I am asked to speak of the game," said Branch Rickey, restating a question that had been put to him, "I am asked to reflect upon my own part in it. At the age of 73, on the eve of a new baseball season, I am importuned to muse aloud, to touch upon those things that come first to mind."
Seated in his office at Forbes Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Branch Rickey nibbled at an unlighted cigarette and sniffed the proposition like a man suddenly come upon a beef stew simmering on a kitchen stove.
Abruptly he threw himself back in his chair and clasped his hands over his head and stared up at the ceiling. He looked 10 years younger than his actual age. Thanks to a high-protein, hamburger-for-breakfast diet, he was 30 pounds lighter than he had been three months before. His complexion was ruddy and his thick brown hair showed only a little gray at the temples. Now his great bushy eyebrows shot up and he prayed aloud:
"Lord make me humble, make me grateful...make me tolerant!"
March 7, 1955
Slowly he came down from the ceiling and put his elbows on the desk. Unconsciously, perhaps, a hand strayed across the desk to a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. The hand was that of an old-time catcher, big, strong and gnarled. He turned slowly in his chair and swept his eyes over the little gallery of framed photographs on the wall. Among them were George Sisler, Rickey's first great discovery, one of the greatest of the left-handed hitters, now at work down the hall as chief of Pittsburgh scouts; Rogers Hornsby, the game's greatest right-handed hitter, a betting man for whom Rickey once dared the wrath of baseball's high commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis; Jackie Robinson, chosen by Rickey as the man to break down baseball's color line; Honus Wagner, the immortal Pittsburgh shortstop, now past 80, at this moment growing weaker by the day at his sister's house across town; Charley Barrett, the old Cardinal scout, Rickey's right arm in the days when St. Louis was too poor to make a Southern training trip.
Turning back to his desk, Rickey grimaced and then spoke rapidly, almost harshly:
"Of my career in baseball, let us say first of all that there have been the appearances of hypocrisy. Here we have the Sunday school mollycoddle, apparently professing a sort of public virtue in refraining from playing or watching a game of baseball on Sunday. And yet at the same time he is not above accepting money from a till replenished by Sunday baseball."
ONE MAN'S PROMISE
He paused and bit the unlighted cigarette in two. He dropped his voice:
"A deeply personal thing. Something not to be exploited, not to be put forward protestingly at every whisper of criticism. No, a deeply personal thing. A man's promise, a promise to his mother. Not involving a condemnation of baseball on Sunday, nor of others who might desire to play it or watch it on Sunday. Simply one man's promise—and it might as well have been a promise not to attend the theater or band concerts in the park."
His eyes went around the room and were held for a moment by the blackboard that lists the players on the 15 ball clubs in the Pittsburgh farm system. His lips moved and the words sounded like, "But is the boy ready for New Orleans?" Then, with a quick movement, he leaned across the desk and waggled an accusing finger.
"Hell's fire!" he exploded. "The Sunday school mollycoddle, the bluenose, the prohibitionist has been a liberal! No, no, no—this has nothing to do with Jackie Robinson, I contend that there was no element of liberalism there. I will say something about that perhaps, but now the plain everyday things—the gambling, the drinking, the...other things. I submit that I have been a liberal about them!"
He was silent. He did not mention or even hint at the names of managers who won major league pennants after everyone but Branch Rickey had quit on them; nor the men who gladly acknowledge that they are still in baseball because of the confidence Rickey placed in them.
The telephone with the private number rang. Branch Rickey picked it up and traded Southpaw Paul La Palme to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ben Wade, a relief pitcher. "You announce it," he said into the phone, "and just say La Palme for Wade and an unannounced amount of cash. We'll talk about a Class A ballplayer later. Anybody but a catcher. I don't need a catcher at that level." He put down the phone and his eyes twinkled. "Later in the day I may make a deal with Brooklyn," he said, "if I can get up the nerve." As things turned out, either he did not get up the nerve or he was unable to interest the Flatbush authorities.
He whirled around in his chair and stared out the window. He could see, if he was noticing, the end of a little street that runs down from Hotel Schenley to the ball park. It is called Pennant Place, a reminder of happier days for the Pittsburgh fans, now so ashamed of their eighth-place Pirates that only a few of them show up at the ball park—even for doubleheaders.
