Catcher’s tears were likely inspiration for Branch Rickey

From SABR member Chris Lamb at the New York Times on April 15, 2012, with mention of longtime SABR members Jules Tygiel and Lee Lowenfish:

The Montreal Royals, the top minor league team in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, broke baseball’s color line on Oct. 23, 1945, by signing shortstop Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues. The Associated Press reported that the Dodgers’ president, Branch Rickey, said he had given a lot of thought to discrimination since his coaching days at Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 1900s.

He recalled that during a trip to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame, the team’s only black ballplayer, Charles Thomas, was denied a room. Rickey asked whether Thomas could sleep on a cot in his room, and the hotel clerk obliged.

Later that evening, Rickey said, he saw Thomas sobbing and rubbing his hands, saying: “Black skin. Black skin. If only I could make them white.”

Rickey tried to console Thomas by telling him that racial equality would come.

“Come on, Tommy, snap out of it, buck up!” he said. “We’ll lick this one day, but we can’t if you feel sorry for yourself.”

Rickey said the scene haunted him.

“I vowed that I would always do whatever I could to see that other Americans did not have to face the bitter humiliation that was heaped upon Charles Thomas,” he told The A.P.

Rickey often repeated the story after signing Robinson, including when Robinson played his first game with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Rickey, however, rarely spoke about the scene in the hotel room in the years before signing Robinson.

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Originally published: April 18, 2012. Last Updated: April 18, 2012.