On baseball, leadership in green business…and Branch Rickey

“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a f***in’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.” – Dodgers Manager Leo DeRocher

So, in the wake of the Giants’ victory  (the playoffs always makes me miss home), here’s yet another post on baseball: I’ve been thinking about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.

There are a lot of Jackie Robinson comparisons out there (and here, here, here, here and here… plus a related Sarah Vowell essay on other role models here), invoking Robinsons’ courageous and pivotal role in breaking down the race barrier in major league baseball.

Instead of Robinson, I’m wondering about the significance of the less-often-appropriated Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who in 1947 brought Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rickey’s bet paid off.  In his rookie season with the Dodgers, Robinson led the league in stolen bases. The Dodgers, who had not been in a World Series since 1941, went to the World Series in 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, finally taking the championship in1955.

Jonathan Eig, author of the book Opening Day about Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers, reflected upon Branch Rickey in an interview:

…”My favorite line about Rickey was that he was a man of many facets all turned on, as they used to say in Brooklyn. He really believed that he could do all those things, he could change the world, he could stick to his religious values and do the right moral thing, he could change political views on integration, he could change his southern teammates from bigots into more open minded men, he could win the pennant, he could make more money and he could corner the market on black talent. He wanted to do all of those things and the amazing thing is he managed to pull off most of it. He was always a step ahead.”

Branch Rickey did not see all of his facets as being irreconcilable; he thought they could work together and win ball games.

We seem to constantly be re-learning this lesson: you can be economically competitive and environmentally sustainable, and stay committed to a set of values.  You can be green and make the other kind of green.  The people who believe that you can do more than one of these things at once – that, in fact, they complement each other – are the ones who are at least a step ahead of everyone else.  The best leaders are able to change the rules themselves while doing so.

And possibly, by changing the rules, the game becomes better, fairer, and a lot more exciting.

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