Rickey ran both hands furiously through his thick hair.
"A man trained for the law," he said, "devotes his entire life and all his energies to something so cosmically unimportant as a game."
He examined minutely what was left of his cigarette. Carefully, he extracted a single strand of tobacco and looked at it closely before letting it fall to the floor. Usually he chews unlighted cigars, but this day it was a cigarette.
He began to laugh.
"The law," he chuckled, "I might have stayed in the law. I do not laugh at the great profession itself. I am laughing at a case I had one time—the only case I ever had as a full-time practicing attorney. I had gone to Boise, Idaho from Saranac to try to gain back my strength after recovering from tuberculosis. I got an office and hung out a shingle and waited for the clients. None came. Finally, I was in court one day and the judge appointed me attorney for a man who was being held on a charge the newspapers used to describe as white slavery.
"I was apprehensive, but at last I summoned enough courage to go over to the jail and see my client. Oh, he was a horrible creature. I can see him now, walking slowly up to the bars and looking me up and down with contempt. He terrified me. I began to shake like a leaf. After a minute he said, 'Who the hell are you?'
"I tried to draw myself up a little and then I said, 'Sir, my name is Branch Rickey. The court has appointed me your attorney and I would like to talk to you.' He looked me up and down again and then spat at my feet. Then he delivered what turned out to be the final words of our association. He said, 'Get the hell out of here!' "
Rickey threw back his head.
"I not only got out of there," he said, "I got out of the state of Idaho and went to St. Louis and took a job with the St. Louis Browns. I intended to stay in baseball for just one year. But when the year was up, Mr. Robert Lee Hedges, the owner, offered me a raise. There was a new baby at our house. And not much money, new or old. So I was a moral coward. I chose to stay with the game."
RICKEY FOR GOVERNOR
Rickey thought a moment.
"I might have gone into politics," he said. "As recently as 14 years ago, there was the offer of a nomination for a political office. A governorship. The governorship, in fact, of Missouri. I was tempted, flattered. But, then as I ventured a little into the political arena, I was appalled by my own ignorance of politics. But the party leaders were persuasive. They pledged me the full support of the regular party organization. They said they could not prevent any Billy Jumpup from filing, but no Billy Jumpup would have the organization's backing. It is an overwhelming thing to be offered such prospects of reaching high office. I thought it over carefully and then tentatively agreed to run, on condition that another man—a seasoned campaigner—run on the ticket with me. He said that was utterly impossible. He invited me to go with him to New York and talk to Mr. Herbert Hoover about the situation in Missouri. But afterward I still was unable to persuade my friend to run. He was Arthur Hyde, Secretary of Agriculture under Mr. Hoover. Later I learned to my sorrow the reason for Mr. Hyde's decision. He was even then mortally ill. So, regretfully, I asked that my name be withdrawn. The man who ran in my place was elected and then went on to the United States Senate.
"So, conceivably, I might have been a governor. Instead, I chose to stay with the game."
Rickey made elaborate gestures of straightening the papers on his desk.
"A life of public service," he said, peering over his glasses, "versus a life devoted to a game that boys play with a ball and bat."
He turned and picked up a baseball from a bookcase shelf.
"This ball," he said, holding it up.
"This symbol. Is it worth a man's whole life?"
There was just time for another mussing of the hair before the phone rang again.
"Pooh," said Rickey into the phone after a moment. "Three poohs. Pooh-bah." He hung up.
"I was listening last night to one of the television interview programs," he said. "Senator Knowland was being interrogated. It was a discussion on a high level and the questions involved matters affecting all of us and all the world. I was listening intently and then I heard the senator say, 'Well, I think the Administration has a pretty good batting average.' "
Rickey blew out his cheeks and plucked a shred of tobacco from his lips.
"It must have been a full minute later," he went on, "and the questions had gone on to other things when I sat straight up. Suddenly I realized that to answer a somewhat difficult question this United States senator had turned naturally to the language of the game. And this language, this phrase 'a pretty good batting average,' had said exactly what he wanted to say. He had not intended to be frivolous. The reporters did not smile as though he had made a joke. They accepted the answer in the language of the game as perfectly proper. It was instantly recognizable to them. I dare say it was recognizable even in London."
