Branch Rickey III is part of a legendary baseball family that has been entwined with the sport for more than 100 years.
His grandfather, Branch Rickey, is best remembered as the man who signed Jackie Robinson and broke baseball’s unwritten rule against using black players. His father, Branch Rickey Jr., spent more than 25 years working in baseball before dying at the age of 47 in 1961.
Branch Rickey III, 73, is president of the Pacific Coast League, which Wichita will join next year when the New Orleans Baby Cakes move to town.
His first job in baseball came when he ran a minor league team in Tennessee during his summers off from high school.
He has been president of the American Association and later the Pacific Coast League since 1991. He is a two-time winner of minor league baseball’s Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as league president.
Branch Rickey III was in town recently for an event with Wichita Baseball 2020. He talked with KMUW’s Tom Shine about a variety of topics, including minor league baseball, the new Wichita franchise and his life in baseball.
On the state of minor league baseball:
I would characterize minor league baseball as healthy and healthier. During the past 20 years, we've really undergone a renaissance in stadium construction and it's that stadium construction that has reached out to the modern fan.
We have really morphed into being a destination spot for families and for people who are looking for affordable recreation. We have people coming out to our games who are looking for fun, looking for live entertainment, looking for a mixture of things that are way beyond just the playing of the game on the field.
On some of the problems associated with the rollout of Wichita’s new stadium:
Well, it has been my experience that in advance of the construction of a stadium, there are so many concerns and public actions and debates … in some cases dilemmas that are faced. … There are always, I think, steps that people wish they had envisioned in advance.
And that's just part of the process of trying to get the complex public-private partnerships together or city-state ventures together. I understand the difficulties of that complexity.
On being asked to run a minor league team when he was 17 years old:
I said, 'Sure, why not?' I didn't think that that might be overwhelming. And so what an entry into minor league baseball that was. It was just fabulous. Of course … it seemed like I was working 24 hours a day. I was barely getting any sleep, and I was my own secretary. Had my portable typewriter, and I was typing into the wee hours of the morning and waking up at the crack of dawn. And it was just as magnificent.
On the enduring legacy of Jackie Robinson:
The fact that if you look back now at African-Americans in the 20th century who were just superlative athletes and broke records by a huge margin and white Americans that just were shattering records … whose names we have to remind kids of who they were today. But Jackie Robinson's legend grows by the day, and we hold him on such a plateau, deservedly so.
[He] wasn't the greatest RBI guy or wasn't the biggest and most powerful. But he surpassed with setting such an example … to the rest of us, standing up in the face of abuse and then setting such a lofty, lofty standard. So here he is shining as brightly, if not more brightly, than he did even back in the ‘40s or ‘50s. And what a beautiful legend.
On his life in baseball:
I fell into baseball in large part because of having seen my father and grandfather working in the sport and from other family members also in the sport and because I was exposed to it in those early years after high school. It was contagious, infectious. I've loved it. I continue to love it.
Tom Shine is director of news and public affairs at KMUW. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine.