I never met the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died July 16 at the age of 99. But he was kind enough to respond to a letter I wrote in the late stages of my research for my Branch Rickey biography.
Stevens had been a law clerk for Wiley Rutledge, Jr., the last Supreme Court Justice appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since Rutledge and Branch Rickey had both been members of the Public Question Club, a discussion group of St. Louis leaders in the inter-world war years, I had wondered whether the name of Rickey had ever come up in chats with the Justice.
Stevens wrote me that Rutledge had never mentioned Rickey. But Stevens had met the baseball executive in 1951 when Stevens served as the minority Republican counsel to the House Judiciary sub-committee. Chaired by Brooklyn Democratic Congressman Emanuel Celler, the legislators were investigating possible anti-trust violations in the baseball business.
Stevens shared his remembrance of an informal conversation before Rickey's testimony. "The key to a successful baseball team is to 'keep 'em hungry'," Stevens recalled Rickey saying. The executive truly believed players "will have the maximum incentive to strive for excellence on the field in order to justify a better paycheck for next season." (Quoted with Justice Stevens' permission in PB edition of my BRANCH RICKEY: BASEBALL'S FEROCIOUS GENTLEMAN, p. vi.) Stevens was not endorsing that position but just remembering Rickey's firm viewpoint.
The plaudits for Stevens are pouring in, deservedly so. He became over time a voice on the high court for old-fashioned liberalism and minority rights.
He came from a wealthy Chicago-area family that owned among other properties the downtown Stevens Hotel. It was at that hotel in late August 1945 where Branch Rickey's trusted scout Clyde Sukeforth slipped the elevator man some cash enabling Jackie Robinson to come up to his room via the front elevator not the service elevator.
It was the beginning of the saga that shortly led Robinson to Brooklyn and his historic first meeting with Branch Rickey. (see my book, pp. 371-372).
Stevens was an unabashed Chicago Cubs fan who I'm glad to say lived to see them finally win a World Series in 2016 after a 108-year drought. In the July 19 Washington Post. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote a lovely reminiscence of Stevens' as both jurist and Cubs fan.
As a young teenager Stevens attended the famous Babe Ruth "called home run" game at Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series. Stevens strongly dismissed the legend that the Babe called the home run against pitcher Charlie Root. He was just pointing out to the pitcher, Stevens insisted, there was one more strike in his at-bat.
The 2019 Cubs are in the hunt for the playoffs again this season. But like the entire NL Central division, they have been inconsistent. They needed a rare 8-1 force out at second base to help them secure a one-run victory over the Padres this past Saturday July 20.
On a swirling windy day at Wrigley, erratic second baseman Addison Russell gave up on a pop fly to short center. Shortstop Javier Baez also tried for the ball leaving second base uncovered. But relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler alertly covered second base to register the putout on a throw from center fielder Albert Almora.
Once again, if you are watching the game carefully (and not obsessed over incessant new statistics), you see something new in every baseball game. I don't think I ever saw an 8-1 putout at second base (and 8-1 putouts at first base are pretty rare, too.)
That's all for this installment. Congrats to the recent inductees into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I didn't watch all the ceremonies but was taken by the warm gratitude expressed by Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith for those who helped them on their way to immortality.
I for one, however, welcome an end to the 24/7 coverage of Mariano Rivera's unanimous induction. I salute his honor but I think baseball in the future would be better if closers worked more than one inning. Like Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, and Bruce Sutter. A subject for further discussion.
For now, Always remember: Take it easy but take it!