42 is the only number in Major League Baseball that has been retired. No other major league baseball player can bare that number. This clause alone speaks volumes to impact that Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel, had on the league. Even after his death in 1956, Rachel Robinson kept her late husband’s legacy alive through the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
On April 8th, the kids and I were simply amazed by his story. Any person who has even scratched the surface of African American History, knows Jackie Robinson was the first African American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But at times, his strength, his self-control, and overall knowledge of baseball are overlooked with the title.
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, and I’ll give you the guts.”
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), MLB executive, was convinced that professional baseball was ready for a Black player. He wanted someone who was strong enough to endure the backlash, name calling, and ridicule. But he also wanted someone just as strong enough to ignore. There’s a scene where Phillies GM Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) spewed racial slurs at Jackie Robinson every time he went up to bat. Chapman taunted him with words like “monkey”, “nigger”, and “Bojangles”. Mr. Rickey, as he was often referred to in the movie, reassured Jackie that Chapman’s ignorance only made fans sympathize more with his struggle. Before agreeing to sign the contract, Jackie Robinson reassured Mr. Rickey that although he would be tested, he would be strong enough to refrain from retaliations or rebuttals.
“Don’t get carried away, Mr. Rickey, that’s still a nigger out there!”
Mr. Rickey caught major slack when he insisted on acquiring an African American baseball player. One of the coaches quickly displayed his feeling towards Jackie Robinson when he reminded his superior that newest member of the team was just a “nigger.” Even quicker, Mr. Rickey dismissed his comments and reassured the coach that everyone must become familiar with Jackie Robinson’s presence on the roster and overcome any racial prejudice that they possess in order to accept him on the team. Racism, undoubtedly, was the biggest topic of the movie. It reminds us that Jackie Robinson forced baseball athletes, executives, and fans in 1947 to question the validity of their hatred towards African Americans. Posing questions like…How do I support the game I love when it uplifts the people I hate? Is it acceptable to allow African Americans play amongst their White counterparts in baseball? Does my hatred for others dictate my behaviors, even if means ruining something I enjoy? It seems as if the movie answers these questions. Of course not all racist Baseball lovers became non-racist after 1947, but Jackie Robinson’s presence generated those questions which are relevance enough.
“Your enemy will come out with force and you can’t meet him on his own ground.”
Jackie Robinson faced many enemies, some even on his own team. Players that did not want to share the locker room with him. Baseball managers that did not want to share the mound with him. Fans that did not want see the Brooklyn Dodgers with a Black man on the bench. None of those stipulations stopped Jackie Robinson from establishing himself as one of the best baseball players of all time. In complete silence, he was able to perplex pitchers with his swift feet, amaze little White boys with mound rituals, and stun the world with unpredictable game statistics. It’s clear that Jackie Robinson did NOT meet the enemy on their own ground Instead, he created the playing field and raised the bar in baseball.
“God built me to last”
It’s clear that strength is the minimum requirement you must have in order to break a color barrier with any major entity. Jackie Robinson, in many different instances in the movie, he would say: “GOD BUILT ME TO LAST.” This constant phrase is not only reassurance for a young Black man from Cairo, Georgia but also to his friends and family who were concerned about his safety. The statement means Jackie Robinson, no matter what the adversary, can overcome the hurdle or difference. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you declare that the highest power you proclaim has created you to endure any and every thing, then only solidifies your endurance and perseverance. (I think I have a new catch phrase!)
The cast was incredible! Harrison Ford reminds you that the acting profession is ageless. 42 introduces you to some bright, beautiful Black faces like Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, and Andre Holland. The movie hit an immediate hometown soft spot with its many references to Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a baseball organization founded in 1887, was an arch revival of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pirates Pitcher threw pitches aiming at Jackie Robinson’s head. Of course certain parts of the movies were embellished for production, but Jackie Robinson was hit in the head with fast moving baseballs. (That’s would have been my last day as a major league baseball player)
My favorite Pittsburgh connection was Wendell Smith, former Pittsburgh Courier sports reporter. There are always those hometown stories that don’t get as much publicity as the Jackie Robinson stories. But, Wendell Smith, an African American reporter, was not allowed to sit in the Whites Only press box. Smith was the first African American reporter to join the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was influential in Mr. Rickey’s decision to sign Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers. Wendell Smith also traveled with Jackie Robinson his first two years in the league because segregation laws would not allow either to stay in hotels.
5 STARS: This is not just African-American History…this is AMERICAN HISTORY! The movie brought to life the Major League Baseball in 1947 and its biggest glory of breaking the color line in baseball. Jackie Robinson forever changed the game!!!
42 “hits” theatres tomorrow, April 12th! Check it out!