Branch Rickey, who is best known for signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, spent decades of his post-playing career evaluating baseball talent. He instituted the first minor league farm system (an innovation born of out of a desire to lock up top talent for cheap) and encouraged the use of increasingly advanced statistics in his front offices. By the end of his career, he was a shrewd scout who issued unambiguous assessments of potential players.
Earlier this week, the Library of Congress digitized over 1,700 of those assessments from the 1950s and ‘60s, when Rickey was with the Pirates and the Cardinals. It’s a tremendous trove, but aside from the highlighted Hall of Famers on the collection’s homepage, the hundreds of scouting reports are unsearchable and largely unorganized. If you spend some time digging around, though, you’ll find Rickey’s notes on player’s nicknames (a lanky pitcher from North Carolina, Peter Beane’s father calls him “Pinky”), elaborate family backstories, absolutely devastating dismissals, and the tale of Bill Bell—a “scarey-cat” teenager with “a world of stuff,” “big ears,” and what sounds like debilitating insecurity on the mound who eventually posted a 4.32 ERA in five appearances over two years and earned the nickname Ding Dong. Despite a legacy as a barrier-breaker, Rickey was devoutly religious and socially conservative, which is evident in some of his more subjective appraisals of a prospect’s “breeding” or manners.
If you want to read the reports from the video in full here are: