It is no secret that Jack Roosevelt Robinson had an immeasurable impact on not only the game of baseball and the Dodgers organization, but on the global scale.
Born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919, Robinson attended UCLA where he was a star athlete in more sports than solely on the diamond.
He embodies the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s almost as perfectly as anyone else, single-handedly changing the landscape of the movement and American sports forever.
All players in Major League Baseball embrace the day where everyone wears Jackie’s famous “42” as it celebrates the amazing efforts he made to change the lives and support the dreams of African-Americans in his era.
The impact Robinson had on the world, still seen today, is quite possibly the most profound impact anyone has every had on the sports world.
In 2013, probably the most accurate depiction of Jackie Robinson’s life in and out of the game of baseball was composed into the film 42, starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey.
In 1945, men were returning from their service in the Armed Forces in World War II. Among them were major league baseball stars like Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. Also present was Jack Roosevelt Robinson. African-American men like Jackie served the country admirably only to return home to racism and segregation. As for American sports, no African-Americans played. Not one. African-American ballplayers played in the Negro Leagues for clubs like the Kansas City Monarchs and Homestead Grays, even though many were talented enough to be starters on the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers. There were 400 white men on Opening Day rosters across 16 clubs until Jackie Robinson made that total 399.
The era Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in was one of the darkest ones in American history. Racism, prejudice, and ‘whites only’ signs ran rampant through not only the South, but the entire nation. Truly dark. The film 42 truly drove home that darkness with its accurate and intense portrayal of true events. Early in the film, Jackie Robinson attempts to use a whites only toilet at a gas station and was rejected. Robinson proceeded to threaten to go elsewhere for gas and was allowed to use it, demonstrating Jackie’s well-documented character. Rachel Robinson at one point also goes into a whites only bathroom and uses it without issue in protest. There is another scene where Jackie has plane tickets to Daytona for his first Spring Training and their seats are given away because of the color of their skin. He was not allowed at team hotels. An elderly white man in Daytona also threatened both Rachel and Jackie Robinson’s safety.
One of the biggest events involved an officer in Cincinnati taking Jackie Robinson off the field after barreling into the catcher for a run and threatening him. Quite possibly the biggest event of racism occurred within his own organization. The Brooklyn Dodgers in minority drafted a “Declaration of Independence” petition when it was announced that Jackie would go to Panama with the big club. Some teammates.
Jackie’s Personality Portrayal
Jackie Robinson had a personality unlike any other and it was accurately portrayed in 42. At one point, Wendell has to drive Robinson away at Branch Rickey’s request because of racial violence threats and Robinson is upset. He was upset because he thought he got cut, but when he found out the real reason, he laughed hysterically. Interesting take on that.
Demonstration of Impact
It is well-documented just how much Jackie’s on-field performance mattered but his off the field attitude was just as important. The impact of Robinson is best demonstrated through the eyes of major-leaguer Ed Charles as a young boy. In one scene, Robinson tosses a baseball to Charles and Ed and his friends run down the train.
Famous Quotes in 42
“Give me a uniform and a number on my back and I will give you the guts” – Jackie Robinson
“What do you serve when a hero [Robinson] comes to town?” – Daytona Beach resident
“I’ll duck.” – Jackie Robinson, in response to being asked what he would do if a pitcher headhunted him
“He discombobulated the man.” – 10-year-old Ed Charles
“I want you to make good. If a man’s got the goods, he deserves a fair chance.” – a white man in Daytona Beach
“It’s physiologically proven that negroes have longer heel bones giving them an unfair advantage.” – 1948 reporter
“Jackie Robinson is changing the world and refusing to let it change him.” – Wendell Smith
“Maybe one day we’ll all wear 42, that way they won’t be able to tell us apart.” – Pee Wee Reese
“Quit Baseball or Your Baby Boy Will Die.” – a threat sent to Jackie Robinson and hidden from him by Branch Rickey
“I don’t care if people like me, I know who I am.” – Jackie Robinson
“You’re medicine, Jack.” – Branch Rickey
Phillies manager Ben Chapman was easily one of the nastiest racists that Jackie had to encounter his rookie season. Chapman verbally harassed Jackie until he reached the breaking point. The film 42 demonstrates the scene as Jackie Robinson working up the courage not to fight back by staring down Chapman, not fighting, and retaliating with an excellent showing on the field thereafter.
After the heated exchange, Robinson goes into the tunnel and cries, shattering his bat in the process. Branch Rickey goes to greet him and make sure he returns to the field. In a series later in the season with the Phillies, Chapman keeps up his same antics but this time, Robinson’s teammates defend him, most admirably Pee Wee Reese and Eddie Stanky. In the end, Chapman took a very racist photo to prove his ‘goodwill’ with Chapman refusing to touch Robinson’s hand so using a bat ‘so they wouldn’t have to touch skin’.
Wendell Smith is considered one of the greatest African-American sportswriters ever and he witnessed Jackie Robinson’s career progression first-hand. He was Branch Rickey’s savior on numerous occasions and contributed to Robinson’s safety and mental strength.
Rachel Robinson was Jackie’s greatest guide and support system throughout his playing career. Branch Rickey loved Rachel so much, he allowed her to be the only wife each year to attend Spring Training. That, and the fact that Jackie needed his rock.
Branch Rickey was the Hall-of-Fame executive that orchestrated the arrival of Robinson. Harrison Ford does a fantastic job of his Rickey portrayal. Rickey is also known for bringing in both Roy Campanella in 1948 and Don Newcombe in 1949. In his initial meeting with Jackie Robinson, he questioned the idea of “a black man in white baseball” but he never contained a racist bone in his body. He is a true hero and exemplified such throughout the emergence of Jackie Robinson through the ups and downs. Also, the much known line from that conversation came from Rickey himself that said, “I want a player who has the guts NOT to fight back” in response to Robinson asking if Rickey wanted a player who had the guts to fight back. Rickey wanted the Jackie experiment to work so badly, he threatened to fire both the Montreal Royals manager and Brooklyn Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher.
Jackie Robinson. True patriot. True man. True hero.