And my story on Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson is such a fascinating person, both as an athlete and a historical figure. I find myself to be obsessed with his story, as I have read every biography I know of his that has been written. Most notably the book titled JACKIE that came out several years ago, which I consider the final word on the man (though if more books are written about him, I’ll be sure to read them).
The idea of a Jackie Robinson movie has been rumored for a while. But everything about the development was cringe-worthy. There have been several scripts floating around Hollywood, but one of the most prominent ones was almost offensive. The script was rumored to have focused less on Robinson’s incredible achievement and more on the Brooklyn Dodger’s white GM Branch Rickey and how he was a hero for giving a black ballplayer a chance. (fyi: if you want to see an offensive sports movie about how an African American can be anything he wants as long as he finds the right white person to help him, it’s already been made and called The Blind Side.)
The strongest rumor was that Robert Redford was attached to both direct and play Rickey. Then that brought up a second question: should a white person be directing a movie about one of the most achieving moments in African American history? It’s unknown if that was why, but for some reason, the Redford version never went through. Then a rumor began that Redford was going to produce and star as Rickey, but hand the directing duties over to Spike Lee. That was the most fascinating incarnation of the rumor I have heard, but again, it fell through.
But this trailer gives me hope. It looks exciting. And it should, because this story is exciting, and Robinson is one of the most exciting people ever.
The truth is Rickey was definitely one of the most progressive GMs of his time, but he wasn’t quite the hero the script made him out to be. Rickey picked Robinson for a certain reason, and it wasn’t because he was the best. Rickey had a reputation of being a showman of his teams and his reputation proceeded him. But he was also had a strong faith, and new the integration of the sport was the right thing to do. And picking Robinson wasn’t about picking the best player from the negro league. Jackie Robinson was NOT the best player in the negro leagues. In fact, he barely played.
The negro league was full of great players, including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and James Cool Papa Bell. These guys could have come in and tore up the major leagues. Those for desegregation of the game implored Rickey to pick the best. Fans will gravitate when they see their team succeed with the new players. But Rickey didn’t feel that way. He picked Robinson for other reasons including the fact he was polite. He served in the military. He was good-looking (it was even said he had a “European face structure”, whatever that means).
And, most importantly, Rickey liked him because he wasn’t a great player. Rickey thought if a black player came in and showed up all the white players, it would cause havoc. Many players, and in some cases whole teams (St Louis Cardinals for instance) threaten to not take the field if a black player was on it. So Rickey knew the risk.
Maybe Robinson was not a great player. But he became one. He knew he was picked for other reasons. He knew he was picked over better players. He knew the white owners/fans were looking at him to not screw this up. He knew the black, superior players still in the negro league were looking at him not to let them down. And he did what he had to do, he worked his butt off and BECAME a great player. Rookie of the Year award in 1947. MVP in 1949. Hall of Fame inductee in 1962. And finally his number 42 was retired for EVERY team.
Which brings us to the new movie. 42. I’m skeptical of this movie. Will they get it right or screw it up? Robinson deserves a movie to match his achievement. Directed by Brian Helgeland, who is yes, white. A basically unknown actor named Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie. Harrison Ford plays Rickey.
But this trailer gives me hope. It looks exciting. And it should, because this story is exciting, and Robinson is one of the most exciting people ever. He was always optimistic, so I am optimistic this movie will do Robinson justice. Very, very cautiously optimistic. Watch the trailer for yourself. Let me know what you think.