I love stories with happy endings, and the 2013 movie, 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, is one of the best! 42 is a biographical sports film starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, who was the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I was so inspired by the movie that I did a lot of research on both Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. The movie does an excellent job of portraying not only the events but the character of these two remarkable men. Jackie Robinson was the son of sharecroppers in Georgia, but his father left when Jackie was just 6 months old, and his mother moved the family to Pasadena, CA. Jackie was a uniquely gifted athlete, and he lettered in four sports both in high school and then in college at UCLA, including baseball, basketball, football, and track! Robinson entered military service during World War II and eventually received officer training (only allowed after protests by heavy-weight boxing champion, Joe Louis), becoming a commissioned officer before the end of the war. At 28, Robinson entered the Brooklyn Dodger’s clubhouse, the first African American to sign with a major league team, ending almost 60 years of segregation in professional baseball. The movie focused on the opposition and persecution that Robinson (and Rickey) faced in desegregating major league baseball. Although Robinson had to endure the lion’s share of the emotional (and physical) trauma and exercise the greatest self-control, both men were giants of courage and faith. During his military career, Robinson spent much of his weekend leave visiting his former pastor, Rev. Karl Downs. He was clean-living and well-respected by all who knew him. Jackie married Rachel Isum after the war ended and just before signing with the major leagues. Rachel was a truly supportive wife; they had a sweet marriage and three children, and Rachel (now 92) has remained a widow since Jackie’s death, although she pursued a career in nursing and became an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing after Jackie retired from baseball. She is a truly virtuous and godly woman! As a rookie, Robinson, batted second and played first base, scoring 125 runs to win the inaugural Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award. By 1949, he was the National League’s most valuable player and batting champion with a .342 average, 203 hits, 124 runs batted in, 122 runs scored and 37 stolen bases. The story in the movie about Robinson having no locker at first and being handed a jersey with “42” in blue on the back is true, as were the stories of Mr. Rickey’s dedication to desegregation and the difficulty of breaking the color line.“I remember when Mr. Rickey signed me in 1944,” King said in a telephone interview, “he asked me the questions he asked everybody: ‘Do you plan to have a family? Do you believe in God?’ Then he asked me, ‘Would it bother you if you played with a black man?’ So he was thinking about it even then.” Phillies players and manager Ben Chapman really were terribly ignorant and abusive, yelling names and taunting Robinson that he should “go back to the cotton fields.” Rickey really did feel that Chapman “did more than anybody to unite the Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men.” Robinson also received great encouragement from several of the players. Pee Wee Reese came to Robinson’s defense: “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” In 1948, Reese quieted racial slurs before a Cincinnati game by putting his arm around Robinson’s shoulder. Over the course of his illustrious career, Jackie Robinson made 1,518 hits, 137 home runs, and stole 197 bases! He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and in recognition of his achievements (both on and off the field), Robinson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. According to Wikipedia, “In 1997, MLB ‘universally’ retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Initiated for the first time on April 15, 2004, MLB has adopted a new annual tradition, ‘Jackie Robinson Day’, on which every player on every team wears #42.” I think this movie truly lives up to its claim: “It will make you believe in heroes again!”Branch Rickey was also a man of vision and valor. He had such deep Christian faith and that he earned the nickname “the Mahatma,” but he’s best remembered for signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers, which shattered the baseball color line that had been an unwritten code since the 1880’s. It was Rickey unshakable faith that gave him the courage to stand up for right and against racism. He lived a long and worthwhile life and died just before his 84th birthday: While giving an address in conjunction with being elected to the Missouri Hall of Fame, Rickey told a story about physical courage and then said, “Now I’m going to tell you a story from the Bible about spiritual courage…” but he collapsed and later died. Those were his last words! Two remarkable men of courage and conviction: Jackie Robinson in the starring role, and Branch Rickey as the supporting mover and shaker. I think Robinson speaks for all men and women when he said, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me … all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” Oh, that we would universally learn to respect one another! I don’t know exactly what Rickey was going to say, but I do believe there’s no greater story of spiritual courage in the Bible than that of the Lord Jesus Christ, who withstood terrible abuse to the point of death so that we can experience forgiveness and eternal life. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
(All photographs were taken from googling for images of the movie and from Wikipedia, and most of the information was gleaned from reading Wikipedia. I hope it’s all correct!)