The Man Who Discovered an Icon (3:25 min)
Curator: Jeff Flannery
Week of: January 11, 2010
These two letters written by baseball's Branch Rickey illustrate his incredible instincts when it came to evaluating talent and the close relationship he developed with Jackie Robinson.
Scouting Don Drysdale
Throughout his career Branch Rickey was known for his recognition of baseball talent and its subsequent development, especially through the farm system, which he pioneered. He joined the Pittsburgh Pirates relatively late in life, but in the evidence of his 1954 scouting report on the 18-year-old Don Drysdale (1936-1993), his baseball instincts were as sharp as ever. Rickey wrote that Drysdale had "a lot of artistry" and a fastball that was "way above average." He deemed the young pitcher "a definite prospect." Drysdale went on to meet and even exceed Rickey's expectations—he was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1984 (but never played for the Pirates). As the handwritten annotation at the bottom of the report indicates, Drysdale signed with the Dodgers, for whom his father was a scout.
Jackie Robinson's Career
Branch Rickey recognized the stellar qualities of Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) as a person and player. He fostered Robinson's career, and helped end racial segregation in Major League Baseball. Rickey hoped Robinson might help break barriers in the administrative side of professional baseball as well. When Rickey left the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, Robinson wrote a warm letter thanking Rickey for his friendship. In this response, Rickey returned the sentiment and suggested that Robinson should be "considered for administrative work in baseball, particularly in the direction of field management." However, when Robinson retired in 1957 he became a baseball broadcast analyst and entered into various business ventures. Speaking shortly before his death, Robinson urged that African Americans be hired as managers of major league teams—a break-through that would not occur until 1975. For his achievements, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, two of the highest honors in the United States.