Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman

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He was not much of a player and not much more of a manager, but by the time Branch Rickey (1881–1965) finished with baseball, he had revolutionized the sport—not just once but three times. In this definitive biography of Rickey—the man sportswriters dubbed “The Brain,” “The Mahatma,” and, on occasion, “El Cheapo”—Lee Lowenfish tells the full, colorful story of a life that forever changed the face of America’s game.

From 1917 to 1942, Rickey was the mastermind behind the Saint Louis Cardinals who enabled small-market clubs to compete with the rich and powerful by creating the farm system . Under his direction in the 1940s, the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first true “America’s team.” By signing Jackie Robinson and other black players, he single-handedly thrust baseball into the forefront of the civil rights movement. Lowenfish evokes the peculiarly American complex of God, family, and baseball that informed Rickey’s actions and his accomplishments. His book offers an intriguing, richly detailed portrait of a man whose life is itself a crucial chapter in the history of American business, sport, and society.

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Editorial Reviews

AARP The Magazine
This biography of the Brooklyn Dodgers executive, best known for hiring Jackie Robinson, is set against the larger story of evolving social changes in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.
Lowenfish . . . presents a three-dimensional portrait . . . the depth and thoroughness of Lowenfish's research makes this the definitive biography of baseball's most influential executive.
—Wes Lukowsky
Los Angeles Times
A fascinating glimpse of the game's roots . . . Lowenfish's take is detailed and nuanced . . . Where Lowenfish is at his best is inexplicating the complex and often contradictory impulses that drove his subject . . .
—David L. Ulin
New York Daily News
Our heartiest recommendation . . . a fitting and admirable tribute to the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line [by] a respected baseball scholar. . . . chock full of revelations and great anecdotes on Rickey's life.
—Bill Madden
Trenton Times
It took Lowenfish 10 years to research and write this book, and that devotion and dedication has paid off. . . . An important biography.
&3151;Rick Freeman
Library Journal

Though this book is intended as the definitive biography of the man who developed baseball's farm system and who desegregated the major leagues, the chapter titles—e.g.,"A Branch Grows in Brooklyn" and "A Branch Doesn't Grow Fast Enough in Pittsburgh"—may not inspire confidence. Lowenfish is firmly in the pro-Rickey camp on the question of the man's motives in signing black ball players but gives equal attention to every phase of an extensive career. For thorough baseball collections.

—Bob Cottrell, Margaret Heilbrun, Paul Kaplan, Gilles Renaud Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced, balancing the issue of integration with the economic and competitive imperatives of running a professional baseball team. . . . Where Lowenfish is at his best is in explicating the complex and often contradictory impulses that drove his subject, as well as his almost evangelical sense of self. . . . All this leaves us with a question—or a set of questions—about who Rickey really was. To Lowenfish’s credit, he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light. . . . Without him, baseball would not exist as we know it. America would be a different place as well. In these pages Lowenfish traces the evolution of that America through the filter of a remarkable life.”—David L. Ulin, LA Times Book Review
Boston Globe
Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, by Lee Lowenfish, provides a thorough account of the life, character, and exploits of this teetotaler Ohio farm boy, the grandson of a horse trader, and a true ‘conservative revolutionary.’”—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe
New York Daily News
“[O]ur heartiest recommendation: Branch Rickey – Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish. A fitting and admirable tribute to the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color line. Lowenfish, a respected baseball scholar, reportedly spent 10 years researching and writing this book that, at 600 pages, is chock full of revelations and great anecdotes on Rickey’s life.”—Bill Madden, NY Daily News
“It’s an impressive achievement in historical reporting on a unique character and will serve scholars for decades to come.”—Neil Best, Newsday
Brooklyn Spectator
“If you read one baseball book this summer, make it Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman by Lee Lowenfish. The author did a remarkable amount of research in bringing to life this incredible baseball man. . . . Lee Lowenfish is to be congratulated for this monumental work. . . . [O]ne of the best baseball books I’ve read.”—Tom Knight, Brooklyn Spectator

“[A] solid . . . biography of the complicated man who brought Robinson into organized baseball.”

—Daniel Okrent, Fortune


“Lowenfish . . . meticulously researches Rickey’s life and presents a three-dimensional portrait of a man who, in addition to his baseball acumen, was a highly religious, socially conscious visionary. . . . Though much has been written about Rickey, the depth and thoroughness of Lowenfish’s research make this the definitive biography of baseball’s most influential executive.”

Baseball America

"Lowenfish weaves the American trifecta of God, family and baseball into Rickey’s fascinating life. The significant moments that forever changed the landscape of baseball are all well documented, researched and detailed. So too is the portrait of a man whose life is itself a crucial part of our society and history."

