'42' is fine film but not historically correct • Latino Sports

Baseball

’42’ is fine film but not historically correct

on

Pee Wee Reese (1) was not the only one to make Jackie Robinson feel welcome.

Pee Wee Reese (1) was not the only one to make Jackie Robinson feel welcome.

If I were a movie critic, I’d give the new Jackie Robinson movie four stars. As a baseball historian, however, I can’t give it more than three.

Although former pitcher Pete Smith was the historical consultant, he’s too young (at 47) to remember the Robinson era.

For example, the movie shows that the Dodgers trained in Panama in 1947. Actually, they spent that spring in Havana — and chose that locale only because Branch Rickey wanted to separate Robinson from the rednecks who hassled him in Florida the year before.

They film also shows Leo Durocher saying “Nice guys finish last” during a phone conversation with Rickey. Not so.

Leo Durocher silenced Brooklyn players who signed a petition protesting the presence of Jackie Robinson

Leo Durocher silenced Brooklyn players who signed a petition protesting the presence of Jackie Robinson

Durocher never even said it that way. He said, “Nice guys finish eighth” in 1948 when referring to rival manager Mel Ott of the moribund New York Giants. The National League was then an eight-team league and eighth meant last — and the twisted quote even made its way into Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations as well as Durocher’s autobiography.

Nor was Durocher suspended for extramarital affairs; Happy Chandler, commissioner at the time, would have had to eject most of the other 15 managers for similar shenanigans.

Although the real reasons for Durocher’s 1947 suspension never surfaced, it was widely understood in baseball circles that he was banned from baseball because he consorted with gamblers, not to mention alleged mob members with Las Vegas ties.

To this day, Official Baseball still frowns on gambling more than it eschews substance abuse. Just ask Pete Rose.

Chandler’s role is helping Robinson integrate the game is also omitted. The baseball czar, formerly governor of Kentucky, supported Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers when the other 15 owners voted to maintain the unofficial color barrier.

He also threatened to suspend the entire Phillies and Cardinals teams when they threatened to strike rather than take the field with Robinson.

Hank Greenberg’s hefty contribution is missing too; stationed at first base for the 1947 Pittsburgh Pirates, Greenberg confided to Robinson during a game that he had suffered a similar barrage of bigotry as a Jew playing a white, Christian game in the ’30s. Without Greenberg’s help, Robinson might not have survived the season.

The film showed four umpires on the field — even though the leagues only used three per game until 1952 — and failed to list Robinson’s 1949 MVP award in the list of closing accomplishments printed on the screen.

Since he was the first African-American to win that prestigious trophy, the oversight is pretty significant.

It’s also significant that Red Barber’s recap of the 1946 season mentioned Brooklyn’s won-lost record but neglected to say the team finished in a first-play tie before losing an unscheduled pennant playoff to the St. Louis Cardinals. Significance? That best-of-three series was the first unscheduled playoff in baseball history.

branch rickey

On the plus side, Harrison Ford did such a good Rickey, both in appearance and voice, that he’ll be a strong contender for a supporting actor Oscar. The kid who played Jackie Robinson was convincing. And so was the young Ed Charles, who chased Jackie’s train and rode his coat-tails to the big leagues and the 1969 World Series.

Despite its flaws, 42 was a fine film because it was a vivid portrayal of a difficult period in American history that shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s true that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

Jackie Robinson opened many doors, not only in baseball and professional sports but also in American society. As the movie clearly shows, it wasn’t easy.

 

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

Recommended for you