uncanny valley of reality

There was a post yesterday on Branch Rickey, the baseball general manager who masterminded the integration of baseball and signed Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and others to his Brooklyn Dodgers roster. Rickey was an enigmatic figure, occupying some uncanny valley of reality in search of a Paradise Lost. The wavy cigar, the piercing eyes of a lawyer, and a puritanical, evangelical quality where he could give members of the famous “Gashouse” gang in St. Louis a lecture on sex. A bizarre American figure who perhaps changed America on a less than noble pretext. Money.

---Breslin:Branch Rickey was complicated --- and not. "He was neither a savior nor a Samaritan," Breslin writes. "He was a baseball man, and nowhere in his religious training did he take a vow of poverty." When he ran the St. Louis Cardinals, he started buying more teams. Soon he had invented the minor league farm system. And he invented a business --- when he sold a player, he took ten percent commission. Read More:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-kornbluth/jimmy-breslins-143-page-b_b_850283.html image:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-kornbluth/jimmy-breslins-143-page-b_b_850283.html

St.Louis was apparently a corrupt and backward city in the 1930′s and 40′s- Some think its still run sleazily today- and there was no chance the Cardinals were going to bring in Black ballplayers, a pie in the sky idea. Besides, they were worried fans would burn down the stadium. Besides, besides, Rickey had created a great farm system, somewhat inspired on the Slave Plantation model and he made a cut, a healthy commission on any body sold to another team.

Rickey was always apparently at the heart of disputes over money. As a lawyer, he was ripping off the players who were without agents, and could barely read or write. What Jimmy Breslin called basically “hillbillies with good eyesight.” White trash worried they’d be pumping gas in the deep south if Blacks were allowed to compete for their jobs. I take the analogy with of all people, Werner Fassbinder, and his “fear its the soul” quote in his film with the black, “exotic” other. Ali or in Maria Braun shows the conflict and trauma that arises when integration, in this case erotic happens.

…Leo Durocher ( from his autobiography).Its kind of a weird that Rickey would have this ability to be shocked by what he considered to be moral transgressions when he was constantly involved with ballplayers who universally drank, smoked and visited whorehouses at home and on the road:

Branch Rickey once said of me that I was a man with an infinite capacity for immediately making a bad thing worse.

Carve it on my gravestone, Branch. I have to admit it’s sometimes true.

As far as Rickey was concerned, I was sometimes able to make a bad situation worse even when I’d have sworn I was making it better. During the last year of the war, when the Dodgers were playing anybody who could fit our uniforms, one of the fittees was Tom Seats, a left-handed pitcher who had labored through the years in the minors, not wholly without success. A year earlier, he had been doing his bit by working in an airplane factory in San Diego. Pitching only over the weekend, he had won 25 games in the Pacific Coast League.

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For us, he couldn’t get by the third inning. Over and over it happened—I couldn’t understand it. He was strong as a bull; he had a good curve; his control wasn’t that bad. And he kept getting his jock knocked off.

Charlie Dressen, who could get information about everybody, finally came to me and said, “You know, Leo, they tell me this guy drinks. Can you get any whiskey around here?”…

---In l943, in Brooklyn, he had a plan to make a great deal more money: "There were a million blacks who played baseball. He knew right there ... that it was only sensible to look for players who could make the Dodgers. And fill seats at Ebbets Field and all over the league."---Read More:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-kornbluth/jimmy-breslins-143-page-b_b_850283.html

…That was a good question. Whiskey was in such short supply by then that not even Mac Kreindler of “21,” who had been a good friend of mine from back in the old days, could get any for me. The best he could come up with was two dozen of those little half-pint bottles of brandy.

Just before Seats was ready to warm up for his next start, I invited him into my office for a man-to-man talk. “Tom,” I said, “you’ve got to be a better pitcher than you’re showing me. You can’t win twenty-five games against nine girls unless you’re a better pitcher than this.”

He didn’t have the slightest idea what was wrong. All he knew was that he didn’t seem to have any strength when he went out there.

I said: “I know you drink.”

“I sure do.”

I asked him if he drank brandy.

“I drink anything,” he said….

---Stretching across right field, a mere 297 feet to the foul pole, was a hand-operated scoreboard with a wire screen above and a wall of advertisements below, the oddest one daring the batter to “Hit Sign, Win Suit” from Abe Stark’s haberdashery. Bleacher cheers were led by the bell-clanging Hilda Chester, whose signature taunt — “Eacha heart out, ya bum” — easily reached both dugouts. Baseball’s premier organist, Gladys Gooding, performed between innings, while the oddball “Dodgers Sym-Phony” entertained in the aisles. Players were introduced by the grammatically challenged Tex Rickards, who reminded customers, “Don’t throw nuthin’ from the stands!” Once, spotting some coats hanging over the bleacher wall, Rickards announced, “Will the fans along the railing in left field please remove their clothes.” --- Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/books/review/the-man-who-hired-jackie-robinson.html?pagewanted=all

…Out of my desk came one of the little bottles of brandy. As I poured him a shot, his eyes got that big. He took one gulp, and I could see that the next time I wouldn’t have to worry about the glass. He warmed up, and I want to tell you something; by the time the game was ready to start the brandy was pouring out of him. That sonofagun pitched five scoreless innings. They couldn’t touch him. And then I took him into the clubhouse, let him get into a dry uniform and gave him another big belt….

Before going back to Leo the Lip and Rickey, at some point Rickey in thinking this through, the Color line, this man who said “luck is the residue of opporunity and design,” he must have had doubts, he must have realized that the relationship between artifice and the truth is sometimes connected and often complementary. Integration would be a marketing boom, but not really solve anything. It would be segregation still, just a more emancipated form of it. I think he was torn between a theological idealism with messianic overtones and a fallback position of making money off black players the same way the game had treated white players as field negroes to be exploited. Rickey had to tap into the negro leagues since the Dodgers had no farm system, so Robinson was this product of desperation and final recourse to pump up a losing franchise.

Durocher: …From there on in he was the best pitcher we had.

At the end of the season, Mr. Rickey called me into his office for the specific purpose of congratulating me on the fine job I had done with Tom Seats. “I have never seen such a transformation,” he said. “From a Class C pitcher to a fine major-league pitcher. I don’t know what you said or did to the man, but whatever it was I’d like to hear it from you.”

I said, “Well, Mr. Rickey, I gave him a shot of brandy—about this much—twenty-thirty minutes before he warmed up. And then I gave him another shot in the fifth inning.”

Rickey’s eyebrows always seemed to become twice as thick when he was angry. He just kept staring at me, and then his eyes began to squint, and I knew I was in trouble.

“You … gave … a … man … in … uniform … whiskey?”

I didn’t think he’d appreciate the distinction between whiskey and brandy, and so all I said was, “Yes, sir.”

He said: “He will never pitch again for Brooklyn.” His eyes got even smaller. “I should fire you right now.”

I was in trouble, all right. “Mr. Rickey,” I said. “I thought when I signed the contract I signed for one thing. There is a ‘W’ column and there is an ‘L’ column. I thought it was my obligation and duty to put as many as I could under that ‘W’ column. I saw nothing unethical about what I did. I just gave a man a little drink of brandy. I think it gave him more confidence, loosened him up. It must have done something, Mr. Rickey, or he couldn’t have had what you just called such a transformation. Now what it was, Mr. Rickey, I don’t know. But it certainly got the job done.”

Branch didn’t buy the medicinal angle at all. Seats never pitched another game in the major leagues, and I never came closer to losing my job.Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/173887.html

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