Forty two was Jackie Robinson's number. He turned the tide in sports as he was the first African American to play Major League Baseball. He was a hell of a ball player, bar absolutely none. He endured the insults, threats and racist behavior of white America to play his game and improve the Negro status along the way. In the movie 42, he is played by Chadwick Boseman.
The year was 1947. His first game was on April 15 1947. His champion, angel and mentor was Branch Rickey, (played by Harrison Ford) club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey was the powerhouse that made it all happen. Robinson's beginning salary was $600 a month, equal to $7,651 in today's money. That would be $91,812 per year today. He played at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, with more than 14,000 blacks in the crowd. Rickey had a keen marketing eye.
World War II had ended. The greatest Americans were coming home. The racial door was cracked. This is a family movie a historical epic of an era gone by, but not so far away. I saw the movie at the new Hyde Park Theater. It was a family affair. People had mothers, uncles and grandparents with them. Grandparents and parents brought their children. They whispered historical facts along the way, like where and when they saw Robinson play when they were kids.
Robinson was a gifted athlete. He grew up poor, the youngest child of five, moved to Pasadena, California. He played tennis, ran track, was a quarterback on the football team and a guard on the basketball team. He was an outstanding athlete in all fields and the perfect candidate to participate in the "Nobel Experiment." He was the first athlete at UCLA to win varsity letters in four different sports.
The movie is impactful. The movie gives you an appreciation for race relations no matter your age. I took my mother to the movies. She remembered. I remembered as a child my parents, watching the Dodgers playing ball. Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella were the guys. The house was still. It was like the world stopped when they played and it was like Black America was on stage and had to win. And win they did. Jackie Robinson was a champion. A baseball legend, but a fine gentlemen, because he took the crap.I have heard my Dad say, "if you take the shit, make a point." Think Jackie Robinson. There is a scene in the movie, where the manager of the Philadelphia team calls Robinson everything but a child of God. Nigger, Nigger, Nigger. Not the "N" word. The word was Nigger. At one time he got to Robinson and he left the field in anger and disgust.
There is a real love story here. He and his wife Rachel went through hell as he played ball in segregated America. They could not stay in the best hotels and there were no limos. She was his strength. Another scene in the movie to demonstrate the race relations point, is, after Robinson leaves the field, Mr. Rickey tells Jackie that he had seen a white boy hold the bat like Jackie Robinson, a black man. This was a real sign of racial progress.
42 is a must see movie, no matter who you are or your age. My mother and I went to lunch afterwards and she said the racial discrimination was much worse than portrayed. She talked about how Black folk went to the ball game. She pointed out the dress attire. Black people dressed, then. The men wore suits and the women wore hats and gloves to the ball game. They wore church like clothes to the ball game to watch Jackie Robinson play ball. She made it a point to say her generation dressed up to see the game, there was no casual -- jeans did not exist, overalls were for the farm and the factory. She said they stood up in the stands and cheered when Jackie came to bat and the crowed went wild when he stole a base, which was his trademark. " He had to win," she told me. "Why?" I asked. She said,"because so much was riding on him. He could get mad, but he had to perform." She said, " that's what my generation had to do/" She asked, "how did we lose that quality in our culture?"
On June 4, 1972 the Dodgers baseball number of 42 was retired. He died at the young age of 53. He suffered from heart disease and diabetes in his last years. His legacy lives in the sports of baseball and on the face of America. The number 42 takes on a new meaning. His number was "universally" retired, across all major league teams -- he was the first athlete in any sport to be so honored. The number may never be used by another player.
Jackie Robinson's number was 42.