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Red Smith
August 23, 1954
Mr. Rickey's retirement will be a loss to the baseball world
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August 23, 1954

The Bending Branch

Mr. Rickey's retirement will be a loss to the baseball world

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In Brooklyn the Dodgers were at the Giants' throats. In Milwaukee close to 43,000 idolators rent their haberdashery over the Braves, back home and still winning after sweeping through the National League like trench mouth. In Chicago Jack Harshman and Al Aber pitched each other numb as the White Sox whipped the Tigers, 1 to 0 in 16 innings. In Cleveland and New York the Indians and Yankees won and won.

In Pittsburgh, where ball clubs finish last on merit, the week's most significant news caused no more commotion than the Pirates themselves. Branch Rickey announced he would retire "from active duty" in November of 1955 on completion of his contract as the Pirates' general manager.

They don't care much in Pittsburgh. They didn't care much in Brooklyn when he left the Dodgers, or in St. Louis when he parted from the Cardinals. Baseball fans don't warm to Rickey, though with the probable exception of Babe Ruth and the possible exception of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis he has been the game's dominant figure in his lifetime.

He is a curious man, contradictory. "A man of many faucets," they said in Brooklyn, "all turned on."

Branch Rickey is a God-fearing, checker-playing, horse-trading, cigar-smoking, double-talking, nonalcoholic, sharp-shooting blend of eloquence and unction and sincerity and enterprise and imagination and energy and independence and profundity and guile. His agile mind races ahead and his facile tongue patters after, and obscurities result. "When," he was saying in a speech, "there comes a stoppage of vertical mobility among the social strata..." "Gawd," said a man in the audience, "guys get drunk and don't say things like that."

In a press conference John Drebinger of the New York Times asked a question. Rickey responded at length, say like 20 minutes. "Does that answer your question, John?" he inquired. "I," Mr. Drebinger confessed, "have forgotten the question."

Rickey's speech can be as circuitous as a hoopsnake, but get him talking on a subject that commands his interest (such as the theory that against certain weak batters it is wise to call in two outfielders and play six men on the infield) and every word he utters goes directly to the point.

When he was manager of the Cardinals in the early 1920s he befuddled his players with chalk-talks in the clubhouse. Rogers Hornsby, succeeding him, threw out the blackboard and horse-whipped the athletes to the world championship.

Perhaps because Rickey was born to be a horse trader or maybe because competition has been the kernel of his life, it is important to him never to be beaten in a business transaction. He has, consequently, won a fearsome reputation for selling gold bricks in player deals.

Garry Schumacher of the Giants once stated the rules for talking business with Rickey: "Don't drink the night before, keep your mouth shut and your hands in your pockets."

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