Branch Rickey is often said to be one of the most forward-thinking and innovative managers and executives in baseball, for no less reason than his decision to sign Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1945. Jackie Robinson then went on to become the first rookie of the year in baseball history, set records, and broke the color barrier that was an unwritten rule in baseball clubs since their inception. These actions by both Rickey and Robinson are absolutely some of the most influential and groundbreaking moments in American history and racial equality, but the philosophy behind these actions reveals a much more complex motivation.
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Branch Rickey’s motivations for signing Jackie Robinson were not purely based in money, but that was one significant element to his decision. Rickey’s experiences with black athletes showed him that there was still substantial resistance to the idea of black players, even when it came to their personal lives and accommodations – once he saw Charles Thomas upset at not being able to check into the same hotel as the rest of the team. However, he also saw dollar signs; he knew that the Negro Leagues already had a bevy of attractive, high-performing players, and he could break the color barrier, make headlines and get a great player for cheap by signing Jackie Robinson (” Beyond the Box Score”, p. 15). Rickey completely understood and supported the racially progressive move that resulted from this act, but he also recognized the money he could make from a highly-publicized, skilled player he could get for less money.
In terms of philosophical leanings. Branch Rickey’s actions show him to be somewhat of an ethical egoist. While one could say he is altruistic for risking the ire of the baseball establishment for signing Jackie Robinson, the reasoning behind Rickey’s decision was also self-serving. In ethical egoism, working in one’s own self-interest does not necessarily mean doing harm or acting as a detriment to others; while that may happen, many ethical egoists make actions that benefit both himself and others at the same time. Rickey’s decision to sign Robison was borne of desire for his own profit and fame, but he did not begrudge in any way the racial implications and advancements such a move would provide to the African-American community.
In essence, one might say that the signing of Jackie Robinson was a Utilitarian act. In utilitarianism, the best course of action is one that promotes the happiness and well-being of everyone involved. While one could argue that it caused a net negative amount of happiness, due to the resistance of many to his signing and his first games, that is counteracted by the cumulative net positive effect this event had on both baseball and American culture. The Dodgers ended up getting a great player, the first rookie of the year ever, and proved that minorities were allowed to play baseball if they so desired. What’s more, they could be good at it.
Despite the success of the integration of baseball, it did not come without cost. The Negro leagues, all-black baseball teams that provided an unprecedented outlet for black players to play professionally, started to diminish with Jackie Robinson’s signing. Now that the color barrier was officially broken, major league teams were directly signing black players, instead of having to go through the Negro leagues. This spelled the end of what was, at the time, an incredibly profitable industry for black Americans, one they did not have at the time.
In the end, however, I fully believe that the dissolution of the Negro leagues was worth it from a civil rights perspective. With the breaking of the color barrier, true integration would happen, which was much more important from a social standpoint than allowing blacks to have their own separate enterprise, independent of whites but not quite as respected or supported. After Jackie Robinson’s signing, blacks would more or less have to start over, gaining less cumulative power than just having their own industry; however, this meant that they could take their shot at legitimate, major league baseball and no longer be relegated to the sidelines. The continued existence of the Negro leagues would merely sequester African-Americans away in a ” safe” place where tough questions of racial equality and race relations did not have to be asked; by having African-Americans be signed to major league baseball just as white players were, it was one more step towards true social equality for minorities.
In conclusion, Branch Rickey’s decision to sign Jackie Robinson was borne of ethical egoism, as he recognized the monetary advantages to this move while still wishing for social and racial progressiveness to continue. The signing itself was a utilitarian act, as it benefited both him, the African-American community, and the baseball community as a whole, increasing the happiness of everyone involved. The dissolution of the Negro leagues was a small price to pay to allow racial integration and intersocialization of whites and blacks to occur on a level playing field.
” Beyond the box score: Jackie Robinson, civil rights crusader.” Negro History Bulletin, 1995.