Here's Our True State Treasure!
I have always
found it a little odd that the state of Ohio makes such a stretch
out being the birth of aviation. True, Wilbur and Orville Wright
were native sons, but the actual true "birth" of aviation was in
North Carolina. The whole thing is kind of like taking credit for
getting pregnant in Ohio while the actual baby was delivered flying
over the windy sand blown dunes of Kitty Hawk! I always wondered
what the good folks on the east coast thought about our reach for
ambition. If it was an all too confusing ruse simply to sell license
plates; it apparently worked!
If the State
of Ohio would like to have its very own 100% home-grown hero, may
I introduce to you a man who changed the world with a single act
of courage because it was the right thing to do.
was born of simple means in the hollows of Southern Ohio with a
common touch and a kind soul who was a true visionary way before
his years. For the people who knew him right up until his death
in 1965 at the age of 83 he was always referred to in the highest
respect as "Mr. Rickey." That for being that he gave that quality
of respect back to virtually everyone he met. While Branch Rickey
is best known for introducing the first African-American baseball
player into the Major Leagues in 1947, there is much more to his
legacy. Branch Rickey also opened the doors for Latin players by
drafting the very first Hispanic superstar; his name was Roberto
Clemente. His out of the box thinking was the framework for today's
Minor League farm system, he encouraged the addition of new teams
to the league, and created the batting helmet as part of the game.
Branch Rickey was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in
If you know
the true history of this native Ohio son, his accomplishments as
a multi-sport athlete, innovator, educator, businessman, coach,
and family man are all incredible stories unto themselves. If the
state of Ohio needs more local connections to ponder, Branch Rickey
was also the catcher for Ohio Wesleyan College where he earned his
Two men who
have a deep relationship to Branch Rickey with the help of a State
Representative traveled to Columbus last week to plead the case
of state recognition for a man who changed to world's course to
equality for all. Traveling north to the state capital was Al Oliver,
Gene Bennett, and Dr. Terry Johnson with the message to change the
name of State Route 23 to "The Branch Rickey Highway." As our politicos
listened to some good old fashioned logic and reasoning, the simple
move of re-naming the portion of a highway that splits our state
in half makes a solid case of honoring the man who brought us all
Gene Bennett who spent 58 years as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds,
the honor is certainly worthy.
"I knew Mr.
Rickey as a friend and a mentor," Gene Recalls, "People always remember
what he did for Jackie Robinson, but Mr. Rickey was always fighting
for the rights of minority's way back before 1947. Branch Rickey
never saw color and stood with the blacks in restaurants and hotels
where they weren't allowed. He was one of the first people I remember
who publically practiced equality when it was against the law."
Al Oliver who
spent 18 years in the Major Leagues and is a Portsmouth Native also
took the floor to talk about being a piece of the master plan that
Branch Rickey put in place in 1947.
that night of history. "In 1971, I was playing for the Pittsburg
Pirates when sometime in the third inning of the game, all of the
players finally realized that the entire lineup in the game was
African-American players. It was the first time in Major League
History that had ever happened! After the game it was discussed
kind of as a side note, but that was about it. The reason it was
such a non-event at the time is how far we had come with human rights
and equality thanks to Branch Rickey."
almost twenty years in the Majors, Al Oliver also lamented that
without what Branch Rickey did just 18 short years before he entered
professional baseball, he doubted he would of ever had a chance
to play at the highest level.
In April of
this year, a major motion picture called "42" will open worldwide
about the event that changed the face of human equality forever.
Harrison Ford will play Branch Rickey as the story will once again
be told of how a young boy from Stockdale, Ohio saw the world as
it was and how he thought it should be. If there was ever a time
to rejoice and honor the spirit of a true native Ohioan, that time
is now! In a matter "history seconds," just look at how quickly
the discrimination house of cards crumbled after Jackie Robinson
first broke the color barrier. It took a man of true courage and
foresight to put his name on the line in a world where things like
that just weren't done and in most areas illegal.
My hope is
that with the renewed attention to this historic act of mankind,
our state leaders, politicians, lobbyists, and all who stand on
the right side of Mr. Rickey can see what a statement re-naming
a highway that he traveled regularly could bring to all who live
in Ohio and his honor.
With all respect
to the Wright Brothers who in my humble belief share a very important
moment with another state, the accomplishments of Branch Rickey
are all our very own. Wouldn't it be nice to someday buy a license
plate at the local DMV in the state of Ohio that said "Branch Rickey,
Birth of Human Equality?"
To quote my
good friend Gene Bennett, "It's the right thing to do!"
Hayes is a morning radio host and a syndicated columnist.
E-mail Steve your comments... Steve@SteveHayesMedia.com
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