I was very happy to see Branch Rickey by Jimmy Breslin. Breslin is a no-nonsense author who gets quickly to the heart of the matter in his many books, and major league team owner/general manager Rickey is a complicated and important figure in the history of baseball. I am also encouraged to see that it is a new title in the Penguin Lives series. It has been four years since Viking has issued a new hardcover title in this series that asks acclaimed authors to write short biographies of important cultural, political, and historical figures. Among my favorites are Elvis Presley by Bobbie Ann Mason, Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley, and Buddha by Karen Armstrong. These talented authors tell key stories that describe essential characters and reveal why their subject remain important long after their lives. (Only George Herbert Walker Bush still lives.)
Breslin does not disappoint. In his distinctive voice, he first apologizes for only meeting Rickey once and having to rely on other sources for his stories. But he found people who had first-hand knowledge (or close to it) and makes Rickey come to life for the reader.
Of course, a story about Branch Rickey is a story about Jackie Robinson and the breaking of the "gentleman's agreement" to exclude black players from major league baseball. Breslin admires Rickey's great deed without idolizing the man, whose Brooklyn Dodgers did benefit greatly from being the first team to draw from an obvious talent pool. Rickey also made a lot of money as the partial owner of the Dodgers. By pitching the act as just good business instead of good deeds, he was eventually able to sway his banker, manager, players, and competitors to his way of thinking - seven years before Brown vs. the Board of Education and seventeen years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Some historians argue that the integration of baseball was a key landmark in progress of race relations, which is not to say that it was an easy and immediately successful experiment. It would be another three decades before a black became a manager.
At only 146 pages, Brancy Rickey can be read in an evening. It is also easy to carry and will pack nicely on a trip. Whatever, it is worth making time to read.
Breslin, Jimmy. Branch Rickey. Lipper/Viking, 2011. ISBN 9780670022496.