I love movies, always have. It’s a place where you can escape for a couple of hours and leave your worries behind.
I’ve been anxiously waiting for the movie “42”, the flick about the legendary Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. And, the movie didn’t disappoint me one bit. My only wish was that it had been a bit longer.
The movie, starring Harrison Ford as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Robinson chronicles Robinson’s season with Montreal in the International League and his first full season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 when he was named the Rookie of the Year for Major League Baseball. As a youngster and young adult, sports biographies always intrigued me. Every trip to the library would usually net a sports biography or two. The one about Robinson’s was especially interesting because he was trying to break into what was an all-white sport, and the hatred he got from fans, opposing teams and his own teammates. It felt harsh when I read it, but when you see it on the big screen it really drives home what Robinson had to endure.
One of the best parts of the movie comes early when Rickey summons Robinson to Brooklyn to talk to him about his plans to put a Negro player in the big leagues. Rickey wanted to make sure that Robinson could handle the abuse that he knew the young black man would eventually get. Rickey asked Robinson if he could face racial animus without responding in a negative way.
“Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?,” Robinson asked Rickey.
Rickey told Robinson he was seeking a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back”.
When Robinson went to his first training camp with the Dodgers, the team started a petition because they didn’t want to play with him. Branch Rickey gets wind of it, and calls manager Leo Duroucher, who was played by Christopher Meloni. Rickey tells Duroucher to take care of it. Duroucher rips into the team, telling them that Robinson can help them win and that’s all he cares about. Rickey basically tells players that if they don’t want to accept Robinson, “other arrangements” can be made. One player is dealt to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, and another asked Rickey to keep him on the team.
Another important part of the movie is when the Dodgers and Phillies are playing, and Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman is yelling the “N” word at Robinson while he’s in the batter’s box. This goes on for two at-bats. Robinson then goes into the tunnel next to the clubhouse, smashes his bat into a couple of pieces, and then is consoled by Rickey who has come down from the stands. Robinson hits a single and then steals second and moves to third on a wild throw. He trots home on a sacrifice fly. Revenge accomplished, sort of.
Later, at Rickey’s request, he is asked to pose with Chapman, who had come under fire from his own owner for his bigotry. When they got ready to pose, Robinson gets a bat so “their skin won’t touch”.
Robinson changed the game. His entrance into baseball was one of the most important happenings in history.
Later in the season, his teammates come to his defense after a deliberate beanball, and remember in those times no protective helmets were worn. Another time, after Robinson was booed entering the field, Pee Wee Reese comes over from shortstop and engages Robinson in conversation and showing his support for all the stadium to see.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said the “Robinson was a legend and symbol in his own time, and that he challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”
Robinson opened so many doors. Can you imagine the game of baseball without guys like Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Barry Bonds, Roy Campanella and Roberto Clemente to name a few? The first four are black, and the latter is Dominican. Eventually I think players probably would have been accepted, but Robinson’s entrance hastened the whole thing.
I know there are still bigoted people out there in certain parts of our great country, but I’m glad I never had to deal with it while involved in athletics. Our world is a veritable melting pot, and people need to accept that and get along. Judge people by who they are and not by the color of their skin.
Robinson just wanted to be judged as a baseball player, and in the end he finally was. It’s too bad that he only played 10 years and ended up dying from complications of diabetes in his early 50s.