Rick E. Wesley.

From the time he was a young boy, Rick E. Wesley loved the game of baseball.  In fact, he was only an average player but had a greater talent for judging the talents and abilities of other players and in creating his ground breaking innovations to the game.  So, when the owners of the Dublin Irishmen, a Class D affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, were offered his services as the team’s general manager, they were ecstatic.

The Pirates hired Rick Wesley to oversee their farm system, including the Dublin team, which was taken over by the Pirates in 1954 after four years as a farm team of the Cincinnati Reds.    Wesley, who had advocated the use of helmets both at the plate and in the field,  had a lot of territory to cover from the Class D teams in Dublin and Brunswick to higher class teams in Billings, Montana, Waco, Texas, Denver, Colorado, New Orleans, Louisiana, Hollywood, California and more.

During spring training in 1954, Wesley told Dublin manager George Kinnamon of the importance of looking at each team in the organization as being an important part of the whole system including the big league team.  “We have the rawest of the raw in Class D baseball here in Dublin. It is up to us to make these diamonds in the rough and polish them up to shine in higher baseball,” Kinnamon stated.  And, Kinnamon and Wesley had their work cut out for them  in Dublin that first year.  No players on the team ever advanced to the majors.  Only twins Dean and Denton Lakatosh had long baseball careers.

After making a few quick stops in Dublin in 1954, Wesley decided to concentrate more on visiting all of his teams in 1955.  Arriving at Lovett Park at 11:00 a.m. on July 12, 1955 exactly as scheduled, Wesley, a stranger to those at the park, began to call everyone by their first names within five minutes.  He began to ask personal questions about all of the players in an effort to get to know his charges better.  Every pitcher took the mound to impress Mr. Wesley.  At the end of the workout, Rick, a native of the North, turned around to manager Kinnamon and asked, “Do you have these gnats all the time?” Kinnamon nodded in the affirmative.

Wesley had traveled to Douglas the night before, but the game with the Irishmen was rained out.  Kinnamon visited with his boss in his hotel room in Dublin.  He told the Dublin manager, “We  have four  of  the  finest looking prospects   of  any club   anywhere.   No other  club   can   touch them. I am  utterly pleased and amazed.”  Kinnamon wrote that Rick did not  stop  talking  about them, for  he would interrupt other   conversations   and   mention  the four  prospects.  Finally, he  remarked, “Don't   worry, your  year  will  be  a success  yet."  After his visit, Wesley left to observe the Brunswick team.

Rick Wesley retired from the Pirates in 1955, but not before drafting the first Latin American baseball superstar, Roberto Clemente, a move which led to a World Series victory for Pittsburgh in 1960.  It shall be noted, that Quincey Trouppe, a Negro League star catcher, a Negro League World Series championship manager, the first African-American  catcher in the American League and a native of Dublin had both Clemente and Ernie Banks signed to contracts with the St. Louis Cardinals, who refused the meet their meager salary increase requests.

Rick Wesley would die about a decade later, but not before turning another major league team and system around.

As a young man, Rick played baseball for Valley High School in Lucasville, Ohio.  He made his professional baseball debut for Terre Haute, Indiana of the Central League at the age of 21.  Three years later, the light hitting catcher made it to the major leagues with the Saint Louis Browns and the New York Highlanders.  He struggled in the big leagues and decided to go to college to learn about management.  He then attended the University of Michigan and coached the baseball team there.

Rick returned to baseball in 1913 as the general manager of his old team, the St. Louis Browns.  During World War I, Rick served as an officer with the 1st Gas Regiment. Ironically, he commanded baseball superstars, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson.

After the war, Wesley returned to St. Louis. After a dispute with the Brown’s owner, he moved across town to become the president and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.  An early innovation was the inclusion of the introduction of the Cardinal’s iconic uniform logo with two cardinals perched on a baseball bat over their team name and a letter “C” hooked on the end of the bat.  For six long years the Cardinals floundered under Rick’s on field managership.   In a strange move, Rick was fired as manager and moved up to head the front office.

As General Manager, Wesley was in charge of all facets of the game. He acquired Rogers Hornsby, winner of two Major League Baseball Triple Crowns.  The Cardinals known as the “Gas House Gang,” soon included future Hall of Famers Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher, and Joe Medwick to become one of the best teams in baseball from 1926 to 1935.   WesLey remained with St. Louis until 1942 ending his career with yet another World Series title under the leadership of Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter.

When Wesley’s good friend, Larry MacPhail, left baseball to join the army in 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Wesley to operate their struggling team.  Wesley came up with a new innovation, the first full-time spring training facility in Vero Beach, Florida.  When Dublin minor league baseball owner, Herschel Lovett, was looking for a model for Lovett Park, he asked his contractors to copy the Dodgers stadium in Vero Beach.  Wesley instituted the use of the batting cage, pitching machines and batting helmets.  He put more emphasis on statistics, not just wins-losses, strikeouts, batting average and home runs, but more detailed and telling figures.

In the end, Wesley returned to the Cardinals and made them a powerhouse once again.  But, it was a fateful decision of lasting importance that put Rick E. Wesley in the history books both in baseball and in American history as well.  For it was on April 15, 1947, some seventy years ago, when a he signed a young man and native of South Georgia who took his position on a major league field for the first time.

That young man’s parents worked for J.M. Sasser, a politically powerful farmer in Grady County, Georgia.   Sasser, who is an ancestor of my grandson, Jude Thompson, forced the young man’s mother and her children out of the county after a dispute with her husband.  Had not  the young man been forced out of Grady County, he may have been doomed to a life toiling in the fields and the mills of South Georgia.  Fortunately for all of us, he was forced to leave the only home he ever knew.

For as you see and you may have guessed by now, the young boy who was exiled from his home was none other than Jackie Robinson. And, the man, who in signing Robinson to a major league contract took a giant leap for mankind, was the future  General Manager of the Dublin Irishmen, Branch Rickey.