Branch Rickey’s Impact on the Pittsburgh Pirates
Branch Rickey only spent five seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, but his impact on the franchise as a whole is massive. For one, the most legendary player in the Pirates’ history and arguably the sport’s history is responsible for his major league career because of Rickey.
In 1954, Rickey went into the Rule 5 Draft and selected a young Puerto Rican outfielder from his former team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. That player was Roberto Clemente. You know the rest of the story from there. Clemente would go on to have an astounding Hall Of Fame career, reaching the 3000 hit club, going to the All-star game 15 times, taking home two World Series rings, an MVP award, and 15 Gold Gloves until his untimely death at just 38 years old while delivering supplies to Nicaragua, which a massive earthquake had recently hit.
Aside from Clemente, Rickey had signed a handful of players that would eventually go on to be key players in the Pirates’ 1960 World Series winning team. Those included infielders Dick Groat, Dick Stuart, Bill Mazeroski, and pitchers Roy Face and Bob Friend.
The 1953 Pirates were also the first team to adopt batting helmets permanently. As we talked about earlier, this was an innovation that Rickey was already using in Spring Training during his time with the Dodgers. The helmets at this time were fairly primitive, being described as ‘fiberglass miner helmets.’ Rickey had owned stock in the company that sold the helmets but mandated players to wear the helmets, both when taking the field and stepping to the plate. Rickey’s mandate has saved many players from potentially life-altering head injuries throughout baseball, especially today, considering how hard pitchers throw.
Overall, Rickey was baseball’s most influential person. From the advancement of minor league systems, the innovations of equipment that isn’t given a second thought today, and advanced statistics, as well as the color barrier, everything in modern-day baseball almost has some Branch Rickey tied to it. Rickey may have long since passed away, but his contributions to the game he made have changed the way we play it and for the better.