A year ago, the Library of Congress finished digitizing nearly 2,000 scouting reports written by Branch Rickey, the former Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates general manager who helped break Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 by signing Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract two years earlier.
The reports, which include blunt assessments of players such as Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski, comprise a small fraction of the Rickey papers in the Library’s collection, but provide a fascinating window into the mind of one of baseball’s shrewdest scouts. Thanks to a horde of volunteers, 14 years’ worth of Rickey’s assessments are now more accessible and searchable than ever before.
In October, the Library of Congress launched By the People, an online platform where anyone is invited to transcribe, review, and tag digitized images of manuscripts and typed materials from various collections to make them more discoverable by the general public. Since then, more than 4,000 volunteers have helped transcribe some 30,000 pages, including letters to Abraham Lincoln, parts of Clara Barton’s diaries, the personal papers of NAACP co-founder Mary Church Terrell and writings by disabled Civil War veterans.
Nearly 300 contributors transcribed and reviewed all 1,926 pages of Rickey’s scouting reports from 1951 to 1964 over the past four months, making that collection the first of five By the People campaigns to be completed.
“He took different conventions at different times in how he described what he was observing,” said Meghan Ferriter, a senior innovation specialist at the Library of the Congress and the program lead for By the People, whose team conducted a text analysis of Rickey’s reports. “He put in scouting reports for every month [from 1951 to 1964]. It’s interesting insight into what it was like to be constantly recruiting players.”
Ferriter reports the most common word in Rickey’s scouting reports was “good” (1,902 instances) — “He is no good in any way and should have his unconditional release,” Rickey wrote of former minor leaguer Pedro Ballester in 1955 — followed closely by “ball” (1,841).
Jeff Flannery, head of the reference and reader services section of the manuscript division at the Library of Congress, has been interested in Rickey’s papers since he began working at the Library in 1985. As curator of the Rickey collection, Flannery helped lead the effort to digitize the scouting reports last year. After the crowdsourced effort to transcribe the reports, searching the collection for “Washington” will turn up several former Senators players, including outfielder Don Lock.
“A hard ball to Lock in center field on the ground — this fellow played it with one hand,” Rickey wrote on July 16, 1963. “He must not give a damn.”
One of Flannery’s favorite scouting reports is dated April 7, 1964, the year before Rickey died.
“Can’t throw, can’t run, can’t hit,” Rickey wrote that day of St. Louis Cardinals minor league catcher Bart Zeller, who would make his major league debut on May 21, 1970 and played one inning as a defensive replacement. Zeller never appeared in a major league game again.
Flannery said scouting reports account for three of the 87 boxes of papers in the Library’s Rickey collection. There are no plans to digitize the rest of the collection, but the original documents are available in the Library’s manuscript reading room.
“The scouting reports are great and were one of the first completed projects, which is a testament to the baseball research community,” Flannery said. “Rickey’s other papers are so much richer and deeper than the scouting reports. I encourage anyone who has interest in baseball to come in and consult the collection, which concentrates on his baseball career, but also as a public speaker and lecturer. He was a character.”
Meanwhile, Ferriter said roughly 20,000 of the 30,000 pages transcribed from other collections as part of the By the People campaign are awaiting review by volunteers. For more information, visit www.crowd.loc.gov.
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