Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 17: Branch Rickey

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey in 1948.
Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey in 1948.
(HMH / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and let’s get right to No. 17 in our countdown.

The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 17: Branch Rickey (123 first-place votes, 6,407 points)

Only five people received more than 100 first-place votes. Branch Rickey finished the lowest of the group.

Rickey became president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942, succeeding Larry MacPhail, who had left the team to serve in World War II. Rickey had just spent 23 years as GM of the St. Louis Cardinals, building them into one of baseball’s top powerhouses and inventing the farm system of baseball teams.


But let’s face it, Rickey is on this list mainly for one reason: He was the man who decided it was time to break baseball’s color barrier.

Rickey searched for the right man, with the right temperament, to do this job, and he settled on Jackie Robinson. And it proved to be a wise choice.

Why did Rickey want to do this? Once, when Rickey was coaching baseball at Ohio Wesleyan, the team went to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame. Ohio Wesleyan’s only African American player, Charles Thomas, was not allowed to stay at the hotel. A horrified Rickey convinced the hotel clerk to allow Thomas to sleep on a cot in Rickey’s room. Rickey woke up in the middle of the night and saw Thomas sitting on the edge of the cot, rubbing his hands together, saying “Black skin. Black skin. If only I could make them white.”

Rickey much later said that he never forgot the incident and had promised himself that “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.”

He just needed to wait for the right moment and the right man.

It would be a disservice to Rickey and Robinson to even attempt to tell their story in one newsletter, so no attempt will be made. Suffice to say their respect for each other can be summed up in two quotes:

Rickey on Robinson: “God was with me when I picked Jackie. I don’t think any other man could have done what he did those first two or three years.”

Robinson on Rickey: “Branch Rickey did more for African Americans than any white man since Abraham Lincoln.”


Rickey died Dec. 9, 1965, at 83. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.

You can read much more about Rickey in this article.


The list

No. 18: Don Sutton

No. 19: Mike Piazza

No. 20: Zack Wheat


No. 21 Don Newcombe

No. 22 Kirk Gibson

No. 23: Ron Cey

No. 24: Tommy Davis

No. 25: Jim Gilliam

Note: I received 8,382 ballots from newsletter readers who sent me their choices for the top 10 Dodgers of all time. Points were assigned based on ranking, with the first-place choice getting 12 points, second place getting 10, third place eight, down to one point for 10th place. After tabulating the ballots, I will be presenting the top 25 in points. We will be counting down Nos. 25 to 11, one each weekday, for the next three weeks. Then we will time the top 10 so No. 1 unveils March 29, the day the season opens. There will be separate newsletters for any news that comes out of spring training.


And finally

Who will be No. 16 on the countdown? It’s another non-player Hall of Famer.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.