The day was August 28, 1945 and the scene was a non descript office in Brooklyn, NY. Branch was the 64 year old GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He began his crucial convo with Jackie kinda awkwardly. “Do you have a girlfriend,” led things off. “Do you know why you were brought here,” was Branch’s quick followup. Jackie had no idea. He thought he was being called up to play for the fictitious Brooklyn Brown Dodgers team. Branch, you see, had been scouting Jackie in secret. He was recruiting the best athlete with the best attitude. Branch was an innovator that makes Billy Beane’s recent heroics look kinda bland.
You see, Branch Rickey wanted to innovate by integrating. Racially torn America was hardly ready. He knew he would only get one shot at getting this most difficult innovation into the world of baseball. Branch believed he could integrate the major leagues but it would take the right man to make it happen. So, he focused on Jackie’s character as much as his bat speed, fielding prowess, or skills around the base path. “I know you’re a good player,” Rickey began. “What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.” “I’m looking,” Rickey continued, “for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” Rickey knew Jackie would have to tolerate abuse after abuse with the superhuman commitment to never, ever hit back.
Knowing Jackie shared his Christian faith, Rickey brought a book with him that day titled Life of Christ, by Giovanni Papini. He flipped to the passage where Papini puts his spin on the Sermon on the Mount and refers to it as the most surprising, shocking teaching from the Bible. Rickey wanted Jackie to understand the kinda worldview it was gonna take to keep him from retailiating against the racial hatred he was sure to face. Jackie knew it. Jackie knew this was indeed humanly impossible, with God’s help – entirely possible.
So, as Eric Metaxas writes in his book titled 7 Men And The Secret to Their Greatness, “Jackie Roosevelt Robinson and Branch Rickey shook hands. And there, in that fourth floor office in Brooklyn to which Jackie had ridden in a whites – only elevator, under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, history was made. It was a momentous day not only for baseball but for America.”
Jackie would make history. Jackie would prove he was strong – strong enough to not fight back once over the course of 151 games during his first major league season. Thanks Jackie and Branch for modeling the way, embracing pain and suffering, and modeling truth in LOVE. Thanks for showing a hurting world that love conquers all. Thanks for the civil sCORE. Thanks for innovating by integrating. Today, American leader, think about where your system could use a little innovation by integrating. We’ve come a long way since 1945 and we’re in need of some Branch/Robinson like leaders to take us further along the road less traveled. What are you doing to integrate, friend? Good…