|Book Review: Branch Rickey - Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on August 03, 2007
Title: Branch Rickey – Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman
Author: Lee Lowenfish
Publisher: Nebraska Press
History remembers Branch Rickey as one of the sharpest minds ever to grace a front office. He is known for creating the modern-day farm system and signed Jackie Robinson to become the first player to break the color barrier. Both achievements have made a lasting impact on baseball, but took quite a bit of gumption, hard work, and intellect to make happen.
Lee Lowenfish’s book, Branch Rickey – Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, tells the story of Rickey’s life. It is a wonderfully written tale that begins with Rickey’s days as a schoolboy in Ohio and ends with Rickey’s death in 1965. Lowenfish tells not only the story of Rickey, which itself would be pleasurable enough, but of the St. Louis Cardinals and their players, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Rickey’s family. He has culled many sources for his book; evidence for that can be found in the bibliography section at the end.
The story begins by following Rickey’s childhood in rural Ohio, a budding baseball star, a devout catcher, and football player, who becomes a member of the Ohio Wesleyan baseball and football teams. All of that is taken away, however, when Rickey plays for a semi-pro baseball team and is deemed athletically ineligible. He was only trying to pay his way through college.
Since the team members appreciated his ferocity, the school named him coach of both the baseball and football teams, both of which go through successful seasons. He taught a team-first approach and a work ethic to all of his athletes. That would carry on throughout the remainder of his life.
From his alma mater of Ohio Wesleyan, Rickey became a coach at Michigan, leading the blue and gold baseball team to great heights. The Ferocious Gentleman tired of collegiate athletes after four seasons at that level with Michigan. That’s when the portion of life that baseball fans know him for began.
Originally a member of the St. Louis Browns, it was his time with the St. Louis Cardinals that made Rickey well known. Faced with the difficult challenge of making a small market team competitive, Rickey created the farm system. Previously, the minor leagues sold their players to major league teams for huge profits, rather than being owned to do that. Owing several clubs allowed Rickey to sign talented players at bargain prices and put together several very competitive teams.
Rickey then spent time in Brooklyn, signing second baseman Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color barrier in 1947. He also drafted Roberto Clemente while with the Pittsburgh Pirates. These two moves have made baseball not only the National Pastime, but really the worldwide sport that it is today.
The ferocious gentleman has made an everlasting impact on the sport of baseball and Lowenfish’s novel is the wonderful story of how that happened. I give the book three balls out of four.
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