Friday, July 3, 2020

This is what a genius does in times of trouble.

The gent featured here in living, added color is a young, raggedy armed catcher during his one season as a New York Highlander.  After batting .182 on the season and allowing 13 consecutive stolen bases in a single game—still a major-league record—young Branch Rickey would depart these environs for the next 36 years.

When he returned, he was already a widely acclaimed genius, whose farm-fed St Louis Cardinals had been the only team anywhere on the planet able to consistently stand up to the Yankees for the previous two decades.  Brooklyn's dysfunctional ownership allowed him to buy a quarter of the Dodgers, knowing his reputation as a notorious skinflint, and thinking he would keep expenses down during the drowsy war years.

Sure enough, "El Cheapo," as the knights of the press box quickly labeled him, peddled off some of the Dodgers' older and more expensive talent.

But he also did this:  Rickey expanded the Dodgers' recruiting budget, setting up tryout camps all over the country, even as the rest of baseball was laying off most scouts and going into hibernation.

"They figured there wasn't any sense in signing players who would soon be drafted," Rickey aide Fresco Thompson remembered.  "Mr. Rickey said, 'We'll gamble.  We'll sign every young player we can get our hands on.'"

Or as Rickey himself told scout Clyde Sukeforth, "If we win the war, it will be worth it.  If we lose the war, what difference does it make?"

The Mahatma was only kidding.  He never expected America to lose World War II.  But he did sign young players, a whole dynasty worth of them:  Ralph Branca, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Clem Labine, Rex Barney, George Shuba, and 16-year-old Duke Snider.

They were about to be drafted?  So what?

Let the Army feed and clothe them for the next couple years while they grew and developed, and spent most of their time playing ball against better, veteran players on military base teams.

And when he wasn't doing that, Rickey was looking to open up the biggest, untapped pool of players:  the Negro Leagues.

I think of this because someone—El Duque, our Peerless Leader, I do believe—suggested that now that all of baseball is foolishly cutting back on its minor leagues, this is the time for the Yankees to go large, expand their system, and pick any number of players who could turn out to be diamonds in the rough.

Well, that's what a genius did, anyway.  And since we have a self-proclaimed genius in the Yankees' front office, maybe he should look into it, instead of trying to steal the next Giancarlo away from that poor, befuddled Derek Jeter.

A wartime baseball story for you.  Happy Fourth of July!




TheWinWarblist said...

Thank you Hoss!

JM said...

That's a good story. I didn't know Branch ("What shall we name him, dear?" "How about Branch?" "That works. Good thing our last name isn't Water.") was a Highlander.

Question: does Big Maple have any connection to Branch? Just wondering.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, guys.

I know, with the name. Though actually his real first name was "Wesley," so you can see why he would go with the middle name.

Anonymous said...

Amen. And since we all thought of doing what that guy did, I guess that makes us all geniuses too! Or does it? Well, it don't make any difference... what are the chances that Prince Hal will open up his coffers and spend money on kids and scouts and coaches? Fat chance, I would think.

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