I was at the Mets-Yankees game the other night at Citifield, the Mets home ballpark, where the only remaining active player to wear Number 42 on his uniform, New York Yankee relief great Mariano Rivera, was honored by his cross-town rival Mets. Mariano is retiring after this current baseball season and when he does, all 30 Major Leagues baseball clubs will have retired the Number 42 in honor of the Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson who was the first African-American to break the “color barrier” and play on a major league club.
The rough road to the major leagues and breaking baseball’s color barrier from his early playing days in the Negro League playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, are beautifully and artfully depicted in Brian Helgeland’s film 42.
Hard to believe that even when America was viewed around the world as “Protectors of Freedom and Democracy” during the Second World War, African- Americans back in the States were still absent from Major League rosters. That situation all changed on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn as the starting first basemen for the hometown Dodgers against the Boston Braves.
Even a life-long baseball fan like myself who grew up after Jackie Robinson had long ago retired as a player, but who heard stories about how hard it was for him to face racism from his teammates, opponents and the fans, learned just how difficult it was for Jackie Robinson, and his wife Rachel in “42”. Baseball fans and fans of American history and the Civil Rights movement should see this film.
Released in theatres April 12, 2013 (to coincide closely with Robinson’s first Major League game 66 years earlier) it should be available soon on DVD and On Demand. 42 is a must for any film collection.
Chadwick Boseman gives a powerful performance as Jackie Robinson with Nichole Beharie portraying his strong and supportive wife, Rachel. Harrison Ford might be a little guilty of overplaying the role of Branch Rickey, the Dodgers President and General Manager, who made the bold decision to challenge baseball’s color barrier and sign Robinson to a professional baseball contract. The interplay between Boseman and Ford’s characters provide a stark and authentic historical portrait of Branch Rickey’s choice of Jackie Robinson to be America’s first “African-American” major league ballplayer.
Robinson had to promise Rickey he would not lose his temper on and off the ball field, even as racism flared in his face. Rickey’s motives for wanting to bring African-Americans into baseball were honestly addressed in 42. Socially, he knew it was the right thing to do, but Rickey knew the move would help increase attendance at Dodgers ballgames among the growing African-American population in America’s late 1940s.
After viewing 42 you can understand why, since April 15, 1997, the number 42 has been retired throughout baseball. And on each April 15th since 1997, every baseball player wears number 42 for games played on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.
He was a remarkable man and the same can be said about the movie “42”.