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April 15, 2013

42 ****

Not a grand slam, but a a solid homer.

As even those who don’t follow baseball know, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball (April 15, 1947).

He wouldn’t have done it without Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey, who chose Robinson because he believed Robinson could handle what would be thrown at the first negro to play in the Majors.

In Brian Helgeland’s new film 42, both those who know little and those who know a lot about baseball will walk away knowing more than when they entered the theater and with admiration for both Robinson and Rickey.

I suspect the far larger part of the audiences seeing the film don’t know many of the details of what happened between 1945-47. They will after seeing 42.

This film confines itself largely to this two-year period, from when Rickey starts looking for a player he believes can handle the tremendous pressures that will descend when the color barrier is breached, through Robinson’s minor league year with the Montreal Royals, and ending with the successful first year Robinson has with “Dem Bums.”

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey will make you think you are in the middle of baseball (and US) history. Boseman is solid and believable as Robinson, and Ford’s portrayal of GM Rickey is spot-on.

And there are other good performances too, especially John McGinley as Red Barber, Chris Meloni as Leo Durocher, and Alan Tidyk as Phillies’ racist manager Ben Chapman.

Nicole Beharie plays Robinson’s wife Rachel, who was also an important part of the reason he was able to survive the pressures thrown at him.

While there are aspects of 42 with which one might quibble, particularly the desire to have more information on Robinson’s internal life and the annoying music, Hegeland and his cast succeed admirably at portraying this remarkable man, those around him, and the time(s) in which they lived and changed baseball.

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For those, including myself, who might want to know more details about Robinson, his life and times, here are three books that offer just that:

  • Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad
  • I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson by Jackie Robinson
  • Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel

Also, there’s a lovely, personal vignette, Jackie Robinson Again, by the wonderful writer Roger Angell in the current New Yorker that’s worthy of the few moments it will take you to read it. And, I suspect, it might remind some of you, the older ones, of a particular memory you might have of 42.