Humbly forwarded without your request, a simple opinion of the “what’s missing in today’s society” and perhaps, also the “what’s missing in the new flick 42.” I haven’t seen the movie yet, but God forgive me I’ve become one of the things I dislike most, a critic. The only difference between me and the other ogres is I’m not being paid to criticize another’s creative work. In actuality, this is probably the first time I’ve placed my feelings in writing regarding a movie. Here is my problem folks, from the bottom of my heart: I can’t imagine a portrayal of Jackie Robinson remotely able to bring to the surface the dynamics of this man, and the brutality of what he endured as a human being.
When I was privileged to see “Jackie Robinson” for the first time, I was one amongst 33,000 attending a simple game of baseball at a small bandbox and historical institution called Ebbets Field, located in the most worthwhile village in the world: Brooklyn, New York.
“Have you ever seen or heard so many people showing a display of interest for anyone else in the world?” Dad asked me.
Honestly, I can’t vaguely recall much of the dialogue between us that momentous day. But, I can report with complete accuracy the apolitical atmosphere that existed inside the ballpark. Jackie may never be considered as one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, but who he was and what he was placed him in a world and field apart from the average man of the day.
That day, we were all introduced to a different human calling. Not a slave, not a servant, not a subservient, not an average baseball player, and definitely not a white man. It was our time to experience for the first time, up close, a black man who was not only our equal, but a man with unequivocal leadership qualities.
We had a winner on our team.
All of us kids immediately loved it; the adults would quickly learn to do the same.
One man entered the scene and created an immediate synergy throughout an entire country of baseball lovers. There were those who were racists – some on his own team – who actually requested and were granted quick discharge from the Dodgers. But, it never discouraged any of the fans. They came out to cheer – and jeer all the same. The underlying and unifying factor was Jackie Robinson himself. He was the one who began bringing in the “turn-away” crowds. Tickets to Ebetts Field became a very hot item.
There were few cities in the United States who could legitimately boast a true understanding of the game of baseball; Brooklyn was one of them. We knew what was happening on the field. When a player made a mistake, he heard about it from the fans. Along with the understanding came a love for the players. Nothing at the time resembled today’s fickle era of money-meaning-everything-for-the-players. That’s not to say that the ballplayers didn’t strive for the better things in life. Perhaps, it was just the opposite.
What faced all of the players, as well as the new man on the block, was the inability of the ballplayers to control their own future. In other words, when an athlete signed his contract with a team, the team controlled every aspect of his future. There weren’t any special clauses in the contracts the way they exist today. The team, meaning the owners, were in complete control of the athlete’s destiny. There was no such thing as Free Agency.
SUNDAY, APRIL 14
Yesterday, Cathy and I saw the movie 42. It was obvious the movie was the story of how and what Jackie Robinson experienced as the first African American playing professionally in the Major Leagues of our national pastime – baseball.
On numerous occasions during the year 1947, I was privileged to watch Jackie Robinson play my favorite game. We came to the park as excited kids, all of us looking forward to his exploits on the base paths. More than anything else, watching Jackie run was a personal highlight for me.
I suppose for the many who didn’t have the opportunity to see Jackie Robinson perform as a baseball player, the movie portrayal by Chadwick Boseman would have been much more than adequate. But, the problem for any actor in such a demanding position is the sheer and almost unbelievable skills of Jackie as an athlete. Not before or since, have I seen a person run the way Jackie Robinson did.
Jackie didn’t run; he appeared to attack. From the time he became a Dodger, every one of us attempted to emulate his every move. We even walked like Jackie Robinson.
I can remember my Mother asking me if I had hurt myself while out there playing with my friends. She was, of course, referring to his naturally pigeon-toed gait. There were definitely ballplayers in the League who could run faster, but none could emulate his driving dynamics.
As kids, we always got on the opposing pitcher. After all, that’s what good fans are expected to do, especially if Jackie Robinson was on base. Jackie would be there on first base and everybody in the park knew he was going to try and steal second, then third base, and some days he’d even dash for home plate.
Jackie was fearless.
Chadwick Boseman was a marvelous choice to play the part of Jackie Robinson but, in my opinion, his athleticism paled in comparison.
There came to pass, following the enormous breakthrough of Jackie Robinson, another man who ran and played with the same reckless abandonment. He arrived and thrived with the Dodger’s arch rivals — the then New York Giants.
His name was Willie Mays.
The man who was to be Willie May’s first manager was the very same man who managed the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson stepped over the color line into the fastest lane of all. His name was Leo Durocher.
Through his ensuing years in baseball, Willie made it a point to call attention to the unbelievable possibilities created by one of his idols, Jackie Robinson.
“Every time I look at my pocketbook, I see Jackie Robinson.” — Willie Mays
Jackie Robinson’s famous number was 42. Willie Mays wore the number 24 his entire career.
NOTE: Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the last player in Major League Baseball still allowed to wear No. 42, which the sport retired in 1997 to honor Jackie Robinson, above. All players and managers in the league, however, can wear No. 42 on April 15 for Jackie Robinson Day, which was initiated in 2004.