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Another man to whom modern baseball will always be heavily in debt is Branch Rickey. Although his Pittsburgh Pirates now languish in eighth place of the National League, Rickey's influence is felt everywhere. He invented the "farm system" which made it possible for clubs of modest means (like the St. Louis Cardinals of the '20s) to compete on even terms with the richest clubs. Rickey's proteges are all over baseball today?and one of them, Larry MacPhail, who is, out of it, raised the loud and raucous voice that forced the major leagues to adopt night baseball. But Branch Rickey's greatest contribution to baseball?the one that made it truly America's national game?came when he closed the door of his Brooklyn office in 1945 and told Jackie Robinson that he was to be the man to cross baseball's color line. In that meeting Rickey, casting himself as the voice and manner of intolerance, poured into Jackie's ear every insult he could imagine.
He acted the part of a runner charging into Robinson at second base and snarled: "Why, you dirty black...!" Rickey was a hotel clerk in the South, a sports writer full of prejudice, he was a pitcher throwing at Robinson's head, a fan gratuitously pouring out a string of invective as Robinson left the park. It was a scene that only a Rickey could play and as a climax he swung a punch that grazed Jackie's cheek. He spat out another vile name and then, breathing hard, asked: "What do you do now, Jackie?"
Jackie Robinson was silent a moment. But surely he thought of the tens of thousands of colored boys playing ball in the streets and alleyways. Finally, he looked at Rickey and said:
"Mr. Rickey, I guess I turn the other cheek."
Thus, again, at a baseball turning point, two men were exactly right to do what needed to be done. Today there are 25 Negro players in the major leagues, accepted and honored whereever they go.
Last year 14,383,797 persons went to 16 major league ball parks; 23,296,889 saw 292 teams play in 38 minor leagues. A million boys played in the American Legion baseball program, millions more as semipros, in the Little Leagues, the Little Bigger League, the Babe Ruth League. Thanks to television, more Americans saw the game than ever before, millions learning to follow it for the first time.
Deep thinkers, domestic and imported, looked at this baseball picture and said what had been said a thousand times before: Baseball is our national game because it reflects the national character, because it is rugged individualism in action and at the same time a striking demonstration of cooperative effort; it gives a man a chance to blow his top harmlessly; it satisfies the latent killer instinct in us all. And, as the more perceptive thinkers recognized, a big stadium and a roaring crowd are not essential to the baseball drama. All that is really needed to create it is a gang of kids, a beat-up ball, a taped-up bat and a vacant lot. Given these, you have the Babe's Game.
The United States has five million full-time and sometime golfers (a quarter of them women), more than 5,000 courses (twice the number in all the rest of the world) and spends $230 million annually to play the game and extract the maximum enjoyment from its side effects. For this agreeable state of affairs U.S. golfers are in the considerable debt of Mary Queen of Scots, King James I of England, and the boy who was a caddy in Boston when Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey were growing up?Francis Ouimet.
Mary Queen of Scots is the first woman golfer of record, and it was Mary who gave great impetus to the game by playing it often and openly at a time (the 16th Century) when even the Scots regarded it as a frivolous waste of time. Mary (who was beheaded by Elizabeth for another reason entirely) also made a historic contribution to the language of the game. Returning to Scotland from a visit to France, she brought with her the French word cadet to describe the boys who carried her clubs around the golf course. The Scots soon refined cadet into caddy; and the word has served admirably ever since.