Sunday, March 19, 2017


Jimmy Breslin died on Saturday, 3/19/17, age 88. He represented some of the best features of print journalism in its heyday when he plied that trade for a variety of outlets — the NY Post before it became a Murdoch rag, the NY Daily News, among them.

Breslin was born, raised and bloodied in New York, and it's next to impossible to imagine him transplanted to another venue. He liked fights and the kind NYC offered — and by NYC I don't mean only the high rent districts of Manhattan, though he had access, but as much or more the places in Queens he knew well.

He also knew a fair amount about Brooklyn.

I include here some selections from  his "Branch Rickey" (2003). For those who don't know, who have suffered the misfortune of living where that story is not legend, Rickey was the Dodger executive who decided to break the color barrier in major league baseball. Whether or not you've heard of Branch Rickey, you've surely heard of his co-conspirator, Jackie Robinson.

I suppose the proper thing to say here is Jimmy Breslin RIP. But I can't manage it. Breslin was never at peace; he was always embroiled.

You held the American heart in your hand when you attempted to change anything in baseball. If a black was involved, the cardiograms showed an ice storm.

Baseball was a sport for hillbillies with great eyesight.

What these two [Branch Rickey, Robinson] men had just done was agree to put their hands into the troubled history of America and fix it, starting in a baseball dugout.

They went by horse and wagon, to Pittsburgh, and then aboard a raft on the Ohio River to Sciotoville. The population was somewhat over zero.

The YMCA in Delaware, Ohio, had a speakers' program. . . They brought in figures such as Jane Addams, Jacob Riis, and Booker T. Washington, who delivered a detailed report on the condition of blacks in America. He was the first man of color Rickey ever heard speaking so. Usually the role of judging black character was white work.

Branch Rickey invented the baseball farm system, which gathered players of promise and grew them, like crops, on minor league teams, or farm clubs. The practice was modeled somewhat after the Southern system of slavery, but that was all right because it was baseball and the sport had its own quaint beliefs.

Now [Red] Barber was witness to a truly great event, Branch Rickey's assault on ignorance. "All the men in baseball understood the code," Barber recalled later. "A code is harder to break than an actual law."

The Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey, would spend the next twenty years keeping blacks off his teams and he got what he deserved, which was nothing.

[Clyde] Sukeforth was a scout who could go out for coffee and come back with a second baseman.

It is one of two American cities that describe their civic philosophies in two words. Chicago's is: "Where's Mine?" Jersey City's: "Not Guilty."

The owner's vote on this report [for keeping blacks out of baseball] was 15-1. Rickey was the only one against [that vote]. He walked out of the meeting in Chicago in cold anger.

Ebbets Field was a baseball park right across the street. Now it is a high, gloomy housing project whose ground floor bears signs that read "No Ball Playing."

He was a savagely good writer. No, won't curse him with an RIP.

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