The name Branch Rickey is synonymous with baseball. It is etched in the minds of generations of fans.
And for good reason.
The Rickey family has played a key role in baseball for more than 100 years. And Branch Rickey III is doing his part to carry on the family tradition.
“It’s not always easy to carry a great baseball name,” said Fred Whitacre, former Colorado Springs Sky Sox general manager and close friend of Rickey’s. “He knows he has that legacy and he does it with such dignity and grace.
Rickey III, 68, lived near the Broadmoor for years with his wife, Diane. The couple moved to the Austin, Texas, area a few years ago when the Pacific Coast League offices relocated to the Lone Star state. The PCL offices were located near the Penrose House on Mesa Ave., since 1997 prior to the move.
On July 26 of this year, Rickey III returned to the Pikes Peak region when his long-time friend Dave Elmore was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Security Service Field.
Rickey, who resembles his famous grandfather, smiled with delight as Elmore (the owner of the Sky Sox) was recognized and cheered on by those in attendance.
Elmore owned the franchise going back to the days when the team was based in Hawaii and moved it here in 1988 with the help of Whitacre.
It would be easy for Rickey III to rest on the laurels of his famous name. After all, his grandfather was one of the greatest innovators baseball has ever known, pioneering the farm system among other things.
Rickey Sr. was also a leader in the civil rights movement. It was Rickey, Sr., who broke Baseball’s color barrier when he signed Jackie Robinson to a professional contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. In April 1947, Robinson debuted with the Dodgers and went on to win National League Rookie of the Year honors.
“I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball,” Rickey, Sr., once said.
Rickey Sr., - known as “Mahatma” - died in 1965 at the age of 83. He was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. His son, Branch, Jr., passed away in 1961 at the age of 47. So it was up to Branch III to carry on the family tradition.
“He’s been in the game so long, there’s not a lot he hasn’t seen,’ said Tony Ensor, president of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox about Branch III. “He has the ability to pull people together on an issue.
“He knows everyone in the game, and he’s always keeping his fingers on the pulse about what’s going on in the league.”
Rickey III has been involved with professional baseball since the age of 17 in 1963, when he became Business Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rookie league affiliate in the Appalachian League at Kingsport, Tennessee.
He continued to work with Pirates’ rookie teams during the summers while pursuing his college degree at Ohio Wesleyan University - the same school his father and grandfather attended. He was a four-year letterman on the soccer team and also excelled in intramural wrestling, winning four first-place medals during his time there.
Following graduation with a degree in philosophy, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela from 1967-69, then as a college campus recruiter for the Peace Corps, and subsequently as a U.S. regional recruitment director in 1971.
He returned to baseball in 1972, working in player development with the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds.
Rickey III took over as president of the PCL when the American Association was disbanded during realignment by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues from three Triple-A leagues to two. One of the most intelligent and articulate stewards of the game, Rickey III has championed making baseball more family-friendly, has brought in owners such as Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and has pushed to get facilities updated in nearly every market.
The most recent PCL market is in El Paso, Texas.
“He spends a lot of time and a lot of effort working behind the scenes,” said Mike Hobson, the Sky Sox director of media relations. “The growth of this league is a direct reflection of Branch.”
Rickey III is a tireless worker. During the first two weeks of most seasons, he visits stadiums in about half of the PCL’s 16 cities.
“My wife is not a baseball fan to the radical degree that the rest of my family is,” Rickey said.
But Diane is a huge Robert Redford fan. Back in 2004, Rickey III had dinner at Redford’s home in Los Angeles as the two talked details of a movie that involved the famed actor possibly portraying Ricky, Sr. Diane was not part of the meeting.
The movie “42” was eventually made, but it starred Harrison Ford as the Rickey Sr.
Rickey III keeps in close contact with Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel. They have known each other for more than 40 years and have spoken together at events around the country.
“I refer to Rachel as American royalty,” Rickey III said. “She’s my first candidate. She has a spirit of charity that rivals anyone.”
Rickey III has no plans of slowing down. Under his watch, the league continues to see tremendous growth. He has also stabilized the league by putting new teams in strong markets like Reno, Sacramento, Fresno, Albuquerque and Round Rock, Texas.
“Baseball is taking me in a lot of very good directions,” Rickey III said. “I have had the wonderful good fortune to be exposed to some very creative and far-sighted people. I had that tradition passed along to me on a different front.”