He frowned, thinking hard. Then his face lit up again.
"The game invades our language!" he exclaimed. "Now, the editorial page of the New York Times is a serious forum, not ordinarily given to levity. Yet at the height of the controversy between the Army and Senator McCarthy, there was the line on this dignified editorial page, 'Senator McCarthy—a good fast ball, but no control.' "
THE HAPPY POSTMEN
Rickey slapped his thigh and leaned over the desk.
"Now, didn't that tell the whole story in a sentence?"
He waved an arm, granting himself the point.
He cherished his remnant of a cigarette.
"A man was telling me the other day," he went on, "he said he was walking through Times Square in New York one blistering day last summer. The temperature stood at 100° and the humidity made it almost unbearable. This man happened to fall in behind three postmen walking together. Their shirts were wringing wet and their mail-bags were heavily laden. It struck this man that these postmen might well be irritable on such a day and, since he saw that they were talking animatedly, he drew closer so that he might hear what they were saying. He expected, of course, that they would be complaining bitterly of their dull drab jobs on this abominable day. But when he had come close enough to hear them, what were they talking about with such spirit and relish?"
He paused for effect, then with a toss of his head, he exploded:
"Leo Durocher and the New York Giants!"
Carefully, he put down his cigarette butt. Then he leaned back and rubbed his eyes with the back of his fists. He tore furiously at his hair and half swallowed a yawn.
"Mrs. Rickey and I," he said, "sat up until 2 o'clock this morning playing hearts."
He straightened the papers on his desk and said as an aside: "I contend it is the most scientific card game in the world."
He searched the ceiling for the point he was developing, found it and came down again.
"The three postmen, heavily laden on a hot, miserable day, yet able to find a happy, common ground in their discussion of this game of baseball. And in their free time, in their hours of leisure, if they had no other interest to turn to, still there was the game to bring color and excitement and good wholesome interest into their lives."
He took up the fragment of paper and tobacco that was left of the cigarette as though it were a precious jewel.
"Leisure," he said, sending his eyebrows aloft, "is a hazardous thing. Hero in America we do not yet have a leisure class that knows what to do with it. Leisure can produce something fine. It may also produce something evil. Hell's fire! Leisure can produce a great symphony, a great painting, a great book."
He whirled around to the window and peered out at Pennant Place. Then, turning back like a pitcher who has just cased the situation at second base, he let go hard.
"Gee!" he cried. "Leisure can also produce a great dissipation! Leisure can be idleness and idleness can drive a man to his lowest!"
He recoiled, as from a low man standing at the side of his desk.
"Idleness is the worst thing in this world. Idleness is doing nothing and thinking of wrong things to do. Idleness is the evil that lies behind the juvenile delinquency that alarms us all. It's the most damnable thing that can happen to a kid—to have nothing to do."
He put the tattered cigarette butt in his mouth and spoke around it.
"The game that gives challenge to our youth points the way to our salvation. The competitive spirit, that's the all-important thing. The stultifying thing in this country is the down-pressure on competition, the some-thing-for-nothing philosophy, the do-as-little-as-you-can creed—these are the most devastating influences today. This thinking is the kind that undermines a man's character and can undermine the national character as well."
COBB AND WILLIE MAYS
He studied his shreds of cigarette with the deliberation of a diamond cutter.
"Labor and toil," he intoned, "by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy bread. Labor and toil—and something else. A joy in work, a zest. Zest, that is the word. Who are the great ballplayers of all time? The ones with zest. Ty Cobb. Willie Mays. The man down the hall, one of the very greatest, George Sisler. Dizzy Dean. Pepper Martin. We have one coming back to us this year here at Pittsburgh. Dick Groat. He has it. Highly intelligent, another Lou Boudreau, the same kind of hitter. He has it. Zest."
Rickey smiled. "Dick Groat will be one of the great ones. There will be others this year. We have 110 boys coming out of service, 475 players under contract on all our clubs. A total of $496,000 invested in player bonuses. There will be other good prospects for the Pirates among these boys. This ball club of ours will come in time. No promises for this year, but in '56, I think, yes."
