COLUMBIA (WACH) - In 1947, nothing said America like baseball, apple pie, and segregation. That is, until Jack Roosevelt Robinson stepped up to the plate and knocked the leather off some dusty white balls.
Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919 as part of the Greatest Generation, known for their hard work and high principles. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, the Robinsons were strong, proud sharecroppers that had to deal with racism at every turn. In hindsight, it was only a precursor to the strength that Jackie would later have to display on the field.
Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, was an all around natural athlete, winning varsity letters in baseball, basketball, football and track while attending UCLA. A short military career was made even shorter when Jackie was court-marshaled for refusing to sit in the back of a segregated bus. After working out an honorable discharge, he returned to civilian life the only way he knew how ... he hit the ground running.
Organized Major League Baseball was purportedly organized in 1869 with the Cincinnati Red Stockings as the first pro team and was all-inclusive until 1889 when it became segregated. In Jackie's era, the sport was separated by several different leagues, including the Major, separated into American and National Leagues, followed by the smaller outfits Minor, Negro and the succinctly named All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Jackie Robinson was playing in the Negro League in 1945 when Branch Rickey , then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers set his mind to signing the hot-headed, base-stealing shortstop.
The reception from professional ball clubs was less than gracious. Robinson was no stranger to the ugliness of racism, and was quick to defend himself. The inner struggle subplot is the decisive transformation Jackie had to undergo in order to not only keep his place on the team, but to blaze the trail for athletes that were to follow. The hatred came from every direction... on the field, in the stands, and even in his own dugout. The backlash was vile and the taunting was merciless. Casting in this instance was perfect,with Alan Tudyk flying the villain flag as Philadelphia Phillies Ben Chapman and Brad Beyer playing the quintessential red-headed bully Kirby Higbe who incidentally, was born and raised in Columbia, SC. He died here in 1985.
Thankfully, Jackie had the support of Mr. Rickey and Dodgers coach Leo Durocher (played brilliantly by Christopher Meloni) until the rest of the world had no other choice but to recognized his greatness, which took all of one season. He was named Rookie of the Year for 12 home-runs and 29 stolen bases. He went on to be MVP of 1949 with a batting average of .342, eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and will go down in history as being single-handedly responsible for integrating African-Americans into professional athletics.
The movie 42 is a story that needed to be told, and director Brian Helgeland did great job staying true to history. Those who know major moments in baseball will recognize the famous plays, photo ops and Lucas Black playing Pee Wee Reese standing in solidarity with his brother from another mother creating one of the finest moments in baseball and in the film. Nicole Beharie plays his wife, Rachel and let me just say she is precious. Boseman did a fine job as well, and Harrison Ford did an outstanding character study as Branch Rickey. Marvelous! Other notable parts were played by Andre Holland, Hamish Linklater, T.R. Knight and an especially entertaining cameo by John C. McGinley as sports commentator Red Barber.
To break down the movie in baseball terms... The historical accuracy is a home field advantage. The writing is so-so, a bunt that gets you to first. Thankfully the casting is a solid double. The acting is a walk with bases loaded. The gratuitous use of the N-word is a foul, but the cinematography is a home run. It may not take the World Series, but 42 is a winner in the race for the pennant.
Incidentally, the number 42 is the only number to have been retired from baseball, and on April 15, 2011 all MLB players wore the number in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. It is also known in pop culture as the "answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything" according to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which you can download here for free. And just to blow your mind, scientists have reasoned it's also the specific weight of our universe. That's pretty heavy. Literally.
Now for some fun stuff!! Check out this site to compare fact from film. See a quick bio of Jackie here as well as some news footage and other original clips. Check out these rare vids of him appearing on "What's My Line". and The Ed Sullivan Show. Fans have written songs about him and he continues to inspire young athletes like our own Jackie Bradley, Jr. Additionally, Fraendy Clervaud recently obtained an interview with the actor Chadwick Boseman about playing the iconic champion.
If you want to take your family out to the ballpark and root, root, root for the home team you can check out the Gamecock schedule or head down to the Lowcountry to catch some MiLB action with the Charleston Riverdogs.