Branch Rickey, Genius of Baseball, Succumbs

Article taken from The Marion Star, December 20, 1965

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Branch Rickey, the front-office genius who remade baseball over a span of 50 years, died Thursday night after lingering 26 days in a coma which overtook him while he was talking about courage.

Rickey had told a story of physical courage as he acknowledged his induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 13.

"Now I'm going to tell you a story from the Bible about spiritual courage," he said.

But he faltered, fell back into his sea and slipped on the floor. He never regained consciousness. His brain was damaged when his breathing stopped momentarily, but his heart picked up its rhythm again.

Through 26 days there was little change. Thursday seemed no different, but at 10 p.m. he died. He would have been 84 on Dec. 20.

Mrs. Rickey, who had been a grammar school sweetheart in Ohio, and Mrs. Stephen Adams one of their five daughters, had just left the hospital after one of their day-long vigils. Mrs. Rickey had been there every day and the daughters had been with her by turns.

The body was taken to St. Louis, where the Rickeys have lived since he rejoined the Cardinals in 1962 as a consultant.

Rickey had a heart attack as long ago as 1958 and left the hospital in St. Louis to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony in Columbia. He had been running a temperature up to 105 and was supposed to return to the hospital in St. Louis for further study to determine the cause.

He was a master of baseball - playing strategy, the men who could make it work, the trade, promotion, the front-office maneuver - but two things will always stand out:

He devised the farm system and raised the St. Louis Cardinals from rags to World Series riches. He broke the major leagues' unwritten color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson into the Brooklyn organization in 1945 and put him on first for the Dodgers in 1947.

Robinson's Protection

"He was like a piece of mobile armor, and he would throw himself and his advice in the way of anything likely to hurt me," Robinson said.

Baseball men called Rickey's farm system a chain gang, but Rickey contended it saved baseball.

The picture of Rickey in his prime is the picture of a big, craggy, tousled man, chomping on a cigar, sitting behind the batting cage at spring training camp with a secretary on one side taking notes and the team's manager at his other elbow.

Rickey joined the Cardinals in 1917 after almost 4 years as manager of the St. Louis Browns, but he put in two years in the Army as a major in the chemical warfare before he took up the reins as manager. Rickey moved entirely into the front office in 1925. In 1926, the Cardinals won their first pennant and the World Series.

The Cardinals won seven pennants and five world championships as Rickey plumbed the talents of such as Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick, Leo Durocher, Frank Frisch and Jim Bottomley.

Rickey moved to Brooklyn in 1942 as part owner. The Dodgers picked up two pennants in eight years before he sold out for a million dollars. At 69, he signed on as general manager of the last-place Pittsburg Pirates.

Work Brought Pennant

In five years he could not lift them and bowed out; but five years later, in 1960, his work bore fruit. The pirates won their first pennant in 33 years and beat the Yankees in the series.

Rickey was 81 when he rejoined the Cardinals. He quit after they won the world championship in 1964.

He was born in Stockdale, Ohio, taught school for two years at $35 a month, worked his way through Ohio Wesleyan University, part of the time by working as director of athletics and baseball coach at Allegheny College. He studied law at Ohio State and Michigan, coaching baseball on the side.

He was a catcher for the New York Americans, the Browns and Cincinnati between 1904 and 1907, when his arm went bad and 13 runners stole bases on him in one game.

He practiced law a year in Boise, Idaho, but was back at baseball within a year as a coach at Michigan and scout for the Browns.

Branch Rickey Jr. died in 1961 after a long illness. He was a vice president of the Pirates.