Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Purity Pasture

Another factual piece inspired by the audacity that Baseball is a game of integrity. It is to laugh, if one truly thinks this holier than thou belief ever existed.

"The farm system, which I have been given credit for developing," Rickey said later, "originated from a perfectly selfish motive: saving money."

Wesley Branch Rickey, (Born on December 20, 1881 and Died on December 9, 1965) figured that if the Cardinals could buy up minor league clubs, they could control prospects from the moment they entered organized baseball, when they were unproven and thus inexpensive. The Cardinals could also make sure that the players received the best instruction, which increased their chances of developing, and the big-league club would have accurate scouting information all the way through the process.

The Cardinals would have the pick of the litter, with excess players being used as trade bait or sold for cash. Best of all, Rickey figured the farm system (a.k.a. "Purity Pasture") would probably make enough money to pay for its expenses, which meant that the whole thing wouldn't cost the Cardinals a dime. (And since we're talking dimes, an Enos Slaughter quote about Branch Rickey would be appropriate right here! "Rickey would go to the vault to get change for a nickel.")

Rickey quickly went to work and the Cardinals bought 18% of Texas League's Houston Buffaloes and then acquired working control of Ft. Smith of the Western Association. In 1921, they purchased the Syracuse Stars of the International League. The first stage was complete, and the second, that of stocking the teams with promising players, followed.

A quick and inexpensive means of finding players was developed as the Cardinals sponsored tryout camps, using the team's popularity in the midwest and south to attract young men with dreams of playing baseball. Success came quickly as three players with considerable talent, Ray Blades, Clarence "Heinie" Mueller, and Jim Bottomley, were signed to make their way up the chain. Others would follow, and winning baseball would come with them. In 1926, the Cardinals won their first World Series, and their pennant-winning season would be repeated in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1942. Even after Rickey left St. Louis following the 1942 season, his farm system continued to produce Cardinal pennants in 1943, 1944, and 1946. Not only was the team winning, but they were becoming replaceable. Thus, Johnny Mize brought over $50,000, a washed-up Dizzy Dean went for $185,000 and two players, and on and on.

Kennesaw Mountain Landis was a staunch opponent of Branch Rickey's minor league farm system and fought it tooth and nail. Landis liberated numerous minor league players during his tenure. In one 1938 case, Landis freed 91 Cardinal farmhands, including Pete Reiser and James "Skeeter" Webb. In January 1940, he hit the Detroit Tigers' system freeing scores of players and costing the Tigers an estimated $500,000.

I wondered, what was the reason for Landis opposing Rickey and the minor leagues?
And after doing some investigative research I came upon the following: Landis viewed the success of the Cardinals' general manager (Rickey)as a threat to the integrity of the game. Phew, here we go again. And I must once again reiterate, those righteous sorts who might-just free the world of it's iniquities that choose the usage of rhetoric are full of crap!

The controlling side of Landis took offense at Rickey's personal success, particularly when Landis' baseball salary of $40,000 was almost $10,000 short of Rickey's. The prevailinig side of the commissioner is once again subject to debate.

What gave Landis the right to do such things? The owners awarded him absolute power. While his judgings could be overruled or overturned he wouldn't take the role of commissioner unless what he said was final. This corrupt and bitter person got his wish because he was dealing with cold-hearted, tyrannical bastards who had enough money to buy a team and then would become misers for their own benefit. They saw Landis as protection to their investment of purchasing a major league ballclub.

Proof of this, was the behavior of Branch Rickey. Fresh off his soapbox for being such a good human being after working diligently to get Jackie Robinson to break the color line, he raids the Negro Leagues as a new source for talent. Effa Manley, owner of the Newark Eagles, accused Rickey of being a crook who did not want to pay out a dime for the players he signed away. Of the number of black players he signed through 1950, he paid out less than 5% of their total value to the clubs he signed them away from. (Think of what it costs clubs to purchase Asian players and you know that this, along with dwindling attendance, killed the Negro Leagues.)

Another case: Dodger outfielder George Shuba was negotiating with Rickey and wanted an increase to $23,000. During their meeting, Rickey was summoned to another office for a phone call. As he waited, Shuba noticed a contract with Jackie Robinson's name on it for $21,000. When Rickey returned, Shuba agreed to take $20,000. Later, he found out that the Robinson contract was a phony and that Rickey's phone call was a setup.

