Pacific Coast League owner/president Branch B. Rickey has been involved with baseball professionally since 1963, when he landed a job as a business manager in the Appalachian League.
Baseball in Rickey's family goes back longer than that, as both his father and grandfather were front office executives with St. Louis, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh during some of the game's formative years. His grandfather, who is credited with the founding of the "farm system" and the introduction of the batting helmet, is best known for signing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, thereby breaking the Major League's color barrier in 1947.
After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University, Branch B. Rickey served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela and subsequently as a U.S. recruitment director for the Corps. He later returned to baseball and worked in player development with the Pirates, Reds and Royals in the '70s and '80s.
In 1991, he became president of the American Association, which dissolved when the Triple-A was reorganized from three leagues into two, at which time Rickey assumed his position with the PCL. Rickey grew up in Rockville Center, N.Y., and currently lives in Colorado Springs.
Where will you be on Opening Day?
On Opening Day, it looks like I will be in Oklahoma City.
What are you most looking forward to in the 2008 season?
This is a season in which we are not opening any ballparks during our calendar year. Ordinarily, the opening of a ballpark is the premier event. That being said, there is a franchise scheduled to open in 2009 and all of the ramp-up for that situation is going to be extremely exciting. I think outside of that, the fact that we do have an awful lot of enthusiasm carrying over from a record-breaking 2007 season just makes us competitive to try to establish a new record in attendance. Supplementing that, we are bringing in new members to our Hall of Fame which gives you a good blend of the old with the new.
Which Minor League player would you pay to watch play this year?
I've always, in advance of All-Star games and seasons, been reluctant to identify players for that very feeling the excitement ought to be the scrutiny of what's going on in Spring Training and the buzz that comes from the scouts and the press and from the success the players have during Spring Training. I don't personally get that kind of thrill out of seeing players build up singularly as much as I love to be part of getting through Spring Training and seeing who's come out hotter than a firecracker.
What is one little-known fact about being a league president?
I think the way league presidents go about doing their business is probably as varied as are the way our franchises operate in that league. When you are asked to how a particular ownership group should operate in a particular market, you find that it's almost impossible to use a cookie-cutter to transfer the approach of one team into another city and I suspect that's probably true of league presidents.
What is your favorite part about being league president?
In the Pacific Coast League, over the time I've been in, the league has had a remarkable diversity of things that have come up. Some of the things you initiate yourself and some of the things spring up on you. It's a surprising thing how many times you can come to work the next day and find out how different it was than yesterday.
What would you be doing if you didn't work in baseball?
Before I got involved in player development, I really had ambitions of making a career outside of baseball. I thought that I would have the greater opportunity to establish my own reputation and a distinction from my family. One of the areas that appealed to me having lived overseas and having living outside of my culture for a number of years, I thought foreign service was extremely intriguing.
What's your favorite Minor League promotion?
There is more than one and my favorite one, people wouldn't believe. They'd say it never happened, it was impossible and my account of it was wholly distorted. Some of the more wonderful ones are the most bizarre ones and that's not fair because it gives a very distorted impression of what we do. Something more moderate, I remember one done in Fort Myers probably 20-25 years ago, an Elvis Presley seance. My appreciation of it was several people reported afterwards the possibility they really did see something. If I remember correctly, there was such a turnout and they had to turn so many people away, they decided to hold it again the next night as well.
What is your favorite Minor League memory?
One of the most wonderful memories I will always have come from a category of interfacing with historical figures, people who lived and breathed our game for many decades, and who have made a name for themselves. We had a person who we wanted to induct into our Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame and we wanted to give him a trophy in from a stadium full of people. But he wasn't walking very well, so he asked if he could do it some other city. I said, well, the Pacific Coast League extends far further east than you remember in your days. He asked if we reached New York. (laughs). We cross three time zones, but we don't get to New York yet.
He lived just outside of Boston so I asked if he was willing to do it in Pawtucket. So I went to Pawtucket to present a Hall of Fame plaque to Dom DiMaggio. We inducted him in front of a packed stadium. He came out and got three standing ovations. I think it's the first time I've ever seen a player get three standing ovations in one appearance. Dom's charm is contagious to 12,000 people, but it would have been 50,000 if the stadium held that many.
Have you ever witnessed a no-hitter? If so...when and where?
Several. The best no-hitter I've ever seen pitched was Tom Browning, and that was after I'd seen him pitch in a tryout camp.
When I came to the Pacific Coast League, there had been so very few no-hitters. I got to a game in 2003 in which a boy named John Wasdin was pitching against Albuquerque. About the sixth inning, it started to get exciting because he hadn't let on a baserunner and it turned out to be a perfect game.
If I were a Minor League mascot, I would be...
...thrilled to be at the ballpark every day.