A number. Jackie Robinson's number.
The title of the movie about Robinson's year as a rookie with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mr. Rickey- Branch Rickey- General Manager who took the chance to change the American world.
It is also about what many of us continue to believe is an American original sin- racism.
We see it at its ugliest as Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, makes his way around the country quietly changing the world. He was by all accounts a heroic individual who suffered and sacrificed personally to do what needed to be done. He died in 1972 at the young age of 53 from complications from heart problems and diabetes.
The movie "42" is a classic baseball movie. The good guys win. It makes you feel good. It is all the more astonishing because it's true. In 1947 the hatred (a kind word for it) was more than many could have been able to bear. Even some of his own teammates didn't like what was happening. What a lonely year that must have been. There is one scene where Mr. Rickey (portrayed by Harrison Ford) tries to get his young star back onto the field. It all could have ended at that moment. Our nation should be forever grateful that it didn't.
We can't forget Mr. Rickey either. He had wanted to do this for 40 years after what he saw happen to a Black member of a college team. He planned it, worked for it, and finally made it happen, come hell or high water. He didn't face the pressures that Robinson did, of course, and he would be the first to admit it. But the two of them were an unbeatable team.
Don't forget Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca and some of the other Dodgers who stepped up and did what was the right thing to do. They are portrayed well in the movie, too.
Baseball is often used as a paradigm, a metaphor, for life. In this case it was more than that. It was what helped change life for the better.
Sidenote:FYI: Here is the list of first African-American players on each of the teams. The four highlighted have been elected to the Hall of Fame. It is sad, but true that the Yankees took 8 years, Phillies 10, Tigers 11 and Red Sox 12 years to integrate. It makes the story of Jackie Robinson all the more astounding as he was retired by the time the last three teams integrated! (from Wikipedia.)
|Jackie Robinson †||Brooklyn Dodgers, NL||April 15, 1947|
|Larry Doby †||Cleveland Indians, AL||July 5, 1947|
|Hank Thompson||St. Louis Browns, AL||July 17, 1947|
|Monte Irvin †||New York Giants, NL||July 8, 1949|
|Hank Thompson||New York Giants, NL||July 8, 1949|
|Sam Jethroe||Boston Braves, NL||April 18, 1950|
|Minnie Miñoso||Chicago White Sox, AL||May 1, 1951|
|Bob Trice||Philadelphia Athletics, AL||September 13, 1953|
|Ernie Banks †||Chicago Cubs, NL||September 17, 1953|
|Curt Roberts||Pittsburgh Pirates, NL||April 13, 1954|
|Tom Alston||St. Louis Cardinals, NL||April 13, 1954|
|Nino Escalera||Cincinnati Reds, NL||April 17, 1954|
|Chuck Harmon||Cincinnati Reds, NL||April 17, 1954|
|Carlos Paula||Washington Senators, AL||September 6, 1954|
|Elston Howard||New York Yankees, AL||April 14, 1955|
|John Kennedy||Philadelphia Phillies, NL||April 22, 1957|
|Ozzie Virgil, Sr.||Detroit Tigers, AL||June 6, 1958|
|Pumpsie Green||Boston Red Sox, AL||July 21, 1959|