By Arturo R. García
Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) heads for home in 42. Image via hollywood.com
There are moments when 42 succeeds in conveying some of the hatred Jackie Robinson fought as his major league baseball career began. Unfortunately for writer/director Brian Helgeland, most of them come when the script and the score get out of Chadwick Boseman’s way.
As Robinson, Boseman boosts Helgeland’s script, giving the young Dodger glimpses of the world-weariness that a more comprehensive account of Robinson’s journey would have provided viewers.
As April 15, 1947, neared and the Dodgers prepared to play the Boston Braves in the season opener at Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn clubhouse was not exactly harmonious about Robinson’s arrival. Southerners Dixie Walker, Eddie Stanky and Bobby Bragan drew up a petition saying they preferred being traded to playing with a black teammate.[Branch] Rickey and manager Leo Durocher silenced the rebels, with Durocher vowing Robinson would “make them all rich.” Another Southerner, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, also supported Robinson
Statistically, Robinson’s debut was forgettable. He was 0-for-3 with a run scored while recording 11 putouts at first base. But a new age had dawned before 26,623 fans and the Pittsburgh Courier wrote, “History was made here Tuesday.”
Although Robinson received threats, hate mail and racist comments from opposing dugouts, and teams constantly threw at his head and tried to spike him on the bases, baseball fans of all races were enthralled. All seven of the other National League teams drew their largest crowds of 1947 when Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers were in town, including a National League high of 52,355 at the Polo Grounds on April 19. Somehow Wrigley Field, with a baseball capacity of less than 40,000, squeezed in 46,572 fans for the Dodgers’ first visit to Chicago on May 18.
Robinson was making more than just the Dodgers rich.
He finished with a .297 batting average and led the National League in stolen bases. He was named the first Rookie of the Year, and the Dodgers won the pennant before falling to the New York Yankees in a dramatic seven-game World Series.
That was a watershed year for baseball. The World Series was televised for the first time and the NCAA conducted its first College World Series. But Robinson’s breaking the color line, one year before the U.S. military integrated and seven years before the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools, was the sport’s biggest story.
– From “Jackie Robinson’s debut changed the game–and the nation,” by Richard Rothschild
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World