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April 12, 2013

[caption id="attachment_18837" align="alignnone" width="495"] [/media-credit] Ohio Wesleyan University Director of Athletics Roger Ingles (from left), Branch B. Rickey and Bob DiBiasio participate in a baseball roundtable at Ohio Wesleyan University on April 12. Rickey is the grandson of Branch Rickey, who helped break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. (gazette | gary budzak)


Staff Writer


Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier, was remembered in a roundtable Friday at his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University.

Rickey’s grandson, Branch B. Rickey, who is president of the Pacific Coast League, and Bob DiBiasio, a vice president with the Cleveland Indians, spoke about Rickey, Robinson and being OWU students themselves.

Rickey said his grandfather first vowed to break the color barrier when as a coach at OWU, one of his players, Charles Thomas, was denied a hotel room in South Bend, Ind. Although Rickey was able to work out a compromise, he was deeply affected when he heard Thomas cry, “If I could rub this color off, I’m as good as any man.”

“He loved a challenge of winning a point of substance,” Rickey said. “For 35 years, that promise languished.”

Rickey couldn’t change the system with his first major league team, the St. Louis Cardinals, then the western- and southern-most team in baseball, but could in the melting pot of post-World War II Brooklyn. Rickey said his grandfather chose Robinson to break the color barrier in 1945 because he knew Robinson could withstand the abuse that came his way.

Robinson “shattered a myth” in his rookie season, Rickey said. “He went from not being able to participate, to excelling. He carried the team on his shoulders half the season.”

DiBiasio said Indians owner Bill Veeck signed Larry Doby, the American League’s first African-American, in 1947, after seeing Robinson’s success. It paid off for the Dodgers and the Tribe, who won baseball’s World Series in the years to come.

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once sent his grandfather a note that said, “You made it easier for the rest of us,” Rickey said.

Rickey noted that his grandfather also broke the Latin barrier when he signed Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954.

Turning to the current state of the game, DiBiasio said former Indians pitcher Roberto Hernandez changed his name and lowered his age in order to play in the major leagues because there is often age discrimination involved with players from the Dominican Republic.

The movie 42, about the relationship of Rickey and Robinson, premieres at 2 p.m. today, April 13, at the Strand Theatre. The film stars Harrison Ford as Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Robinson.

Rickey said he took issue with a few things in the movie. He said the first question Rickey would ask any ballplayer was his marital status, and that wasn’t mentioned in the film. He also said his grandmother, who kept threatening letters from racists away from her husband, was not shown.

Despite this, he recommended seeing the film. “I think when you see 42, it’s a refresher. It has some value.”

Both alums joked they weren’t the best students while they were at OWU. However, DiBiasio said it was a good place to get one’s feet wet and make mistakes.