He turned to look down the street to Pennant Place, then added: "A contending team in '56—at least that."
(At the barbershop in Hotel Schenley it is related that Rickey's defense of his eighth-place ball club is considerably less detailed. "Patience!" he cries, anticipating the hecklers as he enters the shop.)
The door opened and Harold Roettger, Rickey's assistant, entered the room. A round-faced, studious-looking man, Roettger has been with Rickey since the old St. Louis Cardinal days. He was in the grip of a heavy cold.
"Do you remember a boy named Febbraro?" he asked, sniffling, "in the Provincial League?"
"Febbraro, Febbraro," said Rickey, frowning. "A pitcher. I saw him work in a night game."
"That's the boy," said Roettger, wiping his eyes. "He's been released."
"Aha," said Rickey, "yes, I remember the boy well. Shall we sign him?"
"We ought to talk about it," said Roettger, fighting a sneeze.
"Harold," said Rickey, "Richardson [Tommy Richardson, president of the Eastern League) is coming down for a meeting tomorrow. I wish you could be there. I devoutly wish you were not ill."
"I, too, devoutly wish I were not ill," said Roettger. "I'll go home now and maybe I'll be ready for the meeting."
"Please try not to be ill tomorrow," said Rickey. "I desperately need you at the meeting."
"I will try very hard," said Roettger, "and will you think about Febbraro?"
"I will," said Rickey. "Go home now, Harold, and take care of yourself."
(Later, Roettger recovered from his cold and signed Febbraro for Williamsport in the Eastern League.)
As Roettger left, Rickey searched for the thread of his soliloquy.
"Hornsby," he said suddenly, "Rogers Hornsby, a man with zest for the game. And Leo, of course.
"Leo Durocher has come a long way, off the field as well as on. A quick mind, a brilliant mind, an indomitable spirit. A rugged ballplayer—and I like rugged ballplayers. But when he came to St. Louis, Leo was in trouble. No fewer than 32 creditors were breathing down his neck, suing or threatening to sue. An impossible situation. I proposed that I go to his creditors and arrange for weekly payments on his debts. This meant a modest allowance of spending money for Leo himself. But he agreed.
"There were other matters to be straightened out. Leo's associates at the time were hardly desirable ones. But he was not the kind of man to take kindly to any criticism of his friends. I thought a lot about Leo's associations, but I didn't see what I could do about them.
"Then one day during the winter I received a call from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. The Academy needed a baseball coach and they asked if I could recommend a man. I said I thought I could and would let them know.
"I knew my man. But I didn't dare tell him right away. Instead, I called his wife [Durocher was then married to Grace Dozier, a St. Louis fashion designer] and asked her to drop in at the office. When she arrived, I told her that I intended to recommend Leo as baseball coach at the Naval Academy.
"She looked at me a moment. Then she said, 'Would they take Leo?' I said they would if I recommended him. Then I told her I proposed to get a copy of the Naval Academy manual. I said I knew that if I handed it to Leo myself, he was quite likely to throw it back in my face. But if she were to put it in his hands, he might agree to look it over. Mrs. Durocher thought again. Then she said, 'Get the manual.' "
(Rickey has a habit of presenting ballplayers with what he considers to be worth-while reading. When Pee Wee Reese was made captain of the Dodgers, Rickey sent him Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe.)
DUROCHER MAKES GOOD
"When I told Leo," Rickey continued, "he was stunned and unbelieving, then enormously but quietly pleased. I told him that I would arrange for him to report late for spring training. I made it clear that he was to decline any payment for his services. Treading softly, I mentioned that the boys he would be coaching were the finest our country had to offer. I suggested gently that any leader of such boys would, of course, have to be letter perfect in his conduct. Leo didn't blow up. He just nodded his head.
"When he reported to spring training camp, he was bursting with pride. He showed me a wrist watch the midshipmen had given him. He said, 'Mr. Rickey, I did it, I did it!'
"I said, 'You did half of it, Leo.'
"'What do you mean, half!' he demanded.
"To be a complete success in this undertaking, Leo, you must be invited back. If they ask you back for next season, then you may be sure you have done the job well."
