Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 16: Branch Rickey

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey in 1950.
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell as we continue the top-25 countdown.

Readers voted in droves, submitting 15,212 ballots by email, Twitter and Facebook. Voters were asked for their top 10 Dodgers in order from 1 to 10, with first place receiving 12 points, second place nine points, third place eight, all the way down to one point for 10th place.

The last time we did this was in 2018, and there were some changes in the rankings.

So, without further ado:

Enjoying this newsletter?

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a Los Angeles Times subscriber.

The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 16: BRANCH RICKEY (122 first-place votes, 11,661 points)
2018 rank: 17th

Branch 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 Black 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. Rickey later recounted: “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s my skin. If I could just tear it off, I’d be like everybody else. It’s my skin; it’s my skin, Mr. Rickey!’ ”

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.”

Many years later, Thomas said, “From the very first day I entered Ohio Wesleyan University, Branch Rickey took special interest in my welfare. As the first Negro player on any of its teams, some of the fellows didn’t welcome me too kindly, though there was no open opposition.

“But, I always felt that Mr. Rickey set them straight. During the three years that I was at Ohio Wesleyan, no man could have been treated better. When we went on trips, Mr. Rickey was the first one to see if I was welcome in the hotel where we were to stop. On several occasions, he talked the management into allowing me to occupy a double room with him and his roommate, Barney Russell.”

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.


No. 17: Walter O’Malley

No. 18: Don Sutton

No. 19: Orel Hershiser


No. 20: Mike Piazza

No. 21: Don Newcombe

No. 22: Mookie Betts

No. 23 Dazzy Vance

No. 24: Kirk Gibson

No. 25: Eric Gagné


Buehler’s not coming to the rescue

In Friday’s newsletter, the question was posed wondering if Walker Buehler would be able to claim the final postseason rotation spot. The answer came about two hours after the newsletter went out: No. The Dodgers announced that Buehler would not be able to return from his second Tommy John surgery in time.

“My goal since last year has been to return to a major league mound this season,” Buehler said in a statement. “After many conversations with my doctor, the Dodgers’ front office, training staff and my family, we concluded that waiting until next season is the right course of action. I am disappointed that I will not be able to help this team go after a title in the 2023 postseason, but I look forward to returning fully healthy in 2024 and bringing another World Series to L.A.”

If Buehler had returned, it would have been 13 months since the surgery, which would have been one of the quickest returns in history. So really, as great as it would have been to help this year, for his long-term prospects, this is the best decision.

Up next

Monday: San Diego (Pedro Avila, 1-2, 2.19 ERA) at Dodgers (Gavin Stone, 1-0, 10.50 ERA), 7 p.m. PT, SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020

Tuesday: San Diego (Michael Wacha, 11-3, 2.99 ERA) at Dodgers (Lance Lynn, 10-11, 6.09 ERA), 7 p.m. PT, SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020

Wednesday: San Diego (*Blake Snell, 13-9, 2.52 ERA) at Dodgers (Ryan Pepiot, 2-0, 0.86 ERA), 7 p.m. PT, SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020


And finally

Rachel Robinson talks about Branch Rickey. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.