Jackie Robinson will go down in history as one of its most influential African-Americans. The first player of color in Major League Baseball changed the landscape of the Civil Rights movement.
Known as Baseball’s Great Experiment, Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey wanted to better compete with the other 15 Major League teams, most notably the New York Yankees who along with the New York Giants comprised three of the teams in the five boroughs of New York.
Post-World War II, America was experiencing tremendous growth as a nation and Rickey knew that there would be more fans wanting to see baseball games.
Despite racial tensions that were prevalent during that era, Rickey envisioned integration would make his team better, resulting in higher ticket sales.
The newest biopic on Robinson’s life, entitled “42,” was released last Friday just a few days before the anniversary of his Major League debut.
Over the weekend, 42 soared to the top of the box office, raking in more than $27.2 million, the largest gross ever for a baseball film, according to Hollywood.com.
42: The True Story of an American Legend
The movie goes through what it was like for Jackie from 1946-1947 coming up through the minor league farm system with the Montreal Royals to his rookie season with the Dodgers.
Racism extended to his own team as other players had signed a petition to not play with Robinson. Those players were traded by Rickey. Eventually his own teammates and fans on the Dodgers and in other cities warmed up to Robinson and how his style of play helped revolutionize the game.
The director Brian Helgeland, told SFBay why he decided to direct this film:
“I was asked to meet with Mrs. Robinson and explain how a movie about her husband’s life could be brought to the screen. In my quick, initial research I was struck and inspired by his bravery. The sports writer Red Smith once wrote, “The word for Jackie Robinson is unconquerable. He would not be defeated. Not by the other team and not by life.
“Everything he did was spoken about on a grand level, but it was his day-to-day bravery that inspired me to tell the story. He was brave to walk into an all white locker room everyday. He was brave to step up to the plate with the weight of the world on him. And do it four times a day over an entire season. And equal to all that, he was brave enough not to take his day home with him.”
The movie definitely takes some liberties regarding actual events. In the movie, Robinson hits a home run against the Pirates to help the Dodgers win the pennant. In reality, the Dodgers clinched on an off-day as the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the second game of a doubleheader.
Overall though, 42 is a good place to start to learn about a civil rights leader who helped change the face of America. Helgeland says this movie also serves as inspiration:
“In the United States, there is an ambition to do the right thing. It’s a country that strives to improve itself. That seems like the innate spirit of America to me. We may fail at this ambition sometimes, but 42, I hope, shows we strive for that.”
Major League Baseball annually honors Jackie Robinson on the anniversary of his debut with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Each of the 30 teams will wear a special patch and all players will wear number 42 in tribute to Jackie.
The idea first began back in 2007 when Ken Griffey Jr. asked commissioner Bud Selig to wear the iconic number. Eventually other players wanted to honor Jackie the same way and it expanded to include all uniformed personnel.