"They did invite him back," he said. "And this time the midshipmen gave him a silver service. He had done the job—the whole job—and I rather think that this experience was a big turning point for Leo. It lifted him into associations he had never known before and he came away with increased confidence and self-assurance and, I am quite sure, a greater measure of self-respect."
(Years later, just before Leo Durocher was suspended from baseball for a year by Commissioner A. B. Chandler, Rickey called his staff together in the Brooklyn Dodgers' offices to say of his manager: "Leo is down. But we are going to stick by Leo. We are going to stick by Leo until hell freezes over!" Today, in a manner of speaking, it is Rickey who is down—in eighth place—and Leo who is up, riding high as manager of the world champions.)
Rickey straightened his tie. He was wearing a four-in-hand. Ordinarily, he wears a bow tie, but once a month he puts on a four-in-hand as a gesture of neckwear independence.
"More than a half-century spent in the game." Rickey mused, "and now it is suggested that I give thought to some of the ideas and innovations with which I have been associated. The question arises, 'Which of these can be said to have contributed most to making baseball truly our national game?'
"First, I should say, there was the mass production of ballplayers. The Cardinals were three years ahead of all the other clubs in establishing try-out camps. We looked at 4,000 boys a year. Then, of course, we had to have teams on which to place boys with varying degrees of ability and experience. That brought into being the farm system.
"There were other ideas not ordinarily remembered. With the St. Louis Browns, under Mr. Hedges, we originated the idea of Ladies Day, a very important step forward. Probably no other innovation did so much to give baseball respectability, as well as thousands of new fans.
"With the Cardinals, we developed the idea of the Knot Hole Gang. We were the first major league team to admit boys free to the ball park and again the idea was soon copied."
(In the beginning, boys joining the Cardinal Knot Hole Gang were required to sign a pledge to refrain from smoking and profanity—clearly the hand of Rickey.)
"These were ideas," Rickey went on, "and baseball was a vehicle in which such ideas might comfortably ride."
Rickey's eyes strayed to a framed motto hanging on the wall. It read: "He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool and he that dares not reason is a slave."
Rickey bent down and went rummaging through the lower drawers of his desk. In a moment he came up holding a slender book. The jacket read: "Slave and Citizen: the Negro in the Americas. By Frank Tannenbaum."
"This book," said Rickey, "is by a Columbia University professor. Let me read now just the concluding paragraph. It says, 'Physical proximity, slow cultural intertwining, the growth of a middle group that stands in experience and equipment between the lower and upper class; and the slow process of moral identification work their way against all seemingly absolute systems of values and prejudices. Society is essentially dynamic, and while the mills of God grind slow, they grind exceeding sure. Time will draw a veil over the white and black in this hemisphere, and future generations will look back upon the record of strife as it stands revealed in the history of the people of this New World of ours with wonder and incredulity. For they will not understand the issues that the quarrel was about.' "
THE ROBINSON CASE
Rickey reached for a pencil, wrote on the flyleaf of the book and pushed it across the desk. He leaned back in his chair and thought a moment. Then he sat straight up.
"Some honors have been tendered," he said, "some honorary degrees offered because of my part in bringing Jackie Robinson into the major leagues."
He frowned and shook his head vigorously.
"No, no, no. I have declined them all. To accept honors, public applause for signing a superlative ballplayer to a contract? I would be ashamed!"
He turned to look out the window and turned back.
"Suppose," he demanded, "I hear that Billy Jones down the street has attained the age of 21. Suppose I go to Billy and say, 'You come with me to the polling place.' And then at the polling place I take Billy by the arm and march up to the clerks and say, 'This is Billy Jones, native American, 21 years of age,' and I demand that he be given the right to cast a ballot!"
Rickey leaned over the desk, his eyes flashing.
"Would anyone but a lunatic expect to be applauded for that?"
It immediately became clear that although Rickey deprecated his right to applause, he had never minimized the difficulties of bringing the first Negro into organized baseball.
"I talked to sociologists," he said, "and to Negro leaders. With their counsel, I worked out what I considered to be the six essential points to be considered."
He started to count on his fingers.
"Number one," he said, "the man we finally chose had to be right off the field. Off the field.
