Opening day for Major League Baseball took place last week, on March 29—the earliest opening date in MLB history, excepting for special international events. This year’s opening day also marked the first time in 50 years that a full slate of games was scheduled for the first day.
The Library of Congress is marking the beginning of the 2018 season by posting a series of scouting reports compiled by Branch Rickey (1881–1965), a former player, manager and baseball executive, best known as the man responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball in 1947, thereby breaking baseball’s long-established color barrier.
The Library’s Manuscript Division is custodian of a collection of Branch Rickey Papers, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of 20th-century baseball, viewed through the prism of this influential figure. Last spring, the Library released a handful of Rickey’s scouting reports on its website. Now the Manuscript Division has digitized all of the reports and made the entire set available online for the first time.
Jeffrey Flannery, head of the Reference and Reader Services Section of the Manuscript Division, helped develop content for the new online collection and assisted in processing the scouting reports. Here he answers a few questions about the reports and the Library’s Rickey holdings.
Tell us a little about Branch Rickey.
Beginning his major league career as a player and a manager, later serving as an executive with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1920s and 1930s, Rickey was instrumental in developing the minor league system as a conduit for players to reach the major leagues. And, while with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s, Rickey and Robinson achieved the monumental feat of successfully integrating Major League Baseball while developing pennant winning teams. These accomplishments form a lasting legacy for a Hall-of-Fame career, but an especially intriguing part of Rickey’s career is a valuable trove of scouting reports he compiled during the 1950s and 1960s.
What do the scouting reports consist of?
The reports span the dates 1951 to 1964, with most of the items concentrated between 1951 and 1956, when Rickey was an executive with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and 1962 to 1964, when he served as a consultant with the St. Louis Cardinals. Rickey often compiled multiple reports on the same player, identifying skills and tracking progress, or lack thereof. The reports often take on a caustic tone and can seem a bit heartless, but also bring to life many known and many more unknown players from this era.
What insights do the scouting reports convey about Rickey?
The reports not only display Rickey as a perceptive and shrewd judge of baseball ability, but provide insight into Rickey’s character as well. In writing the reports in the way he did, Rickey revealed as much about himself as about any player—how he valued education, morality and code of conduct as much as a player’s talent. As an executive, Rickey also had a keen appreciation for the bottom line, as is made clear in some of the reports.
What items, for you, are especially compelling?
It especially resonates for me to see evaluations of players from the early 1960s, when I followed baseball as a young fan. John Callison, Steve Carlton and Bill White were players I had the good fortune to meet and whose careers I followed as closely as possible. To see them evaluated was a special thrill.
Besides scouting reports, what do the Rickey Papers consist of?
The Rickey Papers consist of 29,400 items organized into 84 containers. The collection is divided into different parts, or series, with sections for family papers, general correspondence, baseball files, subject files, speeches and writings and miscellany files. The correspondence series makes up almost a third of the collection and documents Rickey’s extensive personal and professional interests and his association with the many prominent individuals with whom he was engaged in business or social activities. A finding aid provides a description of the collection with a container list.
How can researchers best access the Rickey Papers that are not online?
The scouting reports—approximately 1,750 arranged in three containers—account for only about 6 percent of the 29,400 items in the collection, so you can see that there is much more to the collection than the scouting reports. The Rickey Papers are available in the Manuscript Reading Room and open to individuals above high-school age who obtain a Library issued reader card and have a specific research topic. More information about accessing the Manuscript Division’s collections can be found on our website.