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The Dodgers’ partnership of leaders

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey gets credit for several firsts.

He’s best known for signing the first black major league baseball player, Jackie Robinson; drafting the first Hispanic, Roberto Clemente; inventing the minor league farm system; and introducing the batting helmet.

Rickey, however, did none of those things alone. Take integrating baseball. Rickey got help from baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, who, right after being named commissioner in 1945, said that if a black soldier could fight at Okinawa and Guadalcanal, he could play professional baseball.

That was Rickey’s cue to scout and sign the second baseman Robinson, which he did in just four months. On the other hand, Rickey needed Robinson himself. Asked if he would take insults in public without fighting back, Robinson said yes. He kept his word.

At the same time, Robinson began to see his role as a pathfinder on the national stage. After his first season, his manager said, “He’s the greatest competitor I ever saw, and what’s more, he’s a gentleman.”

Rickey’s leadership was actually a partnership.

The first time the Dodgers headed South, Rickey wanted any threats brought directly to him. It didn’t take long. The team received a telegram from the Ku Klux Klan that read: “If you come to Atlanta, we’ll kill you. We’ll shoot you out on the field.”

Rickey contacted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who advised the team to come anyway. The threats proved baseless.

Bottom line:
Achieving anything important requires not so much leadership and followership as a partnership of leaders.

— Adapted from Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Peter Golenbock, G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

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