Rickey’s profile and popularity exploded in the mid-1930s. A search of “Branch Rickey” in the archives of the Globe-Democrat and Post-Dispatch reveals 114 stories containing his name in 1930. Five years later, the number was 338.
In March of 1935, the Star-Times featured a syndicated 12-part series on Rickey’s life and career. But it was in the national press that the Rickey name skyrocketed in prominence.
Mentioned just 19 times in the New York Daily News in 1930, the same paper included the Cardinals general manager in 166 stories five years later. (Rickey was aware of his growing and glowing press coverage. “Please don’t refer to me as a master mind,” he told Keener of the Star-Times in January of 1935.)
A father of six children, one son and five daughters, Rickey and family lived on a twenty-three-acre St. Louis County property in a development known as Country Life Acres. An active member of the Grace Methodist Church and statewide Republican politics, Rickey also found time to serve on the board of trustees of his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the board of directors of John Burroughs School in St. Louis. Passionate about baseball and his Methodist faith, his calendar was populated with frequent public speaking events. He enjoyed hunting ducks and other small game in the offseason. Wherever he went, he typically had company. Rickey hated to drive.
His constant travels were compounded by his absent-mindedness. Once, on a trip through Ohio, he shouted to his driver, “Turn around. We should have stopped at Dayton!” The driver promptly turned the car around to make the thirty-mile journey. “I was supposed to stop and pick up Mrs. Rickey,” he explained. “She’s waiting for me at a drugstore there…I hope.”
On another trip, he remembered he needed an extra pair of socks after he had locked his suitcase. In a hurry to leave, he quickly placed the socks in a coat pocket. Making a speech that evening in a warm building, beads of sweat began to furrow his brow. He reached into his coat pocket to grab a handkerchief. The audience erupted in laughter as he began to wipe his face, not with a handkerchief, but with those extra pair of socks.
A decade into his full-time role running the Cardinals front office and farm system, a confident Rickey had also mastered the art of negotiation. When he wasn’t traveling, he’d be in his office, receiving – and answering – 200 letters a day. Telegrams would pour in. The phone would ring constantly. On his blackboard were the names of every single player in the Cardinals organization. (He had window shades installed to cover the list so curious visitors couldn’t glean any plans.) Every offseason, players would stroll into his office seeking a raise. They would lumber out grateful their salary hadn’t been reduced. As discussions got underway, Rickey had a trick up his sleeve, or rather, a pedal under the desk. When pressed, the pedal produced a sound simulating a ringing telephone, claimed Bill Veeck Jr.
Pause to consider the scene. On one side of the desk sat a player with visions of a $5,000 raise. On the other side sat Rickey, who had interrupted negotiations to take a call with one of his minor league general managers. The fake conversation would steer to a prospect who, by sheer coincidence, just happened to share the same position as the player sitting across from the man who made the decisions. Hearing the one and only side of the call, the player would listen to Rickey concede that maybe, just maybe, the young hotshot was ready to make the jump to the big leagues after all. Rickey would then hang up the phone and begin discussing his worries of pay cuts coming down the line. But he also had good news for the man in his office. “I am determined,” the general manager would assure him, “to find some way of paying you the same salary you received last year.”
The same kind of magic Rickey worked with his roster also applied to executives on other teams, “because he was shrewd enough to study the front office personnel as carefully as he studied the playing personnel,” Veeck contended. “Like any practicing hypnotist, he was always looking for the perfect subject; i.e. the man who fell under his spell so easily that it was almost posthypnotic suggestion.” The Cubs had a man who fit that description. “In Chicago, he could absolutely mesmerize Clarence Rowland, the club vice president,” Veeck believed.
In the 1930s, Rickey’s negotiation skills would be tested by a player who was in constant raise-seeking mode. And when Rickey and the Cardinals had their patience tested one too many times, the master wheeler-dealer and hypnotist only had to place a call to a man already under his spell to rid himself of the problem.
Mr. Rickey's Redbirds
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