by Harold Friend
Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers' president, made an explosive revelation at the Wilberforce State University annual football dinner on Feb. 16, 1948.
In a candid and passionate speech to an audience of about 250 individuals, Mr. Rickey disclosed extremely damaging information about a document that allegedly was approved before Jackie Robinson became the major league's first black player.
Mr. Rickey's Revelation
"After I had signed Robinson, but before he had played a game, a joint major league meeting adopted unanimously a report prepared by a joint committee which stated that 'however well-intentioned, the use of Negro players would hazard all the physical properties of baseball.'
"You can't find a copy of that report anywhere, but I was at the meeting where it was adopted. I sat silently while the other 15 clubs approved it. I've tried to get a copy, but league officials tell me all were destroyed.
"But let them deny they adopted such a report, if they dare. I'd like to see the color of the man's eyes who would deny it."
According to Mr. Rickey, the report was adopted on Aug. 28, 1946, following the appointment of former Kentucky governor A. B. "Happy" Chandler as baseball commissioner.
The meeting had been reported in the New York Times.
The headline read "Majors Meet All Player Demands and Set Up New Executive Council."
The Mexican League had been raiding teams for players, and it was hoped that a new executive council would alleviate the situation.
There was a proposal to play a 168 game schedule in 1947, but there was no mention of the report to which Mr. Rickey had referred.
The other teams vehemently denied Mr. Rickey's claims, but the Dodgers' president reiterated that the other teams had formally voted to against allowing Jackie Robinson to play in the major leagues.
Chicago Cubs' owner Phil Wrigley said,
"No such vote was ever taken. If the question ever was presented in such a form as Rickey claims, I -- or any representative of the Cubs -- never would have voted for it."
The Philadelphia Phillies' Bob Carpenter told reporters that he had been in the army at the time the vote was supposedly taken, but he was certain Phillies' general manager Herb Pennock would never sign such an agreement.
New York Yankees' general manager Lonesome George Weiss: "This is the first I've heard of it."
Baseball commissioner Chandler would only say "Jackie Robinson is playing baseball for Brooklyn."
National League president Ford Frick, and American League president Will Harridge made no comments.
Mr. Rickey Pulls Back
The following day, in New York, Mr. Rickey tried to clarify the matter. He declared,
"The Wilberforce address has been reported correctly but has resulted in interpretations not intended and certainly not foreseen.
"I had believed that the major reason for suppression was the reference to Negro employment. I am told that many members of the leagues who were present do not remember the reference to this matter.
"Anyone who makes this statement is to be fully believed."
Mr Rickey continued,
"No club owner in either league, with one exception, has ever protested to me personally the signing of Jackie Robinson, and several have expressed approval."
There is no way to ever discover if the report existed, which means one must decide for herself, based on the available information, what really happened.
Why would Mr. Rickey make such accusations? Why did he soften his attack the next day?
The fact that the there was no reference to the report in the newspapers proves nothing, but regardless of what occurred, or didn't occur, "Happy" Chandler made a good point.
Jackie Robinson was playing for Brooklyn.
Rickey Claims That 15 Clubs Voted To Bar Negroes From the Majors :Declares He Used Robinson Despite Action Taken at Meeting in 1945 -- Officials Deny Dodger Head's Charges. (1948, February 18). New York Times (1923-Current file),37. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 85214268).
By ROSCOE McGOWEN. (1948, February 19). Rickey Agrees That Club Owners Might Not Recall Anti-Negro Vote :Subject Only Small Part of Long Report, He Says -- Speech Sought to Show Improved Attitude Toward Negroes Now. New York Times (1923-Current file),31. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 85190345).
Chandler Dodges Issue. (1948, February 21). New York Times (1923-Current file),16. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 96416824).
Majors Meet All Player Demands And Set Up New Executive Council :One Athlete From Each League to Be Named With Chandler, Harridge, Frick, MacPhail and Giles--168-Game Schedule in 1947 Owners Also Represented Major-Minor Council Likely. (1946, August 29). New York Times (1923-Current file),31. Retrieved March 12, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 93150238).