Over the last two centuries, Delaware County has produced a remarkable set of individuals who have led lives of discovery. This “Delaware Roots” series reveals short insights into the lives of the well-known and less commonly known people born here, or who lived here, and then went on to make significant contributions to state, regional, or national history.
Former Delaware resident Wesley Branch Rickey (1881-1965) was an American baseball player and sports executive who is best known for breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Rickey was born in Stockdale, Ohio and raised in a strict religious setting. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University where he paid his way by playing semi-professional baseball and football. After graduating in 1904, Rickey went on to have a successful career in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and executive. Rickey’s baseball career began as a catcher for OWU before signing a professional contract with the St. Louis Browns in 1904. He went on to become a manager and executive for several teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
He was known for his innovative approach to the game, pioneering such concepts as the farm system and spring training camps. He was also an advocate for civil rights and social justice, advocating for equal pay and opportunities for African American players. In 2011, ESPN named him the most influential figure of the 20th century in sports Rickey received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1967) and with the Branch Rickey Award (1992-2014), which was created by the Rotary Club of Denver, Colorado to honor an individual currently active in Major League Baseball who demonstrates exceptional community service.
Rickey is also known for his quotes, which often focus on success, hard work, and opportunity. His most famous quote might well be “Some day I’m going to have to stand before God, and if He asks me why I didn’t let that [Jackie] Robinson fellow play ball, I don’t think saying ‘because of the color of his skin’ would be a good answer“. This quote reflects Rickey’s commitment to racial equality in baseball.
Other notable quotes from Rickey include:
- “First of all, a man, whether seeking achievement on the athletic field or in business, must want to win. He must feel that the thing he is doing is worthwhile; he must have joy in it.”
- “Luck is the residue of opportunity and design.”
- “Never surrender opportunity for security.”
- “It is not the honor that you take with you, but the heritage you leave behind.”
Rickey’s words continue to inspire people today as they emphasize hard work and dedication as well as equality and justice. His legacy lives on at OWU, where the Branch Rickey Arena is home to men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and volleyball teams as well as intramural sports.