A church played a major role in baseball history:
Sometimes, matters of faith have a quiet yet powerful way of influencing history.
Take, for example, the behind-the-scenes story that preceded the entry of the first African-American player to major league baseball more than six decades ago.
That player, of course, was the legendary Jackie Robinson, who shattered the big-league color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. The story of faith belongs to the baseball executive who signed Robinson, the equally legendary Branch Rickey, and to a New York minister who played a quiet role in a major decision.
And the telling of that story spans generations and families, from the minister’s wife, who wrote it down, to the couple’s granddaughter who uncovered it many years later among her late grandmother’s writings.
“I had no idea that I would find a story that linked my grandfather to a part of U.S. history,” the granddaughter, Donnali Fifield, told CNN. “But as soon as I read it, I knew it was historically significant.”
What Fifield read was an account by June Fifield of her husband, the Rev. Dr. L. Wendell Fifield, and his encounter with Rickey as history was about to be made.
Fifield, who was pastor of the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn in the 1940s, counted Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as one of his parishioners. . . .
Fifield’s historical footnote of faith was more passive. In a paper titled “Branch Rickey’s ‘Day of Decision’,” June Fifield wrote about a visit Rickey paid to her husband’s office at the church just before his decision to sign Robinson.
“Don’t let me interrupt, I can’t talk with you,” Rickey said as he walked into the minister’s office, according to the paper. “I just want to be here. Do you mind?”
The two men passed the time without words – the minister going about his work; Richey frenetically pacing the floor, stopping only occasionally to peer out the window on the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood that surrounded the church.
Amid ongoing silence, more pacing, more stopping, more pacing, more stopping from Rickey for some 45 minutes, according to the article.
Finally, Rickey didn’t just break the silence, he shattered it.
“I’ve got it,” Rickey yelled emphatically as he banged his fist on the desk.
“Got what, Branch?” Fifield asked. “Wendell,” Rickey said, “I’ve decided to sign Jackie Robinson!”
June Fifield wrote that as Rickey regained his composure he sank into a chair and told her husband, “This was a decision so complex, so far-reaching, fraught with so many pitfalls but filled with so much good, if it was right, that I just had to work it out in this room with you. I had to talk to God about it and be sure what he wanted me to do. I hope you don’t mind.”
The article continues that as Rickey straightened his bow tie and donned his worn hat, he offered, “Bless you, Wendell,” then left the room.