Saturday, April 13, 2013

Jackie Robinson Bio A Few Details Short of a Home Run

I just came back from seeing 42, the new bio picture about Jackie Robinson. I did read a few reviews that mixed about the movie, mainly about how the story was told. Here's my takes, and it will include some spoilers...

The movie does lack several details that would have improved the story, and what Robinson really meant to baseball and this nation. It's still a good baseball movie that traces Robinson's road from the Negro Leagues to the major leagues, but it was just only the basics about Jackie's struggles. We see fans upset that he's on the field, plus racist remarks from opposing players. That was what was party of the first movie about him. Why not add a few more details, mainly about those who wanted him to play and those who didn't.

Sportswriter Wendell Smith, who plays a big part in the movie, could have mentioned early in the film how he tried to convince baseball owners that adding the best of the Negro Leagues could help them and the game...only to be ignored. In fact, Smith was about as welcome in the press box as Jackie was on the field.

If you saw PBS' Baseball mini-series, you know Rickey was deeply influenced about how racism affected a ball player he knew, and how he wanted to make sure that never happened again. That should have been made more clear. We should have had more on Jackie's year in Montreal, and how the team's manager, who didn't want him there, changed his mind.

Also, the movie claims Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher was suspended in 1947 because he had an affair with eventual wife Laraine Day, and the Catholic League was threatening to boycott. It was really because of Durocher's connection with gamblers, and that Yankees owner Larry MacPhail pressured Commissioner Happy Chandler to bench Durocher. MacPhail also hated Durocher.

On the other hand, it does include Durocher's famous "he's coming" speech to Dodger players who signed a petition saying they won't play with Robinson. The movie also included Pee Wee Reese willing to stand next to Robinson before a hostile Cincinnati crowd.

Chadwick Bozeman did a good job portraying Robinson, and Harrison Ford was just great as Rickey. If nothing else, it showed what an aging Han Solo will be like if we get a new Star Wars movie someday. Fans of Law and Order SVU and True Blood may recognize Chris Meloni as Durocher. He was pretty good in that role

There was one section that really sounded too good to be true. This was where Brooklyn played Philadelphia. Ben Chapman, manager for the Phillies (and played by Alan Tudyk), baited Robinson with racist remarks, Eventually, Robinson collapses from pent-up anger...and from out of nowhere, Rickey appears and gives him a pep talk to get him back on the field. That was a real stretch, although it's easy to imagine that both men had a lot of discussions about how people and players were reacting to Robinson being there.
(Update: Looking back, I would have believed Rickey's pep talk to Robinson if it happened after the game).

Robinson's legacy is well-known, but could there be a movie about him that's different to what we already know about him?
We could make one that starts when he retires, and we see how he makes a difference in the civil rights movement, and established businesses including a bank. The ending would be perfect: throwing out the first pitch of game two of the 1972 World Series, and saying he'd be more proud when he sees a Black man as a manager. That would send a message that baseball has come a long way, but not that far.
We had a TV movie that showed Robinson's court-martial because he wouldn't sit at the back of the bus. Why not one that shows his life after baseball?

For now, 42 is a good reminder of how Robinson changed baseball and this nation. It comes just in time for the 66th anniversary of his debut with the Dodgers. That's when everyone wears 42 for one day.

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