42 – How Jackie Robinson Changed Baseball
The movie, 42, is a story about the color integration of Major League Baseball and the two people that lead this movement, Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Harrison Ford), and Jackie Robinson, a player from the Negro League (Chadwick Boseman).
At that time, the only place a Black man could play professional baseball was in the Negro Leagues. Whether it was a moral decision on Branch Rickey’s part or simply a means to an end (i.e., winning), Rickey saw a wealth of talent in the Negro Leagues and wanted to bring some of that talent to the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was a decision that not only changed the face of baseball but the entire Nation and changed the course of history.
The movie isn’t exclusively about the life of Jackie Robinson, but rather, one aspect of his life. Jackie Robinson was a four-sport athlete at UCLA and Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army during WWII. The movie briefly mentions an incident where Jackie was Court marshaled in the Army and shortly thereafter, transferred to Fort Hood in Texas. There, he was ordered by a military bus driver to “get to the back of the bus where the colored people belong”; however, Robinson knew that the military had recently desegregated its buses, and refused to do so.
Most of the movie takes place starting just before spring training 1946 to the end of the 1947 baseball season, covering just two years of Robinson’s life where he faced the pain and struggle of breaking through Major League Baseball’s “Color Barrier”. As good a ball player as Jackie was, he was not the best player in the Negro Leagues. Branch Rickey selected Jackie, however, because of Jackie’s brains and fortitude. Rickey was well aware of the abuse and hatred that the first Black baseball player would face, so he needed someone who was strong enough to take it and smart enough to understand to not fight back.
Jackie Robinson: You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?
Branch Rickey: No. I want a player who’s got the guts *not* to fight back.
Jackie Robinson: You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.
Rickey signed Jackie to play for the Dodgers AAA affiliate, the Montreal Royals, for the 1946 season and tells him that if he could prove himself there, he’d be in Brooklyn in 1947. Just before the ‘47 season, Ricky brings Jackie to Brooklyn and signs him to a contract, making him the first “Negro” to play in the Major League. When some of Dodgers hear the news, they sign a petition stating they would not play with a Negro; however, Manager Leo Durocher quickly set the players straight.
To help Jackie adjust, Rickey hires a reporter by the name of Wendell Smith and assigns him to travel with Jackie to ease him into the life and find him a place to stay when segregated hotels would not give him a room.
Just before the season starts Rickey gets a call from Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler stating that his manager was being suspended for the 1947 season because of his public affair with actress Loraine Day. This sends Ricky on a frantic search for a new manager, finally coming to terms Burt Shotton, who says he would manage but not put on a uniform.
When Shortstop Pee Wee Reese starts getting hate mail for playing with Jackie, he approaches Rickey with concern for his own safety. When he learns of all the threats that Jackie as endured, plus threats to his wife and child, Reese begins understand what his teammate is going through and how much worse Jackie has it. Pee Wee makes a statement during one game by walking across the field and putting his arm around Jackie. Slowly, the other players start treating Robinson as a true teammate and respected for his play on the field.
Contributing author: Dick Leonardo
42 – Real Life, Reel Difference
- Although Jackie was court-martialed for insubordination, he was acquitted and in November 1944 received an honorable discharge.
- The tirade by Ben Chapman actually did happen and even though he was a very good player, he is mostly remembered for the racist rant as the Phillies manager. After Ben Chapmans’ string of insults, Jackie does not breakdown in the dugout tunnel as depicted in the movie.
- As portrayed in the movie, there really was a petition signed by some of the Dodger players to object against playing with Jackie. Also, Wendell Smith was indeed hired by the Dodgers to help Jackie with acclimating to the Major Leagues.
- There’s a scene that shows a little boy come to the game to see Jackie and the credits at the end of the movie show that the boy grew up to play for the ‘69 Mets; while true, Jackie did not actually throw him a ball as seen in the movie.
- In the movie, Jackie proposes to Rachel after he signs with the Dodgers. In reality, they were engaged while he was in the Army 4 years earlier.
- Leo Durocher was in fact suspended for the 1947 season but because of his connection to known gamblers and bringing gambling into the clubhouse. While he did come under pressure for his public affair with Day, it was the gambling that angered Chandler and led to his suspension.
Where Are They Now?
Jackie Robinson retired after the 1956 season. In his ten year Major League career, he won the Rookie of the Year award in ‘47, the MVP in 1949, played in six World Series (winning one in 1955, when his famous steal of home base occurred), and was elected to six all star games. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of fame in 1962.
Jackie Robinson steals home base in Game One of the 1955 World Series
in the 8th inning with the Brooklyn Dodgers trailing the Yankees 6 to 4.
Afflicted with diabetes in his later years, Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972.
In 1987, the Rookie of the Year Award was officially renamed the Jackie Robinson Award. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired Jackie’s number, 42, across all major league teams. Players who were wearing that number could do so until they retired. Mariano Rivera is the last player to retire while wearing that number.
In 2004, Major League Baseball declared April 15 Jackie Robinson Day, in which every player can wear 42.
ESPN’s SportsCentury created a 7-part series about Jackie Robinson, naming him the 15th greatest athlete of the 20th Century.
Branch Rickey left Brooklyn in 1950 to work for the Pittsburg Pirates until 1955. Among other things, he was responsible for drafting Roberto Clemente. Rickey ended his career in baseball as a special advisor to the St.Louis Cardinals and continued work with civil rights.
Branch Rickey passed away on December 9, 1965 of heart failure. He was elected into the Hall Of Fame in 1967.
Rachel Robinson went on to form The Jackie Robinson Development Corporation and the Jackie Robinson Foundation after her husbands death. The former low income housing and the latter provides 4 year college scholarships to African American Students.