Friday, September 5, 2008

Branch Rickey

The plan, at this early stage, is to use Fridays as a day to think outside the box and come up with some names that aren’t necessarily obvious for this site.

I’m a sports guy, so I’m going to use my first couple of posts to pay tribute to a few sports figures who, by thinking about the game in a different manner, advanced the game in some significant way.

My first hero is therefore Branch Rickey (1881-1965). Branch Rickey was a long-time baseball man who played briefly in the major leagues and managed for a little while longer, before graduating to the front office. As the business manager for the St. Louis Browns in the late 1920’s, Rickey is credited with inventing the system that is now known as the minor leagues, in which formerly independent teams affiliated themselves with a parent club from the major leagues.

But fans of baseball know that this is not why Branch Rickey is so famous. Rickey is best known for his time as the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. During this time, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to be the first African-American player in the major leagues. Robinson debuted in 1947 and was named the Most Valuable Player of the league in 1949. In signing Robinson, Rickey revolutionized the labor market for major league baseball players. Robinson’s and the Dodgers' success prompted other teams to change their labor practices.

Credit has been given to Rickey for having an ideological motivation behind his integration of baseball. This may or may not be true, but what we do know is that, by taking this bold step, he proved himself to be a better manager than all of his peers. He identified an underutilized resource, the many talented players trapped in the Negro Leagues, and accessed the resource to improve his team. The Dodgers’ early success was noted by rival GMs and integration spread rapidly around the league. The teams that integrated the fastest outperformed those that delayed(1), and this success guaranteed full integration across all of baseball’s franchises. (The Boston Red Sox (1959) were the last to integrate)

Branch Rickey was an innovator. His innovations ranged from training methods and equipment to the minor leagues, to a revolution in the labor market for players. When Rickey finally left baseball in 1955, he left the game in radically better shape than he found it. Baseball is today a multi-billion dollar industry, and Rickey’s minor league system today consists approximately 245 teams in towns across the United States. Branch Rickey has often been identified as a hero for integrating baseball. But for all of his accomplishments, Branch Rickey should also be recognized as a Hero of Capitalism.

Rickey’s Wiki
Rickey’s Hall of Fame Bio
Rickey’s Baseball Reference Page
Lee Lowenfish, Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman

(1) Brian L. Goff, Robert E. McCormick and Robert D. Tollison, Racial Integration as an Innovation: Empirical Evidence from Sports Leagues, The American Economist Review, Vol 92, No. 1 (March, 2002)

Jackie Robinson

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