On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson made history by stepping out onto Ebbets Field wearing the number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn Dodger’s uniform to be the first black man to play on a major league baseball team! And 66 years later, on April 15, 2013, I sat in a movie theater totally mesmerized by his story. His courage and character are an inspiration and make him worthy of the titles “hero” and “role model”.
The story begins with Branch Rickey, President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers – played brilliantly by Harrison Ford – scouting for a black ball player from the Negro Leagues to join his ball club. Rickey desperately wanted to be the first to break the color barrier and bring the colored fans to the major league games. At the time, Jack Robinson, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, was playing for a Negro League club – the Kansas City Monarchs. Robinson caught Rickey’s attention and, after ensuring Robinson had the guts to take the inevitable racism he would encounter, Rickey assigned him to Brooklyn’s farm team, the Montreal Royals in 1946. Rickey wanted the press and the fans to focus on Robinson’s talent, rather than his color – a tough goal in those days! He coached Robinson intensively on the need to “turn the other cheek”. Robinson asked him, “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”, to which Rickey replied, “I’m looking for a Negro player with the guts NOT to fight back”! His strategy was designed so the press wouldn’t immediately see HIM as the cause for any racial tension – they would see him as the one with humility, courage, and character – to see past the racism and recognize his talent. And it worked! A year later, Rickey called Robinson up to sign with the Dodgers and the rest, as they say, was history! Robinson, though, struggled immensely with the “turn the other cheek” agreement he made with Rickey. He found it humiliating to stand on the field and give his all to the game he loved while being heckled and booed relentlessly by fans and players, alike. Even his own team mates shunned him and protested his being a part of the team, until most of them began to be embarrassed by the ridicule and rallied around him in support – in particular after an infamous game where Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, ranted an endless string of unconscionable abuse during a game whenever Robinson came up to bat. He suffered from extensive deliberate rough play – including a hard hit to the head by the Pittsburg Pirates’ pitcher – and umpires making obvious bad calls against him. Towns and other teams where the Dodgers were scheduled to play often closed (or threatened to close) their parks and refused to allow the team to stay at hotels unless Robinson was left behind. Police ordered him off the field in one southern town claiming a law against blacks playing with whites. But, he persevered and went down in history as not only the first black major league player, but as one of the greatest major league players of all time.
The story takes us from Rickey’s goal to break the color barrier to the end of the 1947 season when the Dodgers won the pennant and a spot in the World Series against the Yankees (who actually won that series, but the movie didn’t go that far).
The movie has several outstanding performances and memorable characters.
So, obviously, I highly recommend this movie – baseball fan or not – it is outstanding!!! Oh, and I can’t end this review without my favorite quote — this is from Rickey when he chooses Robinson to be his draft pick: “He’s Methodist. I’m Methodist. God’s Methodist. We can’t go wrong.”! HA – I just cracked up when I heard that!!!!
I give this movie a HUGE TWO THUMBS UP and a solid A+++ – go see it, you won’t regret it!