Starring: Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson), Christopher Meloni (Leo Durocher), Ryan Merriman (Dixie Walker), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Andre Holland (Wendell Smith), Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman), Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca), T.R. Knight (Harold Parrott), John C. McGinley (Red Barber), Toby Huss (Clyde Sukeforth), Max Gail (Burt Shotton), Brad Beyer (Kirby Higbe), James Pickens Jr. (Mr. Brock).
Jackie Robinson story
News reporter Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier types on his typewriter: "In 1945, America's greatest generation came back from war. The flags of freedom fly over Europe. Nazi Germany had been defeated and three months later, Imperial Japan surrendered as well. Men returned home. Among them, some of baseball's most beloved names. Musial. DiMaggio. Williams. Life in the United States could return to normal. And baseball was proof positive that democracy was real. A baseball box score, after all, is a democratic thing. . . It simply states what kind of ballplayer you were on any particular day. African Americans had served their country gallantly, but they returned home from fighting to free the world from tyranny only to find racism, segregation and Jim Crow law still waiting at home."
A voice commentator says: "Segregation was the law and custom of the land and no group was more scrupulous in its observance of custom than organized baseball."
Wendell Smith writes: "If African Americans dreamed of playing baseball it was not for the New York Yankees but for teams like the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues where the barnstorming style of play stood in contrast to the Majors. In 1946, there were 16 Major League baseball teams with a total of 400 players on their rosters. Everyone of the 400 players were white. But when opening day came in 1947, that number dropped to 399 and one man stood apart."
"The following is based on a true story."
Brooklyn, New York. Spring of 1945. The office of the Brooklyn National League Baseball Club. Branch Rickey says: "Gentlemen, I have a plan." He tells the two men that his wife says that he's is too old to initiate this plan and his son says that everybody in baseball will be against him. "But I'm gonna do it." Do what?, is the question. I'm gonna bring a Negro ballplayer to the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of the men stands up and asks Rickey if he has lost his mind? Rickey will be taking terrible abuse from the newspapers, and that's not half of it when the news hits in Flatbush! Rickey tell Harold to sit down. He now says to the other guy, Clyde Sukeforth, that there's no law against it. Clyde replies that's true, but there is a code of segregation that Rickey will be breaking -- an unwritten law and that will make Rickey an outcast. Rickey says: "So be it."
At this time Rickey is looking for a black ballplayer that can fill the role of the first black man to play white baseball in the big leagues.
Birmingham, Alabama. Summer of 1945. Jackie Robinson is playing baseball and stealing bases. The catcher starts taunting Jackie and Jackie answers right back. He asks the batter at bat where is this baseball player from? The batters says Jackie is from California. Okay, that explains a lot, says the catcher. The boy is not from the segregated South.
Interstate 24, Missouri. August 24, 1945. The Kansas City Monarch's bus rolls on down the road. The bus stops at a rural gas station. The white owner of the place starts to fill the bus up with gas. He sees Jackie considering whether he should use the bathroom facilities which are for whites only. The owner warns him that the young fellow will be breaking the law and the cops will be coming out here soon. So Jackie tells everyone that then the station owner can stop filling up their gas tank, because they can't use the bathroom. They'll get their gas someplace else. The white guy doesn't like it, but he tells Jackie to go ahead and use the facilities and he'll keep on pumping the gas.
Rickey, Harold and Clyde discuss the candidates for the new plan. Ray Campanella, the catcher, is mentioned, but Rickey says the man's too sweet. The other ball players would eat him up. And Satchel Paige, the famous pitcher, is too old. Rickey says what he wants is a guy like this fellow; Jack Roosevelt Robinson. The guy is a four-sport college man, out of UCLA. "That means he's played with white boys." He's only 26 years of age and his batting average is .350. He was a commissioned army officer. Clyde adds: "He was court-martialed." He goes on to say that Robinson's a trouble maker. The guy has a quick temper. Rickey says Robinson was only court-martialed because he wouldn't sit in the back of a military bus when he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.
Rickey tells his two men to find Robinson and bring him here.
At that segregated gas station Sukeforth asks for a ball player named Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Robinson comes out of the restroom and Sukeforth asks him if he's Jackie Robinson? Jackie's not sure about this white man, so he asks him: "Who are you?"
August 28, 1945. Robinson sits before Rickey and he asks the old man what's this about? Rickey says it's about baseball. He wants Jackie to start in spring playing ball with the Dodger affiliate in Montreal. "If you make it there, we'll try you down here with the Dodgers." He'll pay Robinson $600 dollars a month and a $3,500 bonus when he signs the contract. He knows that Jackie is a good ball player but the question is: ". . . can you control your temper?" Rickey gives Robinson a couple of unpleasant examples of nasty racial confrontations. Rickey wants to know if Robinson is going to slug the offensive fellow and ruin all of Rickey's plans. Jackie stands up and asks Rickey if he wants a player who doesn't have the guts to fight back? Rickey replies: "No. . . . No. I want a player who's got the guts not to fight back." He continues by saying that Jackie's enemies will be out gunning for him. But Jackie can't step down to their low level and answer in kind. "We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player." "Like our Savior. You have to have the guts to turn the other cheek." Can you do it?
