Local baseball legends lobby for Rickey Route

March 19, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Branch Rickey, a Scioto County native, best known for breaking the color barrier in baseball by signing the legendary Jackie Robinson to a Major League contract may soon have a portion of Scioto County’s main thoroughfare named after him.

State Representative Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) said the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee recently heard testimony for House Bill 36, which would designate a part of U.S. 23 in Scioto County as “Branch Rickey Memorial Highway.”

“Branch Rickey is a tremendous source of pride for us in Southern Ohio,” Johnson said. “He is a baseball legend who left an indescribable mark on the game and naming a road after him here in Scioto County is long overdue.”

Rickey served as general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals (1925-1942) and then as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1943-1950). He signed Robinson to a Dodger contract in 1945, the subject of a major motion picture “42.”

Two Scioto County residents whose roots go deep in the world of Major League Baseball were present as Johnson’s guests to testify on behalf of the bill.

Gene Bennett, a prominent scout with the Cincinnati Reds for 58 years before retiring in 2011, gave an engaging summary of baseball history highlighting the numerous contributions that Branch Rickey made to the game.

Also testifying was Al Oliver Jr., a former 18-year major league baseball player who boasts a .303 lifetime batting average, helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series and won the National League batting title.

“Most people look at the integration of baseball as being just a baseball development, but it was also a positive step for humanity,” said Oliver before the committee. “It took a guy from Southern Ohio to get it done too. And I know the reason Branch did it is because he read the Scriptures. He understood that spiritually, we’re all equal. And that laid the foundation for a young black kid like Al Oliver to be able to earn a living.”

House Bill 36 would also designate the existing “Ironton-Russell” bridge that spans the Ohio River as “Oakley C. Collins Memorial Bridge” and a part of State Route 52 inside Scioto County as the “Boone County Coleman Memorial Highway.”

The legislation now awaits a vote in committee before moving to the House floor.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com.