Almost every sporting event in the U.S. has been postponed, due to the pandemic. To help fill the void, the Defense Department takes a look at sports heroes who also served.
Branch Rickey was an Army officer in the Chemical Warfare Service during World War I. In his unit, coincidentally, were future baseball greats Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. Rickey would also take a place in baseball history, thanks to his decision to do the right thing.
In October 1945, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey signed infielder Jackie Robinson, an African American, for the Dodgers’ minor league organization. Robinson’s later success with the Dodgers from 1947 to 1956 led other owners to seek Black talent.
This was before the U.S. military integrated, which happened July 26, 1948, after President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, committing the government to integrating the then-segregated military.
At the time, no statute barred Blacks from playing professional baseball. However, it was an unwritten rule among club owners that they were not welcome.
Rickey was said to have appreciated the service and sacrifices African Americans made during World Wars I and II, and was eager to enlist their services in baseball.
He also remembered a Black player from the baseball team he coached at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1903 and 1904 who was denied hotel accommodations. The incident was said to have made him furious, and he personally intervened to let the player spend the night there.
Rickey later said: ‘’I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.’’ Then, there was the business-practical element. The Negro Leagues had a lot of talent, which didn’t go unnoticed by Rickey.
Incidentally, Rickey and Robinson were brothers ... that is, brothers in arms. Robinson served in the Army during World War II.
Some of Rickey’s accomplishments, milestones:
In 1902, he played professional football for the Shelby Blues of the Ohio League, which later became known as the National Football League.
He was manager and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1919 to 1942 and helped create the team’s logo, which is still in use today.
His teams won World Series championships in 1926, 1931, 1934 and 1942 and National League pennants in 1928, 1930, 1947 and 1949.