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Branch Rickey Bible signed by 1953 Pittsburgh Pirates surfaces in California

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Published January 29, 2013

A California book repairer reportedly knew something was unusual when she opened up an old Bible found last week amid thousands of materials donated to the Friends of the Sacramento Public Library.

But little did she know that the 31 signatures on the Bible’s first page along with “Pirates 1953” written in blue ink were a piece of baseball history. Even though that year's team from Pittsburgh finished in last place at 54-100, the signatures not only included a future member of baseball's Hall of Fame, the book itself was once owned by a legendary Cooperstown enshrinee, Branch Rickey.

"The Bible had been sitting in my shop for months waiting to get repaired," Murphy, 65, told the Sacramento Bee. "No one wanted it."

The Bible was signed by 30 players and manager Fred Haney from the 1953 Pittsburgh Pirates and was given to general manager Rickey, who was best known for breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson six years earlier when he ran the Brooklyn Dodgers.

So, how exactly did Rickey’s Bible end up in a donation bin in Sacramento?

Rickey’s grandson, Branch Barrett Rickey, said it’s a mystery to him as well.

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

Branch Rickey, who was posthumously inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame, died in 1965. About a dozen of the 30 Pirates players who signed the Bible, including Hall of Fame member Ralph Kiner and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, are still living. But of the five reached by The 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.

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."

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."

Baseball collectors told Murphy the restored Bible could fetch as much as $800, the newspaper reports.

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