Robinson’s story has resonated with me for almost as long as I’ve been watching baseball. I first learned about him during the 1978 World Series, when I was eight years old. My father asked me if I knew who the first black player in the majors was. I thought for a moment and took a wild guess, figuring the answer might be in front of me: “Dusty Baker?” I was already color-blind when it came to my baseball heroes; Davey Lopes was my first favorite Dodger, and I couldn’t help but develop a soft spot for the outsized personality of Reggie Jackson, even though he wore the enemy pinstripes.
Dad set me straight regarding Robinson’s pioneering role, but it was my Brooklyn-born paternal grandfather, Bernard Jaffe (1908-2000), who held the larger store of stories about Robinson’s skill, courage and grace, and he shared those with me over the years while teaching my brother and me the game’s fundamentals as well as its history. I remember him recounting an appropriately sanitized version of Dodger manager Durocher’s reaction to the infamous petition circulated by Dixie Walker among Robinson’s less enlightened teammates.
Baseball America has the story of the second player the Dodgers signed from the Negro Leagues:
Within weeks of Robinson becoming the first African-American player in modern baseball history to sign in Organized Baseball in the fall of 1945, lanky New Orleans native John Wright became the second. A righthander with a solid array of pitches who had a decade of success in the Negro Leagues, Wright also signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with both Robinson and Wright set to report to Dodgers spring training in Florida for the 1946 season.
...Aside from the obvious question of what happened to Wright, in the intervening years historians have also debated why exactly the Dodgers signed him. Did the trailblazing organization view him as a legitimate prospect, or was Wright simply viewed as a companion for Robinson, who was clearly Rickey’s chosen one to make history?
(Jackie) Robinson, a Dodger base runner, had reached third and was standing on the bag, not far from me, when he suddenly came apart. I don’t know what happened, what brought it on, but it must have been something ugly and far too familiar to him, another racial taunt—I didn’t hear it—that reached him from the stands and this time struck home.
There is already talk of a sequel - “43: This Time Its Personal”
Despite the film’s sleek feel, the basic life story with its tribulations and triumphs remain intact. It’s inspiring, especially as depicted by Boseman who has the swagger of a young Denzel Washington. Serious, stoic, pent up. If anything he suppresses his anger better than Washington, letting it ride under the surface, so when it erupts, it’s dramatic, forceful. The physicality of his performance—mimicking Robinson’s awkward batting stance and freaky, base-stealing agility—is uncanny.
The romance between Jackie and his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie; Shame and American Violet) depicts a strong foundation. Beharie flaunts the charm and determination that is trademark of the real Mrs. Robinson. Lucas Black as Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, is the quintessential character actor; the one you call when you need a Southern man with a solid persona. Tudyk as Chapman is suitable vicious and unremorseful as the “N” word rolls off his tongue with venom that would shame the KKK. Harrison, a lead actor, is not an obvious choice to play an historical character. His performance seems a bit studied, clunky and theatrical, but eventually he wins you over.
Hegeland’s script spends the right amount of time exploring Robinson’s inner self. He wasn’t just a skilled athlete; he was a keen strategist, a smart man’s player. He could get under the skin of any pitcher by stealing bases with the cunning of a fox. He was ferocious, yet a gentleman. The flaw in the script is that too often the characters talk in platitudes, and not like real people. Particularly Rickey; probably he was as smart businessman with certain ideals and solid morals. It’s unlikely that every sentence he uttered was prosaic, poignant and prophetic: “Dollars aren’t black and white, they’re green.”
Among the most compelling baseball books this season is UCLA law professor Stuart Banner’s “The Baseball Trust: A History of Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption” (Oxford University Press: 304 pp., $29.95), a look at the game’s idiosyncratic legal status: Of all the major sports, it is the only one exempt from federal antitrust law.
How did this happen? “The most common explanation emphasizes the unique position of baseball in American culture,” Banner writes, before arguing that like so much in baseball, this is sentimental myth. Rather, the exemption, which dates from 1922 and has been affirmed repeatedly, is the result of “a sophisticated business organization [that] has been able to work the levers of the legal system.”
Its legacies include the reserve clause, which for decades bound players to their teams, and expansion, another fascinating if underexplored area that is the subject of Fran Zimniuch’s “Baseball’s New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998” (University of Nebraska Press: 232 pp., $19.95 paper).
On Wednesday, the makers of the Robinson biopic 42 announced at the NLBM that Harrison Ford (who plays Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey), Robinson’s son David, and former Star sportswriter Joe Posnanski will all attend special advance screenings of the film at the AMC Barrywoods 24 theater. They are the only early screenings of the movie outside of Los Angeles.
Tuesday at the museum, NLBM president Bob Kendrick announced the events, which will benefit the museum and the Kansas City Sports Commission. The ticket structure is as follows:
Tickets will only be available online at 42KansasCity.com. For normal movie-going folks, the ticket package are: “Legacy,” which is $72 and includes two drink tickets, unlimited concessions and souvenirs, which were announced as a Kansas City Monarchs ball cap and a 42 poster. Ford will introduce the screening which will be followed by a Q&A led by Posnanski. The “Major Leaguer” ticket is $42 and includes the drinks, unlimited grub and the swag. Since it’s a benefit, individual tickets are tax-deductible.
So he wasn’t exactly a safe bet to star in a major studio film about one of the most important figures in the history of American sports. But as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated their playoff win on the field, he suddenly felt their euphoria. “I’m about to play Jackie Robinson,” he told a friend at the bar. The pal gave him an incredulous look, and Boseman filled him in on the audition and his sudden certitude. A few other friends joined the conversation, and they all decided to toast Boseman for his role: one that he didn’t have yet and probably would never get.