Michael R. Stevens

The Integration of Baseball

A story that never gets old.

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Ultimately, it is Kahn's special access to both Rickey and Robinson over the years (he became close with both after his relatively brief stint on the Dodgers beat) that gives the deepest insights into the difficult and beautiful fusion that these two very different souls created. Kahn includes transcripts of conversations with Rickey (and also the fruit of his perusing of the 100 plus boxes of Rickey's papers at the Library of Congress), and his theme is often the stirring eloquence of the man, a trait that may have alienated more in the hard-boiled press and among the ill-educated baseball men of his day than any measure of piety or penury. Among the many examples that show a philosophic frame to Rickey's mind, my favorite is the incidental remark he gave when asked if he'd upbraided Carl Furillo for his initial refusal in 1947 to play with Robinson as his teammate. When Kahn asked, "What did you tell Furillo?", Rickey responded: "Nothing. I did not bother to speak to him at all. I regarded Furillo as a man in whom talk could arise no moral dilemma because he had no basic moral compass of his own." Kahn, later in the book and in the spirit of his gently revisionist project, notes that Furillo did come around, and prove Rickey wrong, in his embrace of Roy Campanella as his partner in public warm-ups during the Dodger games of the 1950s. Touche, to be sure, though Kahn doesn't gainsay Rickey's eloquent barb toward fellow executive (and chair of a baseball committee formed in 1945 to 'handle' the race question, by burying it) Larry MacPhail—a man who made it his practice to undermine Rickey's decisions both publically and privately, and to mock his 'miserliness' especially. Quoth Rickey of MacPhail: "His creditors grew whiskers whilst they waited." A silver tongue, indeed, and a self-defensive and pragmatic man, to be sure, but a great man, in baseball and in American culture.

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