Revered for signing Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey triggered the Negro Leagues' demise.
Rickey refused to compensate Robinson's Negro Leagues team, the Kansas City Monarchs, as well as not paying other black teams when he signed their players, according to Negro Leagues historian Andrea Williams' article in Thursday's New York Times.
The article appeared on Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of Robinson's debut with the Dodgers in 1947. Honoring the major leagues' first black player, the members of each team wear Robinson's number 42.
Williams, the author of "Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues," reveals that Rickey believed the Negro Leagues were illegitimate and "in the zone of a racket."
Rickey went on to sign several Negro League players without compensating their teams. Manley, the owner of the Newark Eagles, complained about Rickey stealing her all-star pitcher, Don Newcombe.
In another shift of historical reputation, Williams says that notoriously tight-fisted Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith called for Rickey and other Major League teams to pay the Negro Leagues for raiding their talent.
Griffith, castigated as a racist by black sportswriters, rented his stadium to the Negro League Homestead Grays, a practice followed by other major league teams. Griffith's principled support of the Negro Leagues contrasts with his refusal to sign black American players, instead looking for talent in Latin America.
The sainted Rickey's disparagement of the Negro Leagues mars his reputation. Williams notes Rickey's racist arrogance: "Clark Griffith on the contrary, I have not signed a player from what I regard as an organized league."
Rickey's odious position clashes with that of Major League Baseball, which recently accepted Negro League records as equal to those of the Major Leagues.
Many Negro League stars went on to gain fame in the Major Leagues. Now, baseball has fewer and fewer black players from the United States.
In signing Jackie Robinson, Rickey advanced racial progress, yet displayed a disturbing contempt for the Negro Leagues.