42 – The Story of An American Legend. The Story of America.

42

We meant to see this one in the theatre, but time slipped away and by the time we were ready to go, it was gone. But that turned out to be fine, because we have a wide-screen television and surround. I bought the movie and we got a private screening. Time for baseball and history. Not only baseball. Not only history.

The integration of sports is taken so much for granted today, younger generations can’t imagine when it was any other way. This is the movie that shows how it happened. It’s a movie about many things.

It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson became the first non-white player in Major League Baseball. How this began the integration of all professional sports. It was the beginning of modern baseball as well as the first significant move toward real integration.

That it was our original home town team, the Brooklyn Dodgers makes the story more personal for us. Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodgers, decided it was time to make a difference. Because he could, he changed the world. Harrison Ford as Mr. Rickey mumbles. He’s also real, touching, human. He actually made me cry. Harrison Ford is not known for nuanced performances, but he gives one in this movie.

JrobinsonI commented that Harrison used to be President, not to mention Indiana Jones. Garry pointed out that owning the Dodgers was far more important. I agreed. Because Garry and I agree: there’s nothing more important than baseball. Especially right now.

Chadwick Boseman bears a strong physical resemblance to Jackie Robinson. He doesn’t sound like him, but that’s quibbling. Nicole Beharie is a pretty good likeness of Rachel Isum Robinson. Who, as Garry pointed out, is even today, old as she is, one fine-looking woman. It was no accident Rickey chose a good-looking couple. He knew what they would be up against and it would be hard enough. Any small advantage they could gain by just being attractive … well, they were going to need it.

It’s hard for people brought up after the Civil Rights Amendment to understand the intensity of the hatred, anger and rage bringing a Black man into baseball caused.

It was 1947, the year I was born. The big war in Europe was over and returning Black soldiers were appalled and enraged that the service to their nation had done nothing to alleviate the oppression of Jim Crow laws. Segregation was not merely as bad as it had been. It was worse. Returning Black soldiers made racists all over America nervous that their position of supremacy was being threatened.

It would take 20 years to make get a civil rights amendment to the Constitution. Twenty more to make it real and twenty-five years more to get a non-white President into office. It will probably take another twenty before people stop noticing race … if indeed they ever do. Race and the judgments we make based on skin color are so ingrained, so automatic, so very American.

More than apple pie or the flag, we the people love to hate. It’s the most universal of all human behaviors. Not our ability to love but our willingness to hate.

Chadwick Boseman not only looks like Jackie Robinson. He has his swing. I assume they taught him the swing, but they did it very well and really got that gritty baseball “feel” into the movie. Everyone plays their part with authenticity, as those of us old enough to remember the real guys can attest. Maybe that’s the problem with many of the critics: they never saw the real guys, met them, cheered for them. Lived and died with them through the long season of baseball. They don’t remember, but we do.

The cinematography is great, moving smoothly and naturally between wide and close shots to give you the feeling of the game and more. Nice, tight segues. What is even better captured is the intensity of the abuse Robinson was forced to put up with, to swallow without complaint while simultaneously playing at the top of his game. I’d like to see any modern player survive this.

In many ways, Robinson didn’t survive it. He lived through it, but it killed him from the inside. He blasted open the door of the future and it cost him dearly.

Why did Rickey do it? There was a strong moral component. Rickey believed it was the right thing to do and the right thing to do for baseball. But above all, it was a sound business decision. There was a huge pool of talent out there and the Dodgers needed all the help they could get. By bringing in first Jackie Robinson while simultaneously planning to bring up more Black players, Rickey figured he was going to do some serious winning. He was right.

Leo Derocher
Leo Derocher

Christopher Meloni, ex of Law and Order: SVU, nails Leo Durocher, the crazy, quirky Brooklyn Dodger’s manager. He actually looks like Durocher.

If you love baseball, see it. Even if you don’t love baseball, see it anyway. See it for the history, to remember how hard the battle for equal rights was, is and will continue to be. How much baseball, the American pastime, has always been at the center of the American experience.

And finally see it because it’s the story of a genuine red-blooded American hero. In every sense of the word.

From Garry Armstrong:

I have to admit I was tearing up in places even though there’s no cryin’ in baseball. Critics aside, this was no pleasant Hollywood fable but a fairly authentic account of Jackie Robinson, the man and the player and the times that swirled around him.

Much of this is first-hand recall for me. I was 5 years old and already a budding baseball fan in Brooklyn in 1947 when the young player wearing number 42 became a household name. I remember all the excitement in my neighborhood. Some of it I understood. Some of it I didn’t. The newspapers and radio were full of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and how what they were doing would perhaps cause problems all across the country.

I remember angry things shouted by White people we encountered. I recall some very nice comments offered by White people who frequently said Jackie Robinson was “a credit to your people.”

I followed the Dodgers very closely over the years. I knew their lineup by heart, could emulate their swings and could recite from memory details of their personal lives along with the baseball stuff. In later years, I’d have the good fortune to meet many of the Boys of Summer including Peewee, Campy, Big Newk, Ralphie Branca, Gil Hodges, The Duke (My hero) and Jackie Robinson.

