As the opening of baseball season draws near,a new film simply called “42” dredges up some important baseball history, and also some very ugly moments about our past. Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson, the first African-American ballplayer to make it to the major leagues.
In 1943, Brooklyn Dodger GM Branch Rickey started searching for “the right man” to break out of The Negro Leagues, and become Major League Baseball’s first black superstar, breaking nearly 70 years of discrimination in that sport. The world was a much different place in the 1940s, and it took two years for Rickey to find that man. Don Newcomb and Satchel Page were considered, but a young shortstop from the Kansas City Monarchs was chosen. His name was Jackie Robinson.
Harrison Ford plays Rickey, a complex religious man who wants to do the right thing, and also appeal to the growing black fan base in Brooklyn. Ford gives one of his best performances in this role, as Rickey angers many of his peers and takes a lot of heat for breaking up baseball’s unwritten segregation rule.
However no-one experiences more outright hatred than Jackie. Opposing players, fans, and even some of his own team-mates contribute to the stress. There is one scene from a 1947 game between the Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, where the “City Of Brotherly love” doesn’t show any love at all for Jackie.
Phillies manager Ben Chapman screams a seemingly un-ending slate of racial epithets at Jackie while he is at the plate. The worst part is, the umpires do nothing to stop it. It actually gets worse when a Pittsburgh Pirates rookie pitcher intentionally beans Jackie in the head. It is American history at its ugliest, but someone had to be first, and that was Jackie Robinson.
Many Brooklyn Dodger greats are portrayed in the film including manager Leo Durocher (played stirringly by Chris Meloni), PeeWee Reese, Eddie Stanky (the first Dodger to defend Robinson), pitcher Ralph Branca, (who gave up “the shot heard round the world” to NY Giant Bobby Thompson in 1951), and broadcaster Red Barber, who was Vin Scully’s first partner in the booth back in 1950.
Having grown up in an era when black ballplayers were already established big stars such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks, I have to tip my cap to the two men that paved the way for that to happen, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Rickey also signed the first Latin-American player to Major League Baseball in 1955, the great Roberto Clemente.Truly a pioneer, Rickey campaigned for and later succeeded at getting batting helmets introduced to the big leagues.
“42” tells the agonizing and heroic story of Jackie Robinson without pulling any punches. The number “42” has officially been retired by every Major League Baseball team. If you are wondering why it took so long to tell this story on the big screen, it actually didn’t. “The Jackie Robinson Story” was a feature film in 1950, starring none other than Jackie Robinson.
“42” hits theaters on April 12th. Watch the official trailer below.