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Branch Rickey (Penguin Lives) Hardcover – 17 Mar 2011
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About the Author
Jimmy Breslin was born in Jamaica, Queens. He is the author of multiple bestselling and critically acclaimed books, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. He lives in New York City. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
These "Lives" books are not meant to be exhaustive biographies. Generally, there are no indices, source notes. Rather, the author provides a quite selective bibliography for readers wanting fuller treatment. The mission of the "Lives" books, rather, is to sketch the full life, and home in on significant, inspiring acts of the subject that truly made a positive difference in the world. The several I have read, including this one, have the sense of a masterful story-teller chatting knowingly with me across a kitchen table.
Enter Breslin, an icon himself, who for more than 55 years has moved us to tears and laughter and greater understanding. His selection to treat Rickey really is "beautiful." By story's end, Penguin's choice of Rickey as the inaugural sports figure in the series--ahead of Robinson, Ruth, Thorpe--also seems totally appropriate. As Breslin shows, without Rickey doggedly pursuing his vision of integration against many foes, a decade (or more) might have passed unchanged.
What led Rickey to dissent from all 15 other baseball owners (Breslin provides their ridiculously pious and hypocritical "Statement on Race") and dedicate himself and his team to integration? Breslin reveals Rickey as a dedicated Methodist, a proponent of fairness for all, with an eye for talent (he champions a lanky young freshman named George Sisler; years later, Rickey and super scout Clyde Sukeforth seize on Robinson, but only after subjecting him to a four-hour grilling, "Will you have the guts to turn away?"; the recounting of that meeting is riveting). As do a number of others in the Penguin series, Rickey radiates as a true visionary. Not only was breaking the color bar the right thing to do morally; it also was great business. Rickey's every act in that direction was purposeful, as Breslin shows us a man who never relied on luck. "Luck," Rickey said, "is the residue of design."
So before Robinson could take the field in a Dodgers uniform and triumph over so much hostility, Rickey carefully built a new infrastructure. He steadfastly courted politicians to pass first a fair employment law and then to mobilize their constituencies; he spoke to African-American groups; he courageously ignored the racist sports writers of the time; he reasoned with some of his own racist players. "Proximity" was part of his vision for success--by being proximate to a player of Robinson's immense talent and focus, the rightness of integration would manifest itself. He was in his late 60's by then, had a long and successful career in baseball, but was determined to make this happen. And in Robinson he had a great chance.
With his unique style, wry humor and grace, gift for incisive anecdotes and riffs, and flair for embellishing dialogue without taking undue liberties, Breslin succeeds in letting his remarkable subject's life achievement show and tell itself. In so doing, Breslin's gem takes a rightful place among Penguin's other lives who really mattered.
All of which leads to the main problem of the book -- it''s "biography light" and Breslin often makes the book about him -- important folks he knew and when he knew them -- rather than about Rickey, what readers are interested in. He even gives us a blow-by-blow account of Jimmy's quitting smoking. As if I cared. Bet he'd be almost as bored by my story about quitting smoking as I was by his.