WASHINGTON — A quick comment as he was trying to duck out of a D.C. dinner party sent Ed Henry on a decadelong quest to find the back story to one of the turning points of Major League Baseball and American history.
Then the Chief White House Correspondent for CNN, Henry was about to leave the affair at the Belgian embassy when the woman beside him shared the story of her late father-in-law.
“She starts spinning this tale how, in 1945, a man shows up at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights,” said Henry.
The man needed to see a minister right away. Rev. L. Wendell Fifield received the man, who paced, prayed and silently stewed for about 45 minutes before telling Fifield, “I’ve decided to sign Jackie Robinson to his first baseball contract. It’s the hardest decision of my life. I need to be in your presence, in God’s presence, to know it’s the right thing to do.”
Fifield kept his conversation with the man confidential, but he eventually told his wife. And long after her husband’s death, June Fifield wrote a 5-page essay about her husband’s encounter with Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey for the church bulletin.
“I went on this journey to, first of all, confirm this story,” said Henry. “But then try to figure out: Did Jackie know that it almost didn’t happen, and that maybe fate was impacted by Branch Rickey’s deep faith in God?’”
The book goes beyond a single encounter between a baseball executive and a clergyman, Henry said.
“How much did faith play in both the lives of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson? And I found out, an awful lot,” he said.
“I’m excited for Ed,” said Fox News Chief Congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel.
“It’s an exciting new angle on the Jackie Robinson story. Ed dug a little deeper than a lot of the other reporting and found a new angle on it. It’s something that a lot of folks will enjoy reading,” Emanuel said.
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