Later, as a reporter, they gave me their own first hand accounts of what it was like – that memorable year of 1947. I would also hear from Red Barber, the legendary sportscaster who called almost all of the games during the ’47 season for the Dodgers. One poignant memory involves a conversation with Campy (Roy Campanella) and Jackie Robinson. I was now a young reporter and a familiar face to many of the aging Dodgers. Campy was always “the diplomat”, pleasant and smiling.

Jackie always seemed angry. I thought he was mad at me sometimes until Campy said he was just “Jackie being Jackie”. The conversation was about how young Black people conduct themselves. Jackie thought many were irresponsible. Campy said they were just kids doing what kids do. Jackie glared at Campy and then smiled at me saying. “You get it, don’t you?”. I just nodded.

Sorry I strayed from the movie but it evoked so many, many memories. And, thanks Harrison Ford, for a splendid portrayal of Branch Rickey!

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

14 thoughts on “42 – The Story of An American Legend. The Story of America.”

  1. Great blog post! Glad you enjoyed the movie, and thanks for mentioning the Hoppers Fan blog in the list of related articles.

    I managed to catch the movie int the theater and really enjoyed it. Taught me a lot about the man and the era.

    -greg
    http://hoppersfan.mlblogs.com

    Like

  2. Have to admit I was tearing up in places even though there’s no cryin’ in baseball. First, critics aside, this was no pleasant Hollywood fable but a fairly authentic account of Jackie Robinson, the man and the player and the times that swirled around him. Much of this is first hand recall for me. I was 5 years old and already a budding baseball fan in Brooklyn in 1947 when the young player wearing number 42 became a household name. I remember all the excitement in my neighborhood. Some of it I understood. Some of it I didn’t. The newspapers and radio were full of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and how what they were doing would perhaps cause problems all across the country. I remember some angry things shouted by White people we encountered. I recall some very nice comments offered by White people who frequently said Jackie Robinson was “a credit to your people”. I followed the Dodgers VERY closely over the years. I knew their lineup by heart, could emulate their swings and could recite from memory details of their personal lives along with the baseball stuff. In later years, I’d have the good fortune to meet many of the Boys of Summer including Peewee, Campy, Big Newk, Ralphie Branca, Gil Hodges, The Duke (My hero) and Jackie Robinson. They gave me their own first hand accounts of what it was like – that memorable year of 1947. I would also hear from Red Barber, the legendary sportscaster who called almost all of the games during the ’47 season for the Dodgers. One poignant memory involves a conversation with Campy (Roy Campanella) and Jackie Robinson. I was now a young reporter and a familiar face to many of the aging Dodgers. Campy was always “the diplomat”, pleasant and smiling. Jackie always seemed angry. I thought he was mad at me sometimes until Campy said that was just “Jackie being Jackie”. The conversation was about how young Black people conducted themselves. Jackie thought many were irresponsible. Campy said they were just kids doing what kids do. Jackie glared at Campy and then smiled at me saying. “You get it it, don’t you?”. I just nodded. Sorry I strayed from the movie but it evoked so many, many memories. And, thanks Harrison Ford, for a splendid portrayal of Branch Rickey!!

    Like

    1. Your memories and observations are what makes it possible for me to write about an experience that I could only tangentially comprehend. Thanks for being you and thanks for everything else, too. Everything.

      On Sun, Jul 28, 2013 at 12:46 PM, SERENDIPITY

      Like

  3. Well with a 60 inch TV that’s almost like an inhouse theater, it should make for some nice movies to watch with friends including this one…wish I could stream more than what I see on my laptop 😦

    Like

    1. This is actually a pretty old television. They don’t make them like this anymore. I bought it back in 2001 when it was obvious we were going to be spending a lot more time at home as Garry had been unexpectedly retired and I had become disabled. Movies are Garry’s passion — along with baseball — and if I’m going to watch movies at home, well, I want as close to a “theater” experience as I can manage. It was worth it. Lucky we have a pretty big living room!

      I don’t like watching movies on the computer. I like putting my feet up, Munching on some chips or pretzels and relaxing. Our friends are mostly canine these days … many of the human kind have moved far away or passed to that other place. But there’s always room for a few furry friends to cuddle up with us on an evening.

      I envy the real world you get to enjoy. Hawaii? Swap you any day!!

      Like

  4. im sure it seems quizzical to a lot of young folk that such an event could have such significance. especially since a lot of pro sports – especially basketball and football are now pre-dominantly black athletes. ironically, baseball is still probably mainly white – but any such thing as a ‘color barrier’ is long gone. if fact, one wonders some times if it isn’t going the other way … with football teams that have obvious names that imply Black culture: the Ravens, the Panthers. But then we also have the Redskins and the Chiefs. maybe we’re ready almost ready to go off planet …

    Like

    1. I cannot tell you how much I loathe team names with racist connotations. It is way way overdue for that to change. I hate to say it, but in sports — you don’t get there by an equal opportunity opening. You either can do it or not. At this point, if you can pitch? No one is going to care if you are purple with yellow polka dots. All they care about is the arm.

      Like

Talk to me!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.