Branch Rickey, ’11, who helped break the color barrier in Major League Baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to a big-league contract, has been honored with a new collegiate professorship at Michigan Law.
Dean Evan Caminker is the inaugural chair holder.
The professorship was created with leadership gifts from the Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation, the Zell Family Foundation, and Major League Baseball. Fred Wilpon, principal owner of the New York Mets, is a 1958 alumnus of the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Sam Zell, ’66, has had a longtime interest in the Chicago White Sox and acquired the Chicago Cubs when he bought the Tribune Company.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to honor a man whose towering stature in America’s pastime also had a huge impact on America’s promise of equality of opportunity and justice for everyone,” says Fred Wilpon. “That’s in the best tradition of the University of Michigan, and I’m excited to help honor Mr. Rickey by strengthening the alma mater we share.”
When Rickey, an Ohioan, arrived at Michigan Law at age 27, he had already played big-league baseball, studied and taught law at Ohio Wesleyan, and worked as a varsity baseball coach and college athletic director.
“Branch Rickey’s time as a student at the Law School exemplifies the ethos of hard work and passion that also became the hallmarks of his career in baseball,” says Dean Caminker, who noted that Rickey was battling a life-threatening disease, tuberculosis, while he was both excelling in law school and managing Michigan’s varsity baseball team. “Mr. Rickey’s uphill fight to integrate Major League Baseball helped ensure that people of color who shared that same level of dedication could finally be fully rewarded for their efforts.”
Rickey went from Michigan Law, where his classmates included African Americans and women, to an impressive baseball career. Among numerous other accomplishments, he established the original farm team system and built the first Florida spring training facility.
Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 occurred a year earlier than the integration of the U.S. military and seven years before Brown v. Board of Education. Michigan Law’s recognition of Rickey adds to a growing list of accolades for the man ESPN named Most Influential Sports Figure of the 20th century.