"Number two, he had to be right on the field. If he turned out to be a lemon, our efforts would fail for that reason alone.
"Number three, the reaction of his own race had to be right.
"Number four, the reaction of press and public had to be right.
"Number five, we had to have a place to put him.
"Number six, the reaction of his fellow players had to be right.
"In Jackie Robinson, we found the man to take care of points one and two. He was eminently right off and on the field. We did not settle on Robinson until after we had invested $25,000 in scouting for a man whose name we did not then know.
"Having found Robinson, we proceeded to point five. We had to have a place to put him. Luckily, in the Brooklyn organization, we had exactly the spot at Montreal where the racial issue would not be given undue emphasis.
"To take care of point three, the reaction of Robinson's own race, I went again to the Negro leaders. I explained that in order to give this boy his chance, there must be no demonstrations in his behalf, no excursions from one city to another, no presentations or testimonials. He was to be left alone to do this thing without any more hazards than were already present. For two years the men I talked to respected the reasoning behind my requests. My admiration for these men is limitless. In the best possible way, they saw to it that Jackie Robinson had his chance to make it on his own.
"Point four, the reaction of press and public, resolved itself in the course of things, and point six, the reaction of his fellow players, finally—if painfully—worked itself out."
Rickey reached across the desk and tapped the Tannenbaum book.
"Time," he said, "time."
He despaired of his cigarette now and tossed it into the wastebasket. His eyes moved around the room and he murmured half to himself: "We are not going to let anything spoil sports in this country. Some of the things I read about boxing worry me, but things that are wrong will be made right...in time."
"I don't think anyone is worried about wrestling. Isn't it a rather good-natured sort of entertainment?"
He chuckled a little more, then frowned again.
"I am asked about the minor leagues. The cry is heard, 'The minors are dying!' I don't think so. The minors are in trouble but new ways will be found to meet new situations and new problems. Up to now, I confess, the major leagues have been unable to implement any effort to protect the minor leagues from the encroachment of major league broadcasts."
(A baseball man once said that Branch Rickey is constitutionally unable to tell a falsehood. "However," this man said, "sometimes he pours over the facts of a given case such a torrent of eloquence that the truth is all but drowned.")
The door opened and Rickey jumped to his feet. His eyes lit up as he cried: "Mother!"
In the doorway stood Mrs. Rickey, carrying a box of paints the size of a brief case.
"Well, Mother!" cried Rickey, coming around from behind the desk. "How did it go? Did you get good marks?"
Mrs. Rickey, a small, smiling woman, stood looking at her husband. Childhood sweethearts in Ohio, they have been married for 49 years.
Rickey pointed dramatically to the paintbox.
"Mother has joined a painting class!" he exclaimed. "At 73 years of age, Mother has gone back to school! Well, Mother? Did you recite or what? Do they give marks? What is the teacher like?"
CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
Mrs. Rickey walked to a chair and sat down. It was plain that she was accustomed to pursuing a policy of containment toward her husband.
"They don't give marks," she said quietly. "The teacher is very nice. He was telling us that painting opens up a whole new world. You see things and colors you never saw before."
Rickey was aghast.
"Wonderful!" he cried. "Isn't that just wonderful! Mother, we must celebrate. I'll take you to lunch!"
"All right," said Mrs. Rickey. "Where will we go?"
"The Duquesne Club," said Rickey.
"That'll be fine," said Mrs. Rickey.
(In sharply stratified Pittsburgh society, there are two standards by which to measure a man who stands at the very top: one is membership in the Duquesne Club, the other is a residence at Fox Chapel, the ultraexclusive Pittsburgh suburb. Rickey has both; the residence is an 18-room house set down on 100 acres.)
Rickey was the first to reach the sidewalk. He paced up and down waiting for Mrs. Rickey, flapping his arms against the cold, for he had forgotten to wear an overcoat that morning. Guido Roman, a tall, handsome Cuban who is Rickey's chauffeur, opened the car door.
"You want to get inside, Mr. Rickey?" he asked.
"No, Guido," said Rickey, blowing on his fingers, "I'm not cold."
A car drew up and stopped across the street. A tall, muscular young man got out.
