Growing up in Southern California in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Los Angeles Dodgers were my team. I can still hear the poetic Vin Scully calling the games on the radio. (Pictured below) His play-by-play was the soundtrack of my summers. Vin’s voice was a steady bright spot throughout my dysfunctional childhood. It was predictable, too, a quality I longed for in my life.
Attending Dodger games was a real and rare treat; my first game was a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds. In fact, on that memorable day, I was able to get Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Dave Concepcion to sign a ball. The event left a lasting impression on me.
Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in the major leagues, retired before I was born. He died when I was a young boy. But I remember hearing about him, of course, even though as a youngster living in a clearly integrated neighborhood, I couldn’t quite understand why baseball was ever segregated in the first place.
I guess that’s a good thing, to be perplexed by racism. To be colorblind as a kid is a great way to start life, to believe instinctively that all men and women are created equal.
Jackie’s remarkable story has been told before, but I’m thrilled that Hollywood is lifting him up once again. Today’s release of “42” is reason to celebrate. As parents we often talk about wanting our children to have heroes to look up to and Jackie, though an imperfect person like all the rest of us, is a legend worthy of lauding.
Our team over at Plugged In always does such a great job of reviewing new films. My colleague, Adam Holz, recently offered some reflections on “42” and I’d like to share a few excerpts of his review with you. For the full review click here.
In 1945, the Allies celebrated their victory over the Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Back home in the Allied superpower of the United States of America, however, a battle for freedom on another front still raged: the battle against racism.
White baseball players competed in Major League Baseball. Black athletes, meanwhile, were relegated to the Negro League. Never did the two worlds intersect.
Until, that is, one brave team owner decided it was time for a change. Time for an end to segregation on the ball field. “I don’t know who he is,” Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey tells his front office management team in the spring of 1945, “or where he is. But he’s coming.” The he in question? MLB’s first black player—a player Rickey was determined to recruit.
On the surface, Rickey’s motivation seems driven by money. “New York’s full of negro baseball fans,” he explains. “Dollars aren’t black and white. They’re green.” But it turns out there’s more to Rickey’s barrier-shattering decision than that.
A year later, the Dodgers have found their man, a base-stealing slugger from the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs. His name is Jackie Robinson. When one of Rickey’s men points out that Robinson was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the Army, Rickey counters that it was because Robinson refused to submit to unfair treatment. “If he were white,” Rickey says, “we’d call that spirit.”
Spirit is something Robinson will need as he faces resistance at every turn. On the field. In hotels. In airports. Even on his own team (first as a player for the minor league Montreal Royals in 1946, then as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947). It’s a barrier-busting role that will demand courage, Rickey tells Robinson at the outset: the courage not to retaliate.
“No,” Rickey says. “I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back.”
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts,” Robinson promises.
And in so doing he becomes one of the most decorated soldiers ever to fight in that homegrown battle against prejudice and racial hate.
Jackie Robinson isn’t just brave when it comes to baseball, by the way. He tells his newborn son, “My daddy left us flat in Cairo, Ga. I was only six months older than you are now. I don’t remember him. Nothing good. Nothing bad. Nothing. You will remember me. I’m gonna be with you until the day I die.”
I always knew Jackie Robinson was an important figure in the history of professional baseball. But before watching 42, I don’t think I really grasped just how trailblazing Robinson’s presence was. His willingness to endure taunts, threats, intimidation and violence, all without responding in kind, was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Similarly remarkable, in a behind-the-scenes kind of way, was Branch Rickey’s willingness to recruit Robinson in the first place, then stand behind his man the whole way, coaching and encouraging him not to give up.
42 is drenched in inspiration, in part because it doesn’t shy away from realistically depicting the kind of resistance Robinson and Rickey were up against.
[Jackie] Robinson is [portrayed as] a loving and faithful husband, a father who wants to do better than his own dad did and someone who relies on his faith to make it through. The latter is also true in Branch Rickey’s case, whether he’s quoting Scripture, alluding to Jesus or telling an adulterous manager to reconsider his immoral ways. In the end, these two men’s faith and fortitude forged a path for others to follow, forever ending segregation in baseball and challenging racism in the culture at large along the way.
If you get a chance to take in “42” this weekend, let us know what you think of it.