According to The Sacramento Bee on Jan. 30, something unusual turned up in a donation bin at the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library for the yearly auction. It was a Bible, but not just any Bible. It was a Bible with “Pirates 1953” written across the top in blue ink, 31 different signatures and dedicated to Branch Rickey.
Joanne Murphy, an antiquarian book repairer, spotted the autographed Bible. She didn’t know what it meant, but did some online research.
"The Bible had been sitting in my shop for months waiting to get repaired," said Murphy, 65. "No one wanted it."
Maybe that was a good thing. Joanne Murphy was holding a piece of baseball history. The Catholic Bible was signed by 30 players and manager Fred Haney of the 1953 Pittsburgh Pirates and given to general manager Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey is known to sports history as the man who signed Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major league player.
Branch Barrett Ricky, Branch Ricky’s grandson, says it’s a mystery how the Bible ended up in a donation bin. It’s the first I’ve heard of the Bible,” he said by phone from Texas.
It’s a real mystery when you consider that only about a dozen of the 30 Pirates players in that Bible are still alive and the five reached by phone couldn’t remember this Bible at all.
"I don't remember signing it, but maybe I did," said Eddy Fitz Gerald, a former catcher who lives in Folsom. But Fitz Gerald, 88, did remember the team's record. "It wasn't a very good team," he said. The Pirates finished in last place in the eight-team National League that year with a 50-104 record.
Frank Thomas, 83, doesn’t remember the Bible either but said he "never got along with Branch." Thomas recalled how Rickey wouldn't give him a $1,000 raise in 1952. "I was just a young kid trying to make a living for my family," he said. "It leaves a bad taste in my mouth."
Branch Rickey died in 1965. He has a sister and a cousin still living in the Sacramento area, but neither one knows anything about this Bible.
"Much of the stuff from my grandfather was parceled out among five daughters and a daughter-in-law," Branch B. Rickey said. "The division of who got what was very informal." He said it was possible his grandfather had “given the Bible as a gift to a dear friend,” but acknowledged “there’s any number of speculations.”
Christopher Jakle, another Rickey grandson, said that he doesn’t know how the Bible ended up here either, but he did note that a number of his family’s belongings had been sold on eBay. He believes the buyer probably died and whoever ended up with the Bible didn’t recognize the significance of the signatures.
"I would be interested in buying it back," Jakle said Friday, while viewing the Bible.
Interestingly enough, Branch B. Rickey said his grandfather never took credit for signing Robinson. "Robinson didn't just break the barrier – he shattered it. He went from excluded to excellent," Branch B. Rickey said.
A movie based on Robinson's life, "42," is scheduled to be released in April, with Harrison Ford playing Branch Rickey and Chadwick Boseman playing Robinson.
According to baseball memorabilia collectors, the restored Bible could bring as much as $800. It will be on display at the central branch of the Sacramento Public Library for Black History Month. But it’s still a mystery as to how that particular Bible landed in Sacramento.