Rickey peered sharply and ducked his head. "A thousand dollars this lad is a ballplayer," he muttered out of the side of his mouth. "But who is he, who is he?"
The young man came directly to Rickey.
"Mr. Rickey, you don't remember me," he said. "My name is George—!"
"Sure, I remember you, George!" Rickey exploded, thrusting out his hand. "You're a first baseman, right?"
"Yes, sir," said George, blushing with pleasure.
"Go right in the office and make yourself at home, George," Rickey said, beaming. "There's another first baseman in there named George—George Sisler. Say hello to him!"
"Say, thanks, Mr. Rickey," George said, hurrying to the office door.
In a moment Mrs. Rickey came out and the ride downtown in Rickey's Lincoln began. As the car pulled away from the curb, Rickey, a notorious back-seat driver, began a series of barked directions: "Right here, Guido! Left at the next corner, Guido! Red light, Guido!"
Guido, smiling and unperturbed, drove smoothly along. As the car reached the downtown business district, Rickey, peering this way and that, shouted, "Slow down, Guido!"
Guido slowed down and then Rickey whispered hoarsely: "There it is, Mother! Look!"
"What?" smiled Mrs. Rickey.
"The largest lamp store in the world! Right there! I inquired about the best place to buy a lamp and I was told that this place is the largest in the whole wide world! Right there!"
"We only want a two-way bed lamp," said Mrs. Rickey.
"I know," said Rickey. "But there's the place to get it. You could go all over the world and not find a bigger lamp store. Right turn here, Guido!"
"One way, Mr. Rickey," said Guido, cheerfully.
That was the signal for a whole comedy of errors, with Rickey directing and traffic cops vetoing a series of attempts to penetrate one-way streets and to execute left turns. Rickey grew more excited, Mrs. Rickey more calm, Guido more desperate as the Duquesne Club loomed and faded as a seemingly unattainable goal.
"Judas Priest!" Rickey finally exclaimed. "It's a perfectly simple problem! We want to go to the Duquesne Club!"
"I know how!" Guido protested, "I know the way!"
"Then turn, man, turn!"
"Get out of here!" yelled a traffic cop.
"For crying out loud!" roared Rickey. "Let's get out and walk."
"I'm not going to walk," said Mrs. Rickey, mildly. "We have a car. Let Guido go his way."
"Oh, all right," Rickey pouted. "But you'd think I'd never been downtown before!"
In a moment the car pulled up at the Duquesne Club and Rickey, serene again, jumped out and helped Mrs. Rickey from the car
"Take the car home, Guido," he said pleasantly. "We'll call you later."
"Yes, Mr. Rickey," said Guido, mopping his brow.
A group of women came out of the Duquesne Club as the Rickeys entered. The women nodded and smiled at Mrs. Rickey. Raising his hat, Rickey bowed low, then crouched to whisper hoarsely behind his hand:
"Classmates of yours, Mother?"
He stamped his foot and slapped his thigh, choking with laughter.
"One of them is in the painting class," said Mrs. Rickey placidly. "The others are in the garden club."
At the luncheon table on the second floor, Rickey ordered whitefish for Mrs. Rickey and roast beef for himself. There were no cocktails, of course; Rickey is a teetotaler.
("I shudder to think what might have happened if Branch had taken up drinking," a former associate has said. "He does nothing in moderation and I can see him facing a bottle of whiskey and shouting: 'Men, we're going to hit that bottle and hit it hard!'")
THE GREATEST PITCHERS
The luncheon order given, Rickey excused himself and made a brief telephone call at the headwaiter's desk. Returning to the table, he sat down and began to speak of pitchers.
"The greatest pitchers I have ever seen," he said, "were Christy Mathewson and Jerome Dean."
(Rickey likes to address a man by his proper given name. He is especially fond of referring to Dizzy Dean as "Jerome.")
"Mathewson," Rickey continued, "could throw every pitch in the book. But he was economical. If he saw that he could win a game with three kinds of pitches, he would use only three. Jerome, on the other hand, had a tendency to run in the direction of experimentation. Murry Dickson (formerly of the Pirates, now of the Phillies) has a fine assortment of pitches, but he feels an obligation to run through his entire repertory in every game."
