The Right Man for the Job

Seeking work in sports after leaving the army, Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the best teams in Negro American League Baseball. Batting a .414 for the 1945 season, Robinson caught the eye of Brooklyn Dodger’s President and General Manager, Branch Rickey.

Portrait of Jackie Robinson Circa 1950, The City Reliquary Museum

Portrait of Jackie Robinson Circa 1950, The City Reliquary Museum

Rickey, a lifelong innovator and staunch believer in integration, sent scouts to scour the negro leagues under the auspices of creating a African-American counterpart to the Brooklyn Dodgers. His true intention, as it would soon become clear, was to find a suitable candidate to break the long standing but unofficial ban on African-Americans in Major League Baseball.

Rickey knew that Robinson was a talented but untested ball player. In fact, dozens of other African-American players were objectively better athletes. It was Robinson’s character, upbringing and personal morals that convinced Rickey he was the best man to play in the white league.

Because whomever Rickey chose would face extreme prejudice and abuse, Rickey looked for someone who was accustomed to playing and working in a white dominated field.

He also knew that his “ great experiment,” could not work long term without the ultimate support of the white fan base. So, he needed someone with the courage and poise not to fight back when taunted or harassed.

Robinson fit the bill. He was a college educated, well-spoken, army officer who did not drink, was happily married and attended church every Sunday. Rickey simply needed to convince Robinson that the best way to win equality was to avoid confrontation and he would do this with help from Robinson’s wife Rachel.

Rachael Robinson, née Isum, played a pivotal role in supporting Robinson during his tumultuous move to the Royals and later the Dodgers. Jackie and Rachel had been together since 1941. They remained together while Jackie was in the Army and while Rachel completed her studies in nursing at UCLA. Over the course of their long distance relationship, the pair formed a deep emotional bond, relying on each other in times of isolation and hardship. Rickey, having met Rachel over the course of Robinson’s tryouts, recognized the value of this type of support system and valued the way Rachel could help Jackie to absorb anger and pain. For this reason,  Rachel proved to be a critical component in Robinson’s ultimate success with the Dodgers.

Next page