Nassau Herald

“The story of the man who made the Dodgers the pride of Brooklyn makes fascinating reading for any student of baseball history. . . . The details of how Rickey laid the groundwork have rarely been recounted with such a dramatic eye to detail.”

—Richard Tedesco, Nassau Herald

The Weekly Standard

“As we mark the 60th anniversary of the breaking of the color line in major league baseball, it’s fair to conclude that Jackie Robinson turned out to be more than Branch Rickey had expected, that Rickey proved to be more than Lee Lowenfish expected, and that this biography will exceed his readers’ expectations. . . . Lowenfish has clearly been captivated by Rickey and by what might be termed the Rickey spell. Thus fascinated, Lowenfish has been able to communicate that fascination to readers.”

—John C. Chalberg, The Weekly Standard

NY Yankees Magazine

"Lowenfish delves into more than just Rickey's connection to the two signature moments of the formation of the minor league farm system and the breaking of baseball's color barrier. . . . [He includes] Rickey's playing days and time as a manager through his tenure as a baseball executive.".”


"This is a knowing and informed account of a baseball visionary, a book that has the feel, confidence, and gravitas of one destined to become a standard reference work. An enthralling and engaging achievement."

—Brent Masters, Aethlon

“This tale of Rickey’s life has been exhaustively investigated, meticulously crafted and painstakingly constructed. And it also happens to be a heck of a read about one of the most important figures in the history of the game.”

—Doug Miller,

Bob Costas

“Just about everyone knows that Branch Rickey played a major role in modern baseball’s most important development, the breaking of the color line. Yet, even if you somehow put that aside, ‘The Mahatma’ would still rank as one of baseball's most influential and enduringly significant figures. It’s that complete Branch Rickey, ‘Rickey in Full,’ that Lee Lowenfish presents here.”

James Edward Miller

Branch Rickey is a very well-written, extremely detailed and very interesting study of one of the most influential baseball men in American history. It also achieves a level of objectivity that few biographies ever reach. . . . The book is a first-rate piece of sport history.”

—James Edward Miller, author of The Baseball Business: Pursuing Pennants and Profits in Baltimore

Ray Robinson

“Lee Lowenfish’s meticulously researched book tells us precisely why we care to remember Branch Rickey, baseball’s conservative revolutionary. Rickey himself would have appreciated this colorful and measured remembrance by one of the game's wisest historians.”

—Ray Robinson, author of Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time

Richard Crepeau

“[Lowenfish] captures all the intrigue, personal animosities, and political machinations loose in baseball . . . and captures the intensity of the times.”

—Richard Crepeau, author of Baseball: America's Diamond Mind

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803224537
  • Publisher: UNP - Bison Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 728
  • Sales rank: 625,119
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Lowenfish, a jazz and baseball journalist and historian of American culture, teaches sport history in Columbia University’s graduate Sports Management program in New York City. He is the author of The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball’s Labor Wars, and he collaborated on Tom Seaver’s The Art of Pitching.
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Table of Contents

Introduction v

List of Illustrations xv

Acknowledgments xvii

List of Abbreviations xxiii

Prologue 1

Part I The Making of a Baseball Brain, 1899-1918 11

1 Diamond in the Rough 13

2 From Catcher to Coach 38

3 Branch Rickey and the St. Louis Browns 61

4 "War Overshadows Everything" 88

Part II The St. Louis Prime of Branch Rickey, 1919-1942 107

5 Necessity Is the Mother of Invention 109

6 Years of Contention and Frustration 129

7 That Championship Season 155

8 The Near-dynastic Years and a Place in Who's Who 176

9 Another Championship Season and Then Decline 203

10 Prelude to the Gashouse Gang 224

11 The Triumph of the Gashouse Gang 239

12 Years of Frustration 264

13 More Years of Loss, and Farewells to Dizzy Dean and Charley Barrett 284

14 Going Out on Top 300

Part III The Birth of the Mahatma, 1943-1950 321

15 A Branch Grows in Brooklyn 323

16 The Secret Path to the "Young Man from the West" 349

17 An Historic Meeting in Brooklyn 371

18 Prelude to a Pennant 385

19 When All Hell Almost Broke Loose 407

20 When Most of Heaven Rejoiced 427

21 A Year of Disappointment, Odd Choices, and an Adieu to Leo 446

22 A Branch Bends in Brooklyn 464

23 A Branch Is Chopped in Brooklyn 482

Part IV "My Greatest Thrill in Baseball Hasn't Happened Yet," 1951-1965 503

24 A Branch Doesn't Grow Fast Enough in Pittsburgh 505

25 Mr. Rickey Prepares to Do the Continental 533

26 The Continental Dance Card Goes Blank 557

27 Meet Me in St. Louis, Final Chorus 580

Notes 599

Bibliography 643

Index 655

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