42 - Branch Rickey by Keith Wahl
The feedback from our "At the Movies" series and the coinciding CG Podcast has led us on a path to continue this exploration of the spiritual lessons we can learn from our favorite baseball movies. Enjoy this month's focus on 42!
From 1992 to 2014, there was a beautiful ceremony in Denver highlighting an individual in Major League Baseball in recognition of his exceptional community service. I had the opportunity to attend a number of these events and got to meet baseball heroes such as Luis Gonzalez, Curt Schilling, and Tommy Lasorda. Recently, I ran into the dad of a former player who reminded me that the picture of his son, me, and Lasorda still hangs proudly in his office.
A simple statue called “The Player” also stands proudly in front of Coors Field here in Denver. Emblazoned on that statue is a quote from Branch Rickey, the man who signed Jackie Robinson to effectively break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Rickey’s quote on the statue reads, “It is not the honor that you take with you but the heritage you leave behind.”
“Heritage” is a word that doesn’t get thrown around much today, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t. While the word has multiple definitions, I think the version Rickey is referring to here might be, “something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition.” Rickey’s heritage in the game of baseball is obvious and clear, but we should never forget that his heritage was rooted in the heritage left in him by Christ.
It doesn’t take turning over a ton of rocks in research to realize Rickey’s Christian faith was at the forefront of everything he did, including the Robinson signing. Rickey’s family motto was, “Make first things first, seek the Kingdom of God, and make yourself an example.” While a player, Rickey once told a reporter that he desired “to be both a consistent Christian and a consistent ballplayer.”
In an early scene in 42, Rickey asks Robinson if he could control his temper. He explained that he wanted a player with the guts NOT to fight back, and said, “Like our Savior, you’ve got to have the guts to turn the other cheek.” Billy Graham said of Branch Rickey, “He was a man of deep piety and integrity — that rare combination of a ‘man’s man’ and a Christian man, at the same time.” In that scene and throughout the movie, we see Rickey push people hard, but balance it with a love of righteousness.
This is not an easy balance to strike in our world today. It seems that people don’t enjoy being pushed in the way Rickey pushed Robinson. In an era of “personal growth,” every gets to go about their own journey. However, it’s important, if not vital, to understand the value in people like Branch Rickey in our world. Heritage doesn’t get left by accident - it is left by those willing to be in the arena to help a country, a game, or an individual grow.
Rickey said of Robinson, “God was with me when I picked Jackie. I don’t think any other man could have done what he did those first two or three years.” While we turn our attention to Robinson next week, may all of us as Christians in the game find that balance of a ‘man’s man’ and a Christian man as Rickey did.