asked us to come visit. Lylah had never met the Rickeys. ... We went down for Sunday luncheon and it was very pleasant. Unless you were around the warm magnetism of Mr. Rickey in the bosom of his family in his own home, you really don't know what charm is. Mrs. Rickey was a doll, a living, breathing doll. She was just as much a personality in her own right as he was. Rickey, with all his strength and ability, never got one step ahead of Mrs. Rickey in all of his life, never once. I think maybe one of the reasons why Rickey went so far and so fast was because he had to set a gait according to his wife, and that was a pretty fast pace.
L: Red and Lylah Barber and their daughter Sarah
R: Branch and Jane Rickey and their son Branch Jr.
So he would talk things over with Mrs. Rickey. She was his sounding board. She would listen, and then she would give her reactions. She had strong opinions, and she was not the least hesitant about giving them to this man. He did not always follow her advice or agree with her opinion. For instance, she told him not to start the Jackie Robinson thing. She told him that he had no business getting into that at his age, stirring up all of baseball and all of the country and maybe getting into a thing he would never get out of until he went to his grave. As we used to say in Brooklyn, she left him have it about breaking the color line and bringing a Negro into baseball. She detailed the complications, the complexities, and ramifications, of what he planned to do. That was a long time before anybody knew Jackie Robinson's name - and I mean even in the Rickey household. Branch Rickey decided to bring Jackie Robinson into baseball two years before he knew who Jackie was. Jackie was the individual who emerged from the principle.
Mrs. Rickey was against the idea, and their six daughters and their only son asked Rickey to leave the thing alone, that he had enough going, that he was too old to take this problem on his hands. That was something, to have opposition, and reasonable opposition, from the people closest to him, the ones he loved, the ones whose opinions mattered beyond all others. But he went ahead anyway. Rickey wasn't headstrong much when he got that bit in his teeth, was he?