Since I was pretty much indifferent to who won the World Series this year (Congratulations, Boston), I’ve been watching baseball movies instead. I just finished watching The Jackie Robinson Story.
The Jackie Robinson Story was made in 1950, back when Robinson was still playing second base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The movie not only tells the story of how Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in the major leagues but it also stars Jackie Robinson as himself!
Starting with Jackie’s childhood in Pasadena, the movie follows Jackie as he attends UCLA, serves a brief stint in the Army, and then plays baseball on an all African-American team (Jackie played for the Kansas City Monarchs but, in the movie, the team is renamed the Black Panthers!) before eventually getting signed to join the Dodgers and integrate major league baseball. While the movie skips over a lot of Jackie’s early life, it doesn’t gloss over the prejudice that he encountered at every step of the way. When he wins a scholarship to UCLA, people complain that the college has already recruited too many black athletes. Even when he’s a star player in the Negro Leagues, he still has to ask permission to enter and use the washroom in a diner. And when he joins the Dodgers, riots are threatened if he plays anywhere in the South. During one game, his wife (Ruby Dee) overhears the whites in the stands talking about how “the Lodge” is going to visit Jackie. Through it all, Jackie Robinson keeps his cool and refuses to give the racists the satisfaction of getting to him. Jackie answers every bigoted comment with the crack of his bat, leaving no doubt that he belongs in the major leagues.
Jackie Robinson was a great baseball player and a great man. He wasn’t a great actor and, in this movie, he comes across as being stiff and nervous whenever he has to play any dialogue scenes. But then he swings a bat or catches a ball and it doesn’t matter that he can’t act. Jackie Robinson was an amazing player and it’s still exciting to watch footage of him today.
The Jackie Robinson Story is a rousing, feel-good baseball movie and a condemnation of racism and bigotry, in all of its insidious forms.