I will always treasure the Alabama-native drawl telling me this one from long ago:From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura:
"Mr. Rickey, well, since you asked, sir, I got to admit, I don't want no colored boy playing on the Dodgers."
And so, in 1947 the Jackie Robinson story was about to begin in Brooklyn, and general manager Branch Rickey, whom Bobby claimed to have admired and feared "as much as God himself" told the Dodgers' backup catcher, "Bobby, I ought to get rid of you, but you know what, I don’t think I really believe that’s in your heart, what you now tell me about this young man [Robinson]."
Within six months of Bobby meeting Jackie in spring training, and Jackie breaking baseball's color line, Bragan began a family friendship with Robinson that would last until Jackie passed away, and then continued with Jackie's widow.
"Knowing Jackie Robinson turned my life around," Bobby always said.
Bragan initially resisted Robinson, as did other teammates, most of them like Bragan raised in the South. Bragan even sought to be traded rather than play with Robinson.Profiled as the leadoff personality in Donald Honig's The Man in the Dugout: Fifteen Big League Managers Speak Their Minds (you can read the entire chapter via Google Books), Bragan elaborated:
That changed when the team took a two-week road trip early in the season.
"On those long train rides, that's when I really started to get to know Jackie," Bragan told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2007, the 60th anniversary of Robinson's entry into major league baseball. All of us did, actually. This man was about class, culture and courage. All my prejudices begin to slowly fade.
"I started off that trip determined to have nothing to do with Jackie. But when that trip was over, the team goes back home, then, when the second road trip started, I was one of those jockeying to sit next to Jackie on the train. Jackie Robinson, the person and the ballplayer, changed my views, and changed my life."
Jackie won the respect of everybody by sheer guts and ability. Nobody ever came into the big leagues under less favorable circumstances, and he handled himself beautifully and he played like a demon. he was one of the greatest ballplayers ever to come down the pike.A gifted raconteur, Bragan had a lighter side as well, particularly when it came to his managing career. After finishing above .500 in three straight years in Milwaukee (1963-1965) but failing to climb higher than fifth place in a 10-team league, he recalled, "I told them in Milwaukee that I was leaving, and I got the biggest ovation I ever got... But I'm taking the team with me." Former Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves retells a scene from Bragan's autobiography:
Being Jackie Robinson's teammate was one of the best breaks I ever got. Watching what he had to go through helped me. It helped make me a better, more enlightened man, and it helped me to have a future in baseball as a manager because later on I was gong to have to manage fellows like Felipe Alou, Maury Wills, Henry Aaron, and plenty of other black players. If I hadn't had that experience with Jackie, I don't think I could have done it. It was a breakthrough for me, a great experience that I learned from and built upon later in life.
Jackie and I became good friends. Side by side we mourned our great loss in the same pew at Mr. Rickey's funeral. The respect and admiration that we shared for our mutual "father" served to cement our friendship.
In the foreword to Bragan's book, "You Can't Hit the Ball with the Bat on Your Shoulder," Howard Cosell called him "baseball's Music Man ... Elmer Gantry in uniform."Judging from all of the testimonials to Bragan that have surfaced, he cemented many a friendship during his time in the game. He'll be missed.
Cosell tells about the day in 1957 when Bragan, then Pittsburgh's skipper, was sitting at the piano in Howard's Manhattan apartment, playing and singing "Mack the Knife," when he was interrupted by a call from Pirates GM Joe Brown. Bobby took the call, talked for a couple of minutes, then resumed singing.
"What did Joe want?" Cosell asked.
"Mack the knife is ... back in town," Bragan sang, then added a new verse. "Joe Brown just fired me."
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