42, the Jackie Robinson story

Jackie Robinson - Curt Gunther

Hollywood breathes new life into the Jackie Robinson story

As a baseball fan, I've known about Jackie Robinson for a long, long time. I suspect you know about him, too.
And with all due respect to Mr. Robinson and what he accomplished, I still thought Major League Baseball had maybe gone a little overboard in honoring him. After all, his number 42 is retired for all 30 teams, including many, like the Astros, that weren't even in existence when Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

Studio 42 is in our face every time we tune to the MLB Network, and tomorrow, every MLB player will again take the field wearing the number 42 on his back, a practice that can lead to mass confusion for fans and announcers trying to watch a ball game and, with apologies to Abbott and Costello, figure out Who's on First.

That's how I felt yesterday.

This morning, a day after seeing 42 at my local movie house, I think MLB has it right, and any confusion I have watching tomorrow's ball games will be gladly endured.

Jackie Robinson was finishing up his career in 1956, the same year I was born, so I never saw him play. But from the pictures I've seen, the casting director for 42 did an outstanding job by selecting Chadwick Boseman to play Robinson, with Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey.

It doesn't stop there. The movie is a feast of names for any baseball fan, and watching those legendary names come to life on the big screen is a huge treat. There's Leo Durocher, Pee Wee Reese, Red Barber, Carl Furillo, Joe Garagiola, Ralph Branca, Ben Chapman and more.

I love old baseball photos, and the CGI images of Ebbets Field and Crosley Field, among others, left me feeling like I was a privileged time traveler, visiting those long-gone cathedrals of baseball for the first time.

But the main thing about 42 is, of course, the story, and like I said, you already know it, and yet, maybe, just maybe you don't. Not really.

I watched a (Studio 42) Bob Costas interview with Ford, Boseman and former Dodgers great Don Newcombe, and I think Ford said it best when he said the movie has a "visceral" quality that puts you in that time and place, and makes you feel some of what Jackie Robinson endured. Previous movies and even some of the books may have sanitized it to a degree, but 42 doesn't seem to pull many punches. To listen to Chapman's ugly race-baiting of Robinson had me gritting my teeth in anger and squirming uncomfortably in my seat.

I think 42 is a great baseball movie, but it's more than that. It's a great movie about America, where we've been, how far we've traveled, and how far we have yet to go.

I hope you'll make a date to see it soon.

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