Branch Rickey by Jimmy Breslin, Viking Books, 147 Pages, $19. 95, Hardcover, March 2011, ISBN 9780670022496 Ask yourself: in business, how important is change? How hard is change?
Ask yourself: in business, how important is change? How hard is change? Literally thousands of books have been written on this subject, because effective change is both necessary and nearly impossible. Now imagine yourself as a middle-aged baseball president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1940s, and you want to integrate baseball in the face of a longstanding "gentleman's agreement" amongst owners that kept baseball segregated. You don't know who you want to bring to your team, but you know in your heart that segregation is wrong and your sport needs to lead the way to social change. So in 1943 you start a long change process, preparing your team, your banker, your owners, your league, for the change, and as a result of your efforts, in 1947, Jackie Robinson plays his first game in the big leagues.
Pretty impressive, right? And to think you've probably never heard of the guy who did this: Branch Rickey. Now, thanks to the smart Penguin Lives series published by Penguin/Viking, we all get to learn the amazing story of Branch Rickey as told by the estimable Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Jimmy Breslin.
The lyrical nature and timelessness of baseball has always been appealing to me. And reading such behind-the-scene books as Moneyball by Michael Lewis adds a layer of richness to the experience of watching and theorizing about the game. Branch Rickey does the same. I was really surprised at how Rickey went about this sea change of integrating the game, and universal business lessons can be drawn from each move he made. Rickey is a leader worthy of a broader following.
This biography, Branch Rickey, is a remarkable little treasure that should be read by any person interested in change, ethics, and leadership. I hope Penguin chooses to submit this book for consideration in our business book of the year awards, because the three criteria that I have always stated make up a good business book—quality of the idea, applicability of the idea to business today, and accessibility—are here in spades.