Today was Jackie Robinson day in baseball and everyone wore a shirt with the number “42” emblazoned on it. Now, I’m enough of a baseball nerd to know that Jack Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball was a big deal. A huge deal. It was the true beginning of the break from segregation to whatever we are doing these days.
We watched the movie “42” again. And loved it. Again. You can read the review hereand it is one of the best reviews I’ve ever written, along with Garry, the total complete baseball nerd.
The thing is, I’m also a total science fiction nerd — and, speaking of freaky coincidence — Douglas Adams shares my birthday. And we ALL know what he thought of forty-two. It was the number that made the world … well … the world. 42 is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It is the answer.
Sadly, the question remains unknown.
So how could Jackie Robinson and the answer to the question “what is the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” be the same number?
Synchronicity of course. History rhymes and so do numbers. Phone numbers and house numbers and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. I’m absolutely sure that Douglas Adams knew exactly what he was doing when he picked that number. He knew.
Jackie Robinson and his number, 42, IS the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. It is. Think about it. He broke the world open and it will never, ever go back to the way it was before he did it.
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.
I 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.
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!
I have often written that 1969 was my favorite year … and explained why.
As a start, it was epic from a news viewpoint.
Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I watched it. I had a baby that year and it might not have made the networks, but it was big news at my house.
So, as a new mother, I got to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. A real live guy walking — leaping — on the moon! We viewed it on CBS. It was obvious Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement. He was nearly in tears. Me too.
The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for that historic news event. Neil Armstrong died a couple of years ago, an honorable man and a true American hero.
How I envied him his trip to the moon. I always tell Garry that if the Mother Ship comes and offers me a trip to the stars, I’m outta here. Maybe there would be room for him, too and we could travel together to the stars. Our final vacation. I hope the seats have better leg room than what we usually get.
Woodstock was a 1969 event too. Rumors were flying about this rock concert which would totally blow up the music world. I had friends who had tickets and were up, up and away. I was busy with a baby and wished them well.
There were hippies giving out flowers in Haight-Ashbury, but I was happier that year than I’d ever been before. I didn’t need to be in San Francisco. I was entirely okay with being right where I was.
I was young, healthy. I was sure we would change the world. End wars. Make the world better — for everyone. I was young enough to believe that our beliefs were enough make the changes and those changes would last forever. All the changes would be permanent.
It never crossed my mind that 50 years later, we’d be fighting the same battles again. I probably wouldn’t have been nearly as happy had a realized that nothing is permanent. No legislation is forever.
I figured we just needed to love each and it would fix everything. I still think if we had all learned to love each other, it would have fixed everything. For some strange reason, I thought the people I knew and cared for were all the people.
I never realized there were so many other people who hated everyone. People who loved no one, not even themselves. They would never be happy. Or allow anyone else to be happy either.
I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now.” The song made a great wonderful lullaby and also, it made my baby boy laugh.
It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. New York went crazy for the Mets. A World Series win. 1969. What a year!
I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.
Music was wonderful. How young we were! We could do anything. The world belonged to us. I just knew it.
Decades passed; youth was a long time ago. The drugs we take control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. Today’s drugs aren’t much fun, but along with replacement heart valves and implanted breasts to replace the pair that tried to kill me, they keep me alive.
1969 was my year. But in its own weird way, all the years have come around again and today’s young people are fighting the same old battles — again. Fighting to get the assault weapons out of the hands of people who kill kids in schools and trying to make the world right. I want them to do a better job than we did.
Often, these days, I wonder what we accomplished. I’m sure we accomplished something. We probably brought the close of the Vietnam war, but so late and so many were dead by them. Maybe this group of kids who seem so determined and seem to get that voting is going to be how they will make the system work — maybe THEY will make things change and somehow keep the change alive.
Nothing lasts forever. Freedom is not free.
Regardless of how hard we work and how much we change the world, like a rubber band, “the world” will go back to where it was. The generation that follows change will forget how they got their freedom, so the next one will have to fight again. Freedom is the thing we fight for. Not once, but over and over and over again.
I had two things I wanted to post, but they are so different in mood and appearance, they seemed to need different posts. These are pictures from the Baseball Museum in Cooperstown. Probably doesn’t mean much to anyone who comes from a country where baseball isn’t played, but if you are a baseball fan, it’s a big deal. Garry and I are fans. Garry is a very serious fan. I’m a “heavy lightweight” in the fan department.
We’ve been to the museum twice. I don’t know if we will get there again, but it is a lot of fun and in a beautiful location in upstate New York.
Lacking cathedrals, I will have to settle for other things. “American” old isn’t like European or Middle Eastern “old.” Comparatively speaking, white culture is new and Native culture that can be photographed is rare in this area. We lack castles and cathedrals — so we everything we have to show is “relatively” old. Compared to “now.”
