The day they played the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1947, however, the first game with Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier the year before when he played for an all-white minor league team in Montreal, was not one of the Phillies’ finest moments.
Led by manager Ben Chapman, the Phillies may not have been the only team to oppose playing against the Dodgers because of Jackie Robinson, but they were the most vocal when compared to other teams above the Mason-Dixon line. Chapman and his players threw an abundance of verbal abuse at Robinson each time he came up to the plate, and he also instructed his pitchers to play a little “bean ball” with him, a term for striking someone with the baseball in the head intentionally.
The conflict worsened a few weeks later when the Brooklyn Dodgers visited Philadelphia. Not only did Robinson and the team suffer additional verbal abuse, but they were also denied rooms at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, despite their reservation and the fact that they stayed there every time they were in town to play the Phillies.
It’s difficult to realize that people believed this horrendous behavior was acceptable anywhere, but especially in the city of brotherly love, and only a short time ago in our nation’s history. The movie “42”, which stars Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the man who drafted Robinson, and Chadwick Boseman as the man himself, did an admirable job depicting the horrors the first African-American ball player in the majors endured to realize his dream. Robinson’s courage paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, finally putting an end to segregation in Major League Baseball.
Director Brian Helgeland also wrote the screenplay, which takes the audience on a journey through the best and worst of baseball’s history. He makes you cheer for Robinson and rejoice when he succeeds, especially in one poignant scene I’m not likely to forget. A dad is sitting in the stand with his young son on a sunny afternoon, having a chat about the boy’s favorite baseball idol, Eddie Stanky, second baseman for the Dodgers. When Robinson takes the field, the boy’s father begins shouting humiliating racial slurs as the young boy watches his father a bit puzzled at first, and then begins to mimic him. I’m not sure whether that scene was based on fact, or the writer assumed it occurred. A little preachy perhaps if it is fiction, but it is true children learn to hate from watching their parents.
The roles are perfectly cast, as well, with Harrison and Boseman shining as the main characters. It may be a story that’s been told many times before, but it still feels fresh and significant. They movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that Rickey wanted to bring a black player into an all-white league to attract African-American fans, which would make him more money. It’s not about black and white, he said, it’s about green. Still, he comes across as a genuine man who grows to care about Robinson, and wants to help him through his fight.
The movie isn’t perfect, but it’s close. To use a baseball metaphor, it’s a double with an error that allows the runner to get to third. The error is the musical score, which is too loud, too noticeable and clichéd. It’s true that music is important to any movie, but it works best if it stays in the background where it belongs. This score took me out of the movie’s spell too frequently because there are so many dramatic scenes. Yet, it is a small price to pay for a good story and a solid performance by its cast members.
Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball. All players on all teams across MLB will wear Robinson’s number 42, which has long been retired throughout the league, to honor his legacy.
5. Great Movie, see it now
4. Good movie and worth the price of admission
3. It’s OK, but I’d wait for the DVD
2. Proceed with caution
1. Don’t bother