How did Bible with Pittsburgh Pirates' signatures end up in California library bin?


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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Joanne Murphy knew something was unusual when she opened up an old Bible last month. The holy book turned up among the tens of thousands of materials donated to the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library each year.

Inside the Bible, 31 different signatures were emblazoned on the first page along with "Pirates 1953" written across the top in blue ink.

Murphy, an antiquarian book repairer, didn't know what all this meant until she did some research online.

"The Bible had been sitting in my shop for months waiting to get repaired," said Ms. Murphy, 65. "No one wanted it."

As it turns out, she had 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 their General Manager Branch Rickey, best known for breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson.

But the question remains: How did Rickey's Bible end up in a donation bin for a Sacramento library group?

The person most likely to know, Rickey's grandson Branch Barrett Rickey, said it's a mystery.

"It's the first I've heard of the Bible," he said by phone from Texas.

Branch Rickey, who was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, died in 1965. About a dozen of the 30 Pirates players, including Hall of Fame member Ralph Kiner and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, are still living. But of the five reached by The Sacramento Bee, none recalled signing the Bible.

"I don't remember signing it, but maybe I did," said Eddy Fitz Gerald, a former catcher who lives in Folsom, Calif.

Branch B. Rickey, president of the Pacific Coast League, said a number of his relatives live in California, including a sister in Davis and a cousin in Sacramento. But both said they didn't know about the 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."

Frank Thomas, 83, also doesn't remember signing the Bible, 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."

Baseball collectors have told Ms. Murphy the restored Bible could fetch as much as $800. The Bible will be on public display in honor of Black History Month at the central branch of the Sacramento Public Library.

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First Published February 6, 2013 9:00 PM


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