Sunday, April 21, 2013
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1919, and attended high school and university in California. An outstanding athlete, he chose baseball over the other sports, and played for the Kansas City Monarchs for several years in the Negro League.
Branch Rickey worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he loved winning. He wanted the best players on his team, and decided that Jackie Robinson could help his team win championships. He contacted Jackie, and signed him as a free agent in 1945. His ultimate goal was to have Jackie play in the National League for the Dodgers.
The major stumbling block to his plan was that Jackie Robinson was black, and no black person had ever played in the major leagues. History has shown that there were many black players who could have played, had there not been a colour barrier.
The story about Robinson’s struggle to break the barrier, and his triumph is wonderfully portrayed in the movie “42”. That was Jackie’s uniform number, and it has been retired by Major League Baseball. There is one player who still wears that number, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. Once Rivera retires, no other player will suit up as number 42.
Not well known is the fact that another young baseball player was also lured to the Dodger chain, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was born in Puerto Rico, and played minor league ball in Montreal with the Royals; however, he was drafted by the Pirates in 1954, and spent his career with Pittsburgh until his untimely death in 1972.
Robinson also played for the Montreal Royals before making his debut with the Dodgers on April 17, 1947. The movie focuses on the few years that he prepared to enter the big leagues, and his early years at that level.
One of his teammates on the Dodgers was a wonderful pitcher named Carl Erskine. Erskine still lives in Indiana, and is often asked to comment on Robinson’s days as a Dodger. “I always admired his patience,” he states in an interview on the internet. “There were guys in the Negro League that didn’t think he would make it. But Mr. Rickey saw his charge was bigger than winning baseball games. The fact is, Jackie was an ordinary human being, but he was denied all the rights of a human citizen.” Erskine is proud to have played with Robinson.
The movie demonstrates that many fans were opposed to seeing Robinson play in the National League. The team received hundreds of threatening letters, as did Robinson. Several opponents and even some teammates did not want to see the colour barrier broken. But it was time, and Jackie was the man to do it.
Jackie was later joined on the team by the great catcher Roy “Campy” Campanella, and Don Newcombe. In a matter of years, all teams had African Americans on their squads, and the Negro League was disbanded.
Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie in the movie. He spent weeks honing his baseball skills, resulting in the most realistic baseball movie yet to hit the silver screen. Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, whom he describes as a “colourful and emotional character”.
Do not miss it.