With yesterday being Jackie Robinson Day, I re-watched the movie "42" earlier this week. In my opinion one of the greatest baseball movies, it does a great job painting a picture of Jackie Robinson's journey to breaking baseball's color barrier and playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But as with all biopics, I'm sure there are moments that have been dramatized for the big screen. I want to take a look at some of the more memorable events throughout the movie and see just how accurate they are.
Jackie Robinson's meeting with Branch Rickey
In the movie, Robinson meets with Dodgers' GM Branch Rickey for the first time to discuss the possibility of playing for the Dodgers. The conversation is tense, with Rickey telling Robinson he wants him to "have the guts to not fight back." Rickey even begins to yell at Robinson, calling him a "black son of a bitch" just to see how he would respond.
According to Rickey's grandson, Branch Barrett Rickey, that's pretty much what happened in the meeting. Rickey tried to provoke Robinson, attempting to get a response out of him before telling him he needs a ballplayer who will not fight back when faced with prejudice and abuse.
Panama Spring Training and Dodgers petition against Robinson
The film portrays a scene during Spring Training in which multiple members of the Brooklyn Dodgers start a petition saying they will not play on the same team as Robinson. Although in the movie the 1947 Spring Training takes place in Panama, the Dodgers actually held their spring camp in Cuba that year.
However, some Dodgers players did actually begin a petition against playing with Robinson, and the team did take a trip to Panama to play a three-game series against Brooklyn's minor-league affiliate and Robinson's current team, the Montreal Royals. That's when manager Leo Durocher found out about the petition and put an end to it.
Durocher's outburst during the movie, in which he exclaims "I don't care if he is yellow or black or has stripes like a zebra! If Robinson can help us win, and everything I have seen says he can, the he is going to play on this ball club," is pretty close to his actual quote.
Also, just like in the movie, Durocher was actually suspended for the entire 1947 season after the Catholic Youth Organization withdrew its support of the Dodgers due to his affair with actress Laraine Day.
Ben Chapman's tirade
One of the toughest scenes to watch in the movie is when the Dodgers are playing the Phillies and Philadelphia manager Ben Chapman stands outside the dugout hurling racial slurs at Robinson. Eventually Robinson's teammate Eddie Stanky confronts Chapman and tells him to leave Robinson alone.
Both of those events happened, although Stanky's confrontation with Chapman took place the next day during the second game of the series.
A scene that takes place later in the movie also happened in real life as well. When the Dodgers took their first trip to Phildelphia during the 1947 season, Chapman took a picture on the field with Robinson as an attempt to bury the hatchet.
Pee Wee Reese's moment with Robinson
One of the more moving scenes in the movie comes when the Dodgers travel to Cincinnati for a series against the Reds. Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese was a native of Kentucky, so he had family and friends in attendance at the game.
In the movie, he walks over to first base for a quick chat with Robinson, in which he lets him know that he has his support. Reese puts his arm around Jackie, and offers a few lines of encouragement.
While it's generally accepted that Reese embraced Robinson at some point, it's likely that it happened during the 1948 season rather than 1947. As pointed out in this article from ESPN, Robinson played second base in 1948, so it would have made more sense that he and Reese would be standing near each other. Additionally, Robinson said in 1952 that the event occurred during the 1948 season in Boston.
Whether it happened in 1947 or not, it is a noteworthy event and one that shows camaraderie during a divisive time.
Robinson's pennant-clinching home run
The dramatic climax of the film comes on Sept. 17, 1947, when the Dodgers were playing on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a chance to clinch the pennant. Robinson hits a home run off Pirates pitcher Fritz Ostermueller to supposedly win the game. Brooklyn broadcaster Red Barber says that "barring an unlikely comeback," the Dodgers will win the pennant.
Robinson did actually hit a home run that game, but it came in the top of the fourth inning and was the first run of the game. The Dodgers won the game 4-2, hardly an insurmountable lead.
"42" is a fantastic movie and one that I consider one of the best baseball movies of all time. After looking at the facts behind the story, it seems as if it is mostly accurate, but of course they had to dramatize some of the events to make it Hollywood-worthy.
Matthew Atkins, Journalist and Baseball fan.