A ballplayer fighting for an increase in wages would rather spit in Rocky Marciano's eye than walk into Rickey's office without a bodyguard. Yet the master persuader hasn't always come off first in these encounters.
When Dizzy Dean was the rawest of rookies he was closeted for many hours in Rickey's lair in St. Louis. It was Rickey who tottered out at last, collar unbuttoned, black hair untidy, black eyebrows twitching.
"Do you know what that boy said to me?" he gasped. "He said, ' Mr. Rickey, I will put more people in Sportsmans Park than anybody since Babe Ruth.' If there were one more like him in baseball, I'd get out of the game."
There was, unfortunately or otherwise, only one like Dizzy. Rickey remained in baseball, and Dean put more people in Sportsmans Park than anybody else since Babe Ruth.
Probably the most widespread conception of Rickey pictures him as a psalm-singing evangelist in a circuit-rider's black hat and bow tie, making a living from the sinful occupation of baseball. This stems from the advertised fact that he does not attend games on Sunday, and it is entirely inaccurate.
It is not religious scruple that keeps him away from Sunday games. When he set out as a professional ballplayer 52 years ago, he promised his mother he would not violate the Sabbath by playing ball. He kept the promise and lost some jobs as a result.
The tallest building beyond the center field fence in St. Louis is the north side Y.M.C.A. On a big Sunday there were always kibitzers watching the game from the Y.M.C.A. windows. It was a standing gag that the room commanding the best view was Rickey's. He could have been in the Y.M.C.A., at that; he was somewhere out of the ball park, still keeping his promise.
He is a strange and fascinating man. At 72, his energy is beyond belief. Always on the go, he always has a secretary and as he goes he dictates letters, memoranda, ideas.
Once he wrote to a sportswriter: "I think you understand me—better than most people do, perhaps." The sports-writer was flattered pink.