On Aug. 28, 1945, a 43-year-old former catcher named Clyde Sukeforth walked into an office in Brooklyn and said, " Mr. Rickey, here is Jack Roosevelt Robinson." It was a sentence that has led historians of both baseball and American race relations to place Sukeforth, who died last week at 98, in a position just above the footnotes in the chapters entitled " Branch Rickey" and " Jackie Robinson." As the scout sent by Rickey, the Dodgers' general manager, to look Robinson over—both, as a player and as a person—and bring him back to Brooklyn for his appointment with history, Sukeforth was Rickey's messenger.
But if Sukeforth was a messenger, he was baseball's Gabriel, an annunciatory angel. Robinson thought Sukeforth had come to Chicago, where Robinson was playing with the Negro leagues' Kansas City Monarchs, to appraise him for a rumored Brown Dodgers team; only upon being introduced to Rickey did he learn Sukeforth's real assignment. After the Robinson signing became stunningly public in October 1945, the modest Sukeforth remained in the shadows, briefly emerging 19 months later to stand in for the suspended Leo Durocher as Dodgers manager. The two games he managed were Robinson's first in the major leagues, and both were victories.
Sukeforth would have other chances to manage but always declined. "I don't ask for a great deal out of life," he said, "but I do want contentment. I could never find it as a manager." So he committed himself to coaching (the players loved him), scouting (his other great move: persuading the Pirates to acquire Roberto Clemente) and eventually to a long and contented retirement back home on the coast of Maine.
For the mission of bringing Robinson to Brooklyn, Rickey needed someone with very specific qualities: loyalty, of course, and discretion; acute baseball judgment, and judgment, as well, of a man's character; an open mind, a giving heart and, considering the racial climate of baseball at the time, courage. Someone defined by qualities such as these leaves a memorial that would do honor to any man.