JACKIE ROBINSON – AMERICAN LEGEND

BY GARRY AND MARILYN ARMSTRONG

For more than a week, we’ve been watching (again) Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary series: “Baseball.” It brought back so many memories. With so much social and cultural division and hatred in our country, we need more baseball. At one point in the documentary, a Dominican play says “We’ve never fought a war or had an insurrection during baseball season.” We need to remember battles fought and lives sacrificed to reach this day. It should not be in vain. Let us at the very least, treat each other with respect and fairness.

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We meant to see 42 in the movies, but it got away from us. By the time we were ready to see it, it was gone. That turned out to be fine, because I bought the movie and we had 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 it being 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 was the start of the integration of all professional sports. It was the beginning of modern baseball as well as the first significant move toward integration in the United States since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

That it was our original home town team, the Brooklyn Dodgers who did it makes the story 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.

42-logoI 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, 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 impossible for those brought up after the Civil Rights Amendment to understand the intensity of the hatred, anger and rage that 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 fighting for 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.

Moreover, returning Black soldiers made racists throughout America nervous that their position of supremacy was being threatened. They apparently still feel that way, 70 years later.

It would take 17 more years before the civil rights amendment passed and at least two decades more to make it stick. Twenty-five more years to get a Black President into office. Who knows if we will ever stop hating people because are different color. 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 behaviors. Not as we prefer to advertise, our ability to love, but our willingness to hate. Hate is easier, effortless.

Chadwick Boseman not only looks like Jackie Robinson. He has his swing. I assume they taught him the swing, but they did it well and 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.

jackie_robinson_brooklyn_dodgers_1954-resizedWhy did Rickey do it? There was a strong moral component. Rickey believed it was the right thing to do. The right thing to for baseball. But it was also a sound business decision. There was a huge pool of talent out there in the Negro Leagues. The Dodgers needed all the help they could get. By bringing in first Jackie Robinson while planning to bring up more Black players, Rickey figured he was going to do some serious winning. He was right.

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.”

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Jackie Robinson steals home in the 1955 World Series

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!

SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES

I have been thinking about the government. Which reminded me of this song. Except I couldn’t quite remember the title and I pondered that as we drove (very slowly through almost bumper-t0-bumper traffic) the 60 miles from Cape Cod to home. Finally, I remembered “subterranean” and “blues.” I could remember half the lyrics, in pieces.

Well, you gotta hand it to Google. Type in a piece of the puzzle and it brings up the rest of the story. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was released by Bob Dylan in 1965. Bringing it All Back Home was his fifth studio album and has always been my favorite. I realized I no longer own a copy, so I ordered the CD from Amazon. It’s one of the basics.

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If a song can be prescient, this is. Here are the lyrics:

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doing it again
You better duck down the alleyway
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coonskin cap
In the pig pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
But you only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed, but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
Don’t try no dose
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
By users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t want to be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
‘Cause the vandals took the handles.


Written by BOB DYLAN
Subterranean Homesick Blues lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO.


There’s a lot of history in this song. You can look it up if you’re curious. Or not. It was the leading edge of the social protest movement, and anti-Vietnam war movement, and the “youth against the rest of the world” movement — which, to be fair, is part of every generation except I firmly believe we had the best music.

I don’t think I’ve got anything to add to this. It sings for itself. And don’t forget, the singer and songwriter is now a Nobel prizewinner, even though he doesn’t have the time for a trip to Norway. It gives one pause for thought.

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SHARING MY WORLD — AND THE END OF THE YEAR IS GETTING CLOSE!

Share Your World – 2016 Week 49


What do you value most in a friendship?

Loyalty, a sense of humor, and intelligence. The only reason I have ever ended a friendship (from my end) was disloyalty. I have been dumped often enough by other people and their reasons are different, but for me? I need to know that a friend is really a friend. I hate rumor mongers, eavesdroppers, and people who talk behind your back, but smile in your face.

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As for intelligence, I don’t mean education. You don’t need a lot of schooling to be smart. I’ve met some brilliant high school dropouts and some incredibly stupid Ph.D. holders. I find it difficult to talk to people who are slow to grasp concepts. If I have to talk down to someone (not because of a difference in culture or language, but because they simply don’t get it), I am very uncomfortable and probably, so are they.

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I need laughter in a relationship. I need it as much as I need air to breathe. There is a lot of pain and sadness and loss in our lives — and it only gets more so as we get older. If you cannot find respite in laughter, you will be miserable. Amidst the misery of life, there’s plenty of absurdity. Right now and for the foreseeable future, our bizarre political world IS funny. In a horrible kind of way.

You can’t make this stuff up. It has to be true because if you wrote it as fiction, no one would believe it.

Do you prefer eating the frosting of the cake or the cupcake first?  Do you prefer a specific flavor?

I don’t like icing and will usually scrape it off and just eat the cake. I do, however, like whipped cream and will eat that all by itself. No cake required!

Have you ever been in a submarine?  If you haven’t, would you want to?

We went out into the Caribbean in a tiny little 60-person submarine (the Atlantis) to see the fish and the coral reef. It was beautiful.

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I can’t imagine spending months at a time in something like that, even if it was a little bit larger. Still, I did enjoy the trip. It’s a great way to see the how the mer-people might live.

If 100 people your age were chosen at random, how many do you think you’d find leading a more satisfying life than yours?

More satisfying? I can’t imagine that they are more satisfied. They may be healthier (which would not be hard, given my long list of ailments) and they probably  have more money and can do more stuff, but I’m satisfied with the life I live and have lived.

Garry and I have gotten older and slowed down, but we are still here. I frequently remind myself — and others — that there are only two options: old, or not. Not doesn’t work for me, so I’m satisfied.

I’m here.

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