While he was nickel-and-diming his players, Rickey was becoming a rich man. He had a deal with the Cardinals and Dodgers that gave him a 10% commission on every player sale.

After successfully recruiting Don Newcombe from Newark and convinced him to join the Dodgers, Manley took action. She wrote letters to Rickey asking him to meet with her. Rickey did not respond, but Manley continued to fight for just compensation and speak out against the raiding of Negro League teams without reparation.

Cleveland Indians owner, Bill Veeck, called Manley in 1947, inquiring about Larry Doby. they agreed to a deal that ultimately paid the Manleys $15,000 in exchange for Doby (the first black in the American League). The deal established a precedent, and Major League owners from then on paid an average of $5,000 for each Negro Leaguer they signed.

(Much appreciation goes to the following article and website. Was it the Godfather (in the WWF) who said, "Pimping aint easy." He ain't kidding. Finding this kind of information is difficult because it's all in books the writers want money for this hidden knowledge, know what I mean? I'm just researching. I suppose we're all frugal to a certain extent, some get more carried away than others.)

So what changed? Branch Rickey saw the other side of this economic coin and wanted it in his pocket.The death of Landis in 1944 removed a huge segregation barrier. Political pressure in New York to study integration in baseball forced him to speed up his pace, but it also played into his plans in terms of political support.
On Oct. 25, 1945, he announced the signing of Robinson. His choice has been well-chronicled.

"Being the astute businessman he was, Branch realized there was a brand new clientele available," said Buck O'Neil. "Segregation is a pretty stupid way to run a country. Kids don't know color. Fans don't know color. They want to watch a game. Branch Rickey saw that these men could play baseball as well as any white man, and that people were already coming out to watch."

"I don't pretend to know what Rickey's motives were," said Don Newcombe, who played against Robinson in the Negro Leagues in 1945 and was a teammate with him in Brooklyn in 1948. "He was a man with a good heart. I couldn't read his mind. But I knew he was a businessman like any other, and if it was going to enhance the team and his business, he'd make it happen."

Branch Rickey got $40 million worth of ballplayers for nothing," wrote the Pittsburgh Courier.

Larry MacPhail, long Rickey's enemy and rival (and a supporter of commissioner Landis), blasted him in a 1959 Sports Illustrated article. "Rickey was not interested in doing something constructive for either baseball or the Negro players . . . (he) raided the Negro Leagues and took players without adequate compensation. Rickey wasn't kidding anybody in baseball with all his bunk about his conscience."
"They just took the cream of the young crop," said Haynes, "and whoever got a black ballplayer sold tickets. People wanted to see how good they were, especially black people."

"The only thing the owners were interested in were the players, and they didn't respect the Negro League contracts," said Gerald Early, a professor of African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis. "They didn't pay those teams anywhere near the market value for a Robinson, Doby or Irvin. It's a sign of the lack of leverage the Negro League had as a business, and what the major league owners saw as a (scam). They got talented players and didn't have to pay for them."

Finally, while it has been written (in several books and annals) how the owners mistreated their players. By taking advantage of the players' limited education to pay them less than they were worth and other such indignant acts devised by the not so clever miscreants (owners)in charge. Mr. Rickey was the forerunner of the management side that brought about the players' union organization. With his parsimonious (tendency to be overcareful in spending; unreasonable economy; stinginess) attitude towards baseball players, the man referred to as "El Cheapo," (a.k.a. Branch Rickey) did more than any other person to bring about the union. His cheapness caused the players to get together and form a union.

(I am very grateful for this article. I just about had it with the books popping up that have maybe one paragraph worth of information. Researching information can be found in the most unsuspecting places. In the mere contents of a chapter in a book with a title that is reminiscent of the Kinks. (They had a knack for giving a song a title and no mention of that title was ever brought up in the song.)

In an article by Bob Keisser, "Baseball Segregated, Later Integrated for One Overriding Reason," there is good information on why the Negro Leagues folded and it's ironic that the person who you can pin much of the blame on was the person who initiated the integration. Or at least he (Branch Rickey)got the majority of the credit.


Kevin J. Marquez