On a rainy evening my wife Jeanne and I attended the movie “42,” the Jackie Robinson story that is bringing a new generation of fans to know the African-American athlete who integrated Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in the spring of 1947.
The Brooklyn Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson over other Major League-ready players and future teammates such as Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe because he wasn’t as nice or soft and would be better equipped to deal with the hate and the intolerance.
When Jackie got the offer to sign with the Dodgers, he was more excited about his pay increase than the historical implications. It was no accident that Jackie would play in Brooklyn because of the multicultural and ethnic diversity there. Jackie could not live or eat with the team because of racial tensions. He lived in Brooklyn with the Nazarene Congregational Church with the assistant Rev. Lacy Covington and his family.
When Robinson took the field in 1947, he was a real pioneer because that was a time when Black Americans had fought and died for their country in World War II, but they returned home to a country with separate drinking fountains, toilets and a ban on Negroes in the Major Leagues.
In the movie there are scenes of racist fans heckling Robinson and many of his own teammates signing a petition demanding Robinson not be allowed to join the Dodgers.
Branch Rickey had hired the fiery manager Leo Durocher to manage the team who he thought was the right manager at this time. But Leo was suspended for the entire season for having an affair with a married actress.
So Rickey turned to Burt Shoton to manage the team. Burt had retired two years earlier from managing the Cleveland Indians, and promised his wife he would never put a uniform on again. But Rickey told him he did not have to wear a uniform and he could manage like Connie Mack did for the Philadelphia A’s team, so he took on the job.
Jackie was a very exciting player to watch. He could steal any base. He would take big leads, while dancing up and down daring the pitcher to try to pick him off. When he needed to steal home, he would slide, taking the catcher out. The pitcher would throw at his head, knocking him down just about every at bat, while umpires would call him out when he was safe on close plays.
Robinson’s son, Jack, who served in the Vietnam War was a heroin addict. Jackie made impassioned speeches about the dangers of drugs at churches after his son died.
Jackie died in 1972, just a year after his son died in a car accident. Jackie and his son are buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery. The inscription on Robinson’s tombstone is: “a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
There is a statue of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson with Pee Wee’s arm around Jackie that stands outside of MCU Park in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. At the first game Brooklyn played at in Cincinnati in 1947, the Cincinnati dugout and crowd booed, cursed and hollered at Jackie when his name was announced and he came out of the dugout. After a few moments of this, Pee Wee went over to Jackie and put his arm around him.
I saw Jackie play at Wrigley Field only three times. At one game, Russ Meyers, a Cubs pitcher from Peru, threw a wild pitch that got away from the Cubs catcher and when Meyers tried to catch the ball back from the catcher, Jackie took him out and was safe. When Meyers got up, he lashed out at Robinson.
I always liked to hear Jackie interviewed over the radio, he had such a pleasing voice. I subscribed to the Sporting News Weekly newspaper in 1945 and still have them through and into the 1950s.
When the movie ended, I stood up and announced to my wife Jeanne that this was the best movie I had ever seen. I love baseball so much and to see the old baseball uniforms with their stockings showing, the 1940s and ‘50s beautiful cars and the men and women fans in the stands all wearing hats.
This era of baseball and the times was the best to be alive. I am thankful to have lived through these times.
Darrell Alleman of Granville can be reached at Putnam County Record, P.O. Box 48, Granville, IL 61326.