42: A movie worth seeing
Jackie Robinson is absorbing what Branch Rickey is telling him. Yes, he wants him to play in the big leagues, be the first black player to play in the 20th century.
He said he needs to be able to not react, not respond to the abuse he is certain to take from opposing players, fans and possibly teammates.
“So, you want someone without the guts to fight back?” Robinson asks.
“No,” Rickey answers. “I want someone with the guts to not fight back.”
The scene is from the movie “42.” It’s a movie that must be seen, especially by young people.
This is not because the film is without flaw – quite the contrary. There are some factual errors (a postscript at the end of the film said Wendell Smith, who is shown in the film and is a confidante of Robinson, was the first black accepted into the Baseball Writers Association of America, when in fact it was Sam Lacy), some questionable characterizations, and some major omissions.
But you still need to see it.
I’m sure the youth of America have heard of Jackie Robinson, but I don’t know if they understand what he went through. The burden of his situation weighed on him greatly. He died in 1972. Ten days before his death, he threw out the first pitch before a game at that year’s world Series. He was 53 and looked some 25 years older.
The late Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber once said that while he heard that Robinson had died from diabetes, he believed it was from “carrying the load.”
And what a load it was.
The film shows the racism Robinson faced, and there is a jarring scene where Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman screams slurs at Robinson to the point where it’s almost too much for a viewer to take. It also shows how his soon-to-be Dodgers teammates threatened to boycott rather than play with him.
More than that, it shows the pressure. Robinson not only had to not retaliate against the words (and worse) he faced, but he had to be great.
Now, many of us just kind of accept that Robinson is a legend and Hall of Famer. But in 1947, no one knew that. That he rose above everything and became not just a good player, but one of the best, is remarkable. Robinson played 10 seasons in the majors, leading the league in steals twice. He also won a batting title and was a .311 career hitter.
The film itself doesn’t go that far. It just focuses on the first season of Robinson’s Major League career. Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson, and he plays him well. Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances by playing Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. Ford got so lost in the gruff, cigar-chomping character that he was practically unrecognizable.
My biggest complaint with the film was that there was no mention, not even in passing, of Larry Doby.
The Indians brought Doby to the American League in July of 1947, just a few months after Robinson’s debut in the National League.
You’d think the film would have mentioned that, especially since Doby faced the same issues Robinson did at the same time.
But for its flaws, the movie succeeds on its most important point – it gives the viewer an idea of the pain, and the triumph, of Robinson.
And that’s something we all need to remember.