On Oct. 23, 1945, Branch Rickey made a ground-breaking move that would define his legacy as much as it would Major League Baseball’s in the decades that followed: On this day nearly 70 years ago, Rickey signed Kansas City Monarchs star Jackie Robinson to the Montreal Royals farm team for a $3,500 signing bonus and $600 a month. He would make his major league debut for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
Apparently no one followed any of the Dodgers beat writers on Twitter, because The Post didn’t take notice of the story until Oct. 25 — two days later –when editors ran an Associated Press story headlined “Ricky defending… Dodger Boss Confident Negro Star Will Click.”
“Branch Rickey thinks Jackie Robinson, the first negro to crash the portals of modern organized baseball, is “an outstanding prospect” who should make big league grade…”
Rickey was right, of course: in addition to “crashing portals” — whatever seemingly bruising activity that might be — Robinson grew into one of the best players of that and the next decade, a .311 career hitter with exhilarating speed who smacked more than 1,500 hits and scored nearly 1,000 runs in his 10-year career.
In that Oct. 25 article, Rickey said Robinson told him he “didn’t want to go any place he won’t be welcome,” and emphasized that no pressure from outside advocacy groups had influenced his decision to sign the Negro Leagues star. “I considered only the Negro himself and the Brooklyn Baseball Club,” Rickey said.
The article also included the controversy over the fact that the Monarchs were not paid for their former player. Then-Commissioner of baseball “Happy” Chandler explained to the AP that was because “there is no Negro League as far as I’m concerned. Negro baseball is in the zone of a racket and there is not a circuit that could be admitted to organized ball, Clark Griffith of Washington to the contrary.”
Chandler referred to Griffith, the Senators longtime owner and shorter-time manager, who blasted the uncompensated signing of Robinson at the time, saying simply that the Dodgers “should pay for him” and that Major League teams could not “act like outlaws” in signing Negro League stars.
Some in baseball questioned Rickey’s motivations, too. On Oct. 26, the Post ran a story about the deal’s approval by reluctant Commissioner of Minor League Baseball, W.G. Bramham. Its opening sentence:
“Minor League Baseball Commissioner W.G. Bramham, lashing out at the “carpet-bagger stripe of the white race,” said today he would approve the signing of a Negro player by Montreal, though it might prove harmful to the game.”
The Honorable Bramham — a North Carolina judge who at one point owned the Durham Bulls — criticized Rickey for casting himself as a savior to African-Americans, who “when left alone and aided by his own unselfish friends of the white race, he will work out his own salvation in all lines of endeavor.”
On Oct. 27, the Post ran a column on its editorial page entitled “Negroes in Baseball.”
“The career in organized baseball of Jackie Robinson, a Negro shortstop, will be worth close attention as an excellent test of whether all the recent laws and rulings aimed at an end of racial discrimination really reflect a change of popular feeling.”
Last night in Kansas City, where Robinson played his Negro League games, the Royals — incidentally the name of the minor league team to which he was signed — beat the Giants 7-2 in Game 2 of the World Series. One African-American player started for either team in that game, Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain, who was 2 for 4 with two runs scored.