The food had arrived and Rickey picked up knife and fork and, eying Mrs. Rickey closely, began to speak more rapidly.
"Yes," he said loudly, "Murry is the sort of pitcher who will go along splendidly until the eighth inning and then apparently say to himself: 'Oh, dear me, I have forgotten to throw my half-speed ball!' And then and there he will throw it."
Abruptly, Rickey made a lightning thrust with his fork in the direction of a pan-browned potato on the platter. Mrs. Rickey, alert for just such a stratagem, met the thrust with her own fork and they fenced for a few seconds in mid-air.
"Jane!" pleaded Rickey, abandoning the duel.
Mrs. Rickey deposited the potato on her own plate and passed over a small dish of broccoli.
"This will be better for you," she said quietly. "You know you're not to have potatoes."
Rickey grumbled: "I am weary of this diet. It is a cruel and inhuman thing."
"Eat the broccoli," Mrs. Rickey said.
"Jane," said Rickey, "there are times in a man's life when he wants above everything else in the world to have a potato."
"You get plenty to eat," said Mrs. Rickey. "Didn't you enjoy the meat patty at breakfast?"
Rickey shrugged his shoulders, conceding the point, and attacked his roast beef and broccoli with gusto.
"The subject of my retirement comes up from time to time," he said. "And to the direct question, 'When will you retire from baseball?' my answer is, 'Never!' But I qualify that. Now, I do foresee the day, likely next year, when I shall spend less time at my desk, at my office. I shall spend more time in the field, scouting, looking at prospects, and leave the arduous responsibilities of the general manager's position to other hands."
He looked admiringly at the baked apple before him. He put his hand on the pitcher of rich cream beside it and glanced inquiringly across the table. This time the veto was not invoked and, happily, Rickey drained the pitcher over his dessert.
After he had dropped a saccharin tablet in his coffee, he leaned back and smiled at Mrs. Rickey. Then he leaned forward again and rubbed his chin, seeming to debate something with himself. He grasped the sides of the table and spoke with the air of a conspirator.
"Here is something I intend to do," he said. "My next thing. A completely new idea in spring training."
He arranged the silverware to illustrate the story.
"A permanent training camp, designed and built for that purpose. Twin motels—not hotels, motels—with four playing fields in between as a sort of quadrangle. A public address system. Especially designed press accommodations. Now. One motel would be occupied by the Pittsburgh club, the other by an American League club. They would play a series of exhibition games and would draw better than two teams from the same league. Everything that went into the camp would be the result of our experience with training camps all through the years. It would be foolproof. And it would pay for itself because it would be operated for tourists after spring training. I have the land. At Fort Myers, Florida, the finest training site in the country for my money. I have an American League Club ready to go along with me. I have two thirds of the financial backing necessary."
THE SUMMING UP
Rickey leaned back in triumph, then came forward quickly again.
"Everybody concerned is ready to put up the cash now," he whispered, "except me!"
He paused for effect, then suddenly realized he had not said exactly what he intended. He burst into laughter.
"Sh-h-h," said Mrs. Rickey.
"What I mean," he said, sobering, "is that I can't go along with the plan until we have a contending ball club. But we'll get there. We'll put over this thing. It will revolutionize spring training."
It was time to get back to the office. Rickey was for sprinting down the stairs to the first floor, but Mrs. Rickey reminded him of his trick knee.
"Ah, yes, Mother," he said. "We will take the elevator."
On the street outside, Rickey remembered he had sent his car home.
"We'll get a cab down at the corner," he said. "I've got a meeting at the office. Where can I drop you, Mother?"
"Well," said Mrs. Rickey, "I thought I'd go look at some lamps."
"Oh, yes," Rickey exclaimed. "Go to that store I showed you. Mother, I understand they have the largest selection of lamps in town."
Mrs. Rickey looked at him and shook her head and smiled.
Rickey, already thinking of something else, studied the sidewalk. He raised his head and spoke firmly over the traffic.
"The game of baseball," he said, "has given me a life of joy. I would not have exchanged it for any other."
He took Mrs. Rickey by the arm. They turned and walked down the street together and vanished into the crowd.