The subject has been on our minds lately, probably because it’s almost baseball season and the slugger the Sox need has refused to sign a contract.
“It’s not about the money,” he assured everyone. The current offer is at $125 million for 6 years, but he wants to play outfield rather than designated hitter — which is what we need. The Sox have three brilliant outfielders who can also hit, so that’s not happening. Martinez isn’t getting more money and he is definitely not getting third base.
Since no one else has made him a better offer, there’s a possibility this great player is going to wind up sitting out the season or going to Japan because he won’t sign a contract. There aren’t many teams with this kind of money to offer. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox are pretty much the big three for big money and this guy has said no to all of them.
No contract? No baseball.
Meanwhile, we are also watching reruns of “Blue Bloods.” Danny the cop with PTSD and his lovely wife Linda are going through a variety of marital issues. He says “You have to quit doing that.”
And she says “Or yeah? Or what? Eh? Whatcha gonna do about it, huh?”
And I say: “Until the new contract season comes up.” This is a rerun, so I can see the future. I know she’s going to die at the beginning of next season – belatedly — because she can’t renegotiate her contract.
That made me think about how life would be if our marriages were based on contracts and negotiations. With agents and lawyers. Lists of requirements and assurances from the medical team that we’re okay to play five more seasons. All the things we are required to do or no renewal for upcoming seasons.
Sorry buddy. Empty out your locker and good luck in your next endeavor.
This might result in all of us getting better terms for our relationships or maybe not. More likely, a lot of lawyers and agents get richer. We get poorer, and a bunch of married people discover they have not been renewed for the upcoming season. I can see us negotiating for a five-year contract, with someone saying “Of course, this contract is based on a doctor’s assurance that you are in good health.”
Poor people would have to work month-to-month because they can’t afford an agent. We’d be lucky to even make the team. On a more positive note, there would be no need for divorce. It would be simple, matter-of-fact business arrangement.
Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it. It was a day given over to sports. Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper. Watched some on television. He even made time for high school or college games in the area. In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen. Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.
On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game. It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance. Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team. The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.
The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before. He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park. It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this. It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.
Neither team was very good that year. In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything. The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs. It had been that way since 1908. Still, Harold had an inexplicable affection for the team, so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.
He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away. There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows. He put up the sun shield in the front window and then added another for the back. It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sun shield or not. With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets. He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.
“Harold? Harold, is that you?” It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha. Whenever he heard their names together it reminded him of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.
George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play. Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.
“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them. “What brings you down here this time of year? People normally visit in the winter.” At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.
“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared. “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets. I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.” Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat. When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”
But when George got to the window, he had other ideas. He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”
“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats. Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.
“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner. The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan. They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.
When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played. George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired. Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.
Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view. Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.
The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching. It did not look major league. At precisely three hours after the start of the game, the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.
“Go?” George shouted in horror. “It is only the bottom of the eighth. The Cubs could have a rally. See, I have my rally cap.” At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.
“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”
Martha protested, “You’re retired. Where do you have to go? Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.” The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene. Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down. It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner. The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team. The threesome filed out with all the others. When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold. The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as planned by Harold, master planner of retirement time.
Today ought to be the fourth game of the World Series. The actuality of this event will depend on the weather in New York and Boston. It is supposed to rain in both cities, so I suppose it’s a matter of exactly how much rain. It will have to be a real deluge before they will call a game of this magnitude … but players get seriously hurt on wet fields, so the possibility is up there.
Assuming the games go forth, those of us who have continued to believe throughout the long season are also pleasantly bemused.
Both the Red Sox and the Yankees were two games to nothing when they got to this coast. That’s bad in a five-game playoff series. If you want to be realistic about it, it’s probably fatal and your team is about to be washed out to sea. Again.
Instead, both Sox and Yankees pulled game 3 out of the bag. We won.
Now the standings are two-to-one for both teams. Everyone, including us, had assumed the American League playoff would be the “real” series this year. Houston and Cleveland are powerhouse teams. They’ve got it all — pitching, hitting, fielding. As far as hitting goes, the Sox are wildly out-gunned. If David Price hadn’t come into the game yesterday and shut down Houston, there would be no game today. Ditto for the Yankees.
Mind you, we aren’t so deep in the denial and belief bag that we are sure we are going to win the whole thing. In any case, we have to remind ourselves that only one team from each league team will go to the series — and only one will win in the end. Everyone else, no matter how terrific they were all season, goes home and dreams of summers to come.
But this is the time for belief. Maybe it won’t happen but it is nice to have this spark of hope and a little glow of wonderment. There hasn’t been a lot to believe in — or much we could see as wonderful this year — or last year, either.
We need this. Even if it’s just for a game or two.