When religion & baseball intersect

I love writing about religion and economics, but my true passion is baseball. If I could combine writing about baseball with writing about religion or economics, that would be the best. Well, here's a story that did just that. Yesterday was not just my husband's birthday but Jackie Robinson Day, when Major League Baseball celebrates the breaking of the color barrier. It was 64 years ago that Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I enjoyed reading about the day and what it means, about Robinson and some of the other key players of that era, when I came across a CNN story with an unlikely twist.

Reporter Jamie Crawford begins by stating "Sometimes, matters of faith have a quiet yet powerful way of influencing history." And then he tells the story of a woman, Donnali Fifield, finding something her grandmother June Fifield had written for the church bulletin. It was about a meeting that June's husband, the Rev. Dr. L. Wendell Fifield, had with one of his parishioners, the legendary general manager Branch Rickey, just before he signed Robinson in 1947.

Here's the story:

"Don't let me interrupt, I can't talk with you," Rickey said as he walked into the minister's office, according to the paper. "I just want to be here. Do you mind?"

The two men passed the time without words - the minister going about his work; Richey frenetically pacing the floor, stopping only occasionally to peer out the window on the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood that surrounded the church.

Amid ongoing silence, more pacing, more stopping, more pacing, more stopping from Rickey for some 45 minutes, according to the article.

Finally, Rickey didn't just break the silence, he shattered it.

"I’ve got it," Rickey yelled emphatically as he banged his fist on the desk.

"Got what, Branch?" Fifield asked. "Wendell," Rickey said, "I've decided to sign Jackie Robinson!"

June Fifield wrote that as Rickey regained his composure he sank into a chair and told her husband, "This was a decision so complex, so far-reaching, fraught with so many pitfalls but filled with so much good, if it was right, that I just had to work it out in this room with you. I had to talk to God about it and be sure what he wanted me to do. I hope you don't mind."

The story includes many more details, about how the pastor had kept the story to himself and how that aspect was about the only part of the story that surprised anyone. When various other people are asked about the story, they all say that it sounds like something Rickey would have done. Branch Rickey III says that it's similar to other anecdotes he's heard about his grandfather, such as:

When a well-known journalist of the era told the Dodgers general manager that he thought “all hell would break loose” the next day with Robinson due to take the field for the first time as a Brooklyn Dodger, Rickey disagreed. “My grandfather immediately responded to him, ‘I believe tomorrow all heaven will rejoice,’” the younger Rickey said.

Jackie Robinson's widow says the story "reinforces" her view of him and her experiences with him. I mean, there's a reason the MLB award in recognition of exceptional community service is called The Branch Rickey Award.

Anyway, it's a simple story and there's not much to say about it except that it's a great example of how "Sometimes, matters of faith have a quiet yet powerful way of influencing history." It's something many people know already, but not something they see reflected terribly often in journalism or pop culture.

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