Baseball Hall of Famer Branch Rickey, who passed away in 1965, has been in the news the past few days, as a Bible that belonged to Rickey and was signed by members of the 1953 Pittsburgh Pirates recently turned up in Sacramento.
That Bible, marrying Rickey’s faith and love for sports, is a great reminder of how instrumental Rickey was in the founding of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
In 1954, just one year after those signatures were affixed to the Bible, FCA founder Don McClanen began a letter-writing campaign to professional athletes that he had read about in articles that highlighted their faith. McClanen had a desire to form an organization of athletes and coaches that would project them as Christian men before the youth and athletes of the United States.
Rickey was one of the few who did not respond to McClanen’s correspondence.
When McClanen, who was a coach in Oklahoma, and his family traveled East that August, he tried repeatedly to set up a meeting with Rickey, best known as the man who signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization, eventually breaking Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947.
As the story published in a book published by FCA in 2004, Sharing The Victory: 50 Years, One Mission goes:
McClanen knew that Rickey was a key, so he tried repeatedly to set up an interview. Rickey’s secretary gave him no hope, but finally told McClanen that if he wanted to drive all the way to Pittsburgh with the possibility of a five-minute meeting, he wouldn’t stop him.
While (McClanen’s wife) Gloria and their two children bathed the appointment in prayer, McClanen went to the Pirates offices and waited for an opportunity to share his idea with Rickey.
So, McClanen sat in the waiting room, hoping for his five minutes with Rickey. The five-minute meeting lasted five hours.
“We struck up an immediate rapport,” McClanen remembers. “I presented him with my entire story and dream of bringing ballplayers together to influence young people for Christ. Our talk was interspersed with calls about trades and such, and I enjoyed listening to that.
“Finally, he made a statement that I will never forget: ‘This thing has the potential of changing the youth scene of America within a decade. It is pregnant with potential. It is just ingenious. It’s a new thing, where has it been?’”
What followed was nearly as important as his verbal support. Rickey recognized that the movement would need funding. He came up with the figure of $10,000 and told McClanen how to get ahold of Paul Benedum, an influential businessman in Pittsburgh who eventually did give the $10,000.
That became the turning point in taking what McClanen has referred to as “God’s amazing, miraculous dream” and helping it become what is now the world’s largest Christian sports ministry, one that God uses to bring thousands of people into His Kingdom every year.
For his part, Rickey would be inducted into FCA’s Hall of Champions in 1995.
One has to wonder if the Bible that was recently found in Sacramento was sitting on Rickey’s desk the morning he and McClanen helped set the course for what is now the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Don McClanen Discusses The Meeting With Branch Rickey That Paved the Way for FCA
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