Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

April 16, 2013

CALLERI: New baseball movie about Jackie Robinson doesn't quite round the bases

Niagara Gazette — Think about it. In the late 1940s, black men did not play professional baseball with white men.

Blacks had fought in segregated units in World War II, returning home to segregated lives, an especially harsh existence in the southern United States. In many areas of the country, schools, public transportation, restaurants, theaters, and drinking fountains were off limits. The Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy.

And racial segregation in public schools was the standard across America. This wouldn’t change until the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on May 17, 1954 in “Brown versus Board Of Education (Topeka, Kansas)” that led to the desegregation of public schooling.

Into this living history, the lives of two men would cross to alter events. Branch Rickey was the general manager of the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson was a shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, earning $400 a month playing his beloved game of baseball.

As told in the new movie “42,” Rickey and Robinson united to break baseball’s color line. When he took the field in Brooklyn on April 15, 1947, Robinson was the first black man to play in the major leagues in the modern era. There was a time in the 1880s, when blacks and whites did play together, but that ended, and for six decades, baseball was an all-white world. Robinson played first base for the Dodgers that April day and the sport was changed forever. 42 was the uniform number Robinson wore.

Director-screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s film focuses on the relationship between Rickey and Robinson. The determined Rickey believed in his heart that baseball was ready for a black player, saying that it was the right thing to do. Robinson was frustrated in Kansas City and bridled at the athletic segregation he believed prevented him from showing how good he was at the game. The coming together of the men seemed to be destiny.

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