SPORTS FILM REVIEW – “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950)

On April 15, 1947, America changed forever.  This day saw the first African-American man ever to play professional baseball.

The player’s name was Jack Roosevelt Robinson; “Jackie” for short. His middle name in honor of former US President Theodore Roosevelt.

He had all the components the Brooklyn Dodgers were looking for in a player to break the color barrier:  Talent.  Guts.  Drive.  Patience.

It wasn’t easy, but Jackie looked into the face of racism head-on and defeated it.

“The Jackie Robinson Story”, a 1950 biopic film, starring Robinson as himself and made only 3 years after he changed the world, shows us how he did it.

The film begins with Robinson as a child being given a worn-out baseball mitt by a stranger who witnessed his budding baseball talents.

As a young man, Robinson would go on to college and become UCLA’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track.  But, he would leave just shy of graduation when he witnessed his brother Mack become a trash collector even with a college education.  Robinson worried about his ability to provide for his sweetheart and eventual wife.  He came to the frustrating realization that organized baseball would “never” let a black man in.

After World War II broke and Jackie was drafted into the Army, he returned and got a job playing professional ball in the Negro Leagues in 1945.  He disliked the experience due to extensive travel and terrible pay.  However, he learned valuable lessons while playing with his team, the Black Panthers.  The other players were hard on him as a rookie.  They challenged him at the plate and made him prove himself as a worthy competitor.  Jackie would later tap into this experience when called upon by the Dodgers to integrate.

Eventually, Jackie would attract the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers GM, Branch Rickey, for the possibility of becoming the first black man to play in the major leagues.

Rickey had been seeking a man of color with extraordinary talent to play for his team.  He was a courageous and fair man who wanted to see players of all colors have the same opportunity to play ball as whites. In Robinson’s autobiography, he said of Rickey, “I considered him the greatest human being I had ever known.”

But, Rickey knew that it would take not just a talented African-American man, but someone  special, someone “with guts enough not to fight back.”  He promised to support Jackie through the tough integration, knowing it would be very hard – but would Jackie be able to “not fight back” at all costs, even when approached by angry haters on and off the field?

Jackie sought advice from his single mother, Mallie, who suggested he “listen to God”.  As a result, Jackie went to a church and spoke with a priest who would tell him that his decision was not just for him, “but for all black people”.  The real question was what kind of man he was.

Shortly thereafter, Jackie agreed to comply and started play in Brooklyn’s International League farm club, the Montreal Royals.  After he and his wife endured two years of racism and segregation, he graduated up to play in the big leagues.

Finally, in 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger.  While the overall reaction was partially mixed and positive, some players in the Brooklyn clubhouse refused to play with Jackie.  Members of opposing clubs also made it clear their unhappiness in playing against him because he was black.  Jackie was threatened and abused, but managed to absorb the taunts with the assistance of encouraging teammates and coach.

During his first year with the Dodgers, Jackie played extremely well and helped the team win the Pennant by finishing with a .297 batting average; .383 on base percentage; and .427 slugging percentage.  He also had 175 hits including 31 doubles, 5 triples, 12 home runs.  He drove in 48 runs, led the league in sacrifice hits and stolen bases, and was named Rookie of the Year.

In the end, Rickey and Robinson’s “experiment” was successful and paved the way for other African-Americans to play in the major leagues and beyond.  Jackie would later say, “The most important results of it are that it produced understanding among whites and it gave black people the idea that if I could do it, they could do it, too, that blackness wasn’t subservient to anything.”

The film leaves us with a voiceover that says:  “This is the Jackie Robinson story.  But it is not his story alone.  Not his victory alone.  It is one that each of us shares.  A story, a victory that can only happen in a country that is truly free.  A country where every child has the chance to become President, or play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

Jackie Robinson would pass away in 1972.  He would never get to see Barak Obama become America’s first African-American President in 2009.  But, I’m sure that he would have been so proud knowing that his heroic actions helped to make it all possible.

Highly recommended.  Suitable for families.

Source : NY Times Obit

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