Jackie answers: "You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back and I'll give you the guts."
Jackie puts in a call to his girlfriend in Pasadena, California. He can't tell her what he is doing because he's not supposed to tell her. So, instead, he asks her to marry him. She says yes.
Jack and Rachel marry.
New Orleans, Lakefront Airport. For the first time in her life, Rachel sees a whites only sign on a woman's bathroom. Rachel goes in anyway. So the ticket clerk punishes them by saying that the plane is too heavy so someone has to give up their seat. Jackie protests but it doesn't get him anywhere. Then they see that two white people are grabbed and put on the flight. He demands that she get them back on that plane right now. The woman now grabs the phone and offers it to Jackie, saying: "Do you wanna call the sheriff or should I?"
Daytona Beach, Florida, the next day. Jackie arrives by Greyhound bus. Wendell is there to meet him and his wife. Jackie is upset that a reporter is the one greeting him. So, Wendell tells him that Branch Rickey sent him to be his chauffeur and advance man.
In the car Wendell explains that Brooklyn plays down here, while Montreal plays just a few blocks from here. He has brought him to the Joe and Duff Harris house. Joe does a lot of good for colored people. He gets out the Negro vote. The Robinsons will stay here all but a few days at the end of the week when the Dodger organization goes to Sanford, Florida. Rachel asks where are the other wives and Wendell tells her that Rachel is the only wife Mr. Rickey has allowed to be at spring training.
The coach of the Dodgers is Leo Durocher. He is hitting balls around for the infielders to field. Rickey arrives. Jackie gets ready to to on the field. Wendell wants to know how Jackie feels on this first day of practice. Jackie only says it's okay. Wendell says that's hardly a basis for a great headline. The hard questions are going to come at Robinson from the white newsmen, such as: "What if one of these white pitchers throws at you?" He asks because the reporters are going to try to get under Jackie's skin and Jackie needs to be ready for that.
The coach for Montreal is named Hop. Rickey introduces Robinson to Hop. Hop seems decent enough. In private Rickey tells Hop hat he needs him to get the other players to act like gentlemen around Jackie. Just then Jackie makes a great catch at second base and throws out the man headed for third base. Rickey is impressed saying that was almost "superhuman". Hop laughs and tells Rickey not to get too carried away. "That's still a nigger out there." Rickey is not happy about that attitude. He tells him: "Clay, I realize that attitude is part of your cultural heritage. That you practically nursed race prejudice at your mother's breast, so I'll let that go. But I will tell you this. You will either manage Robinson fairly and correctly or you, sir, can be unemployed."
In Sanford Jackie is going to eat and sleep at Mr. Brock's house today. He describes Jackie as a hero, but Jackie says he's just a ballplayer. Brock sets him straight: "You tell that to all the little colored boys playing baseball in Florida today. To them, you a hero." That sobers Jackie up to his new reality.
Lots of blacks come out to the exhibition games between Brooklyn and Montreal. They have to go through a special entrance labeled "Colored". They have their own segregated area.
When Jackie comes up to bat, the whites boo him. The blacks clap for Jackie. A little black boy prays to God to please let Jackie show these people what "we" can do. The first ball brushes Jackie back a bit from the plate. The pitcher, named Higbe, throws three straight balls and then he asks Jackie: "Come on, rook. Ain't you gonna swing at something?" Jackie walks to first base.
Higbe doesn't realize that he has just walked a man who is going to drive him crazy with his base running. Jackie steals second base. Jackie tries to steal third base but gets caught in a run down. Jackie gets out of trouble sliding safely into third base. Jackie is unnerving Higbe. In fact, Higbe takes a few steps towarda Jackie, yelling: "Hey! Don't you know nothing? You're supposed to get back when I step off!" He throws the ball to the third baseman, but Jackie has no problem beating the throw. The Brooklyn coach scolds Higbe to just work the plate. And now Higbe drops the ball in the midst of his throw. That's a balk and Jackie gets to walk home, scoring a run for Montreal. Higbe mutters: "Son of a bitch!"
At night at the house, a white man drives up. Mr. Brock and Wendell are wary of a white man stopping by the house. The white man gets out of his car and asks if the Nigra ball player is in the house? Wendell says Jackie is sleeping right now, so the white guy maybe can come back tomorrow to see him. The white man shakes his head no and laughs: "No, I ain't coming back. Other fellas is coming. And they ain't happy that he's staying here in Sanford playing ball with white boys." Wendell stands up to set the white man straight, but the white man tells him: "No, you listen to me, young man. You best just skedaddle on out of here. Because if they get here and he's still here, there's gonna be trouble. You understand? Trouble."
Wendell calls Rickey and Rickey tells Wendell to get Jackie out of there right now. Bring him back to Daytona."
The racists of the community are meeting at a local bar. Wendell has to stop because a car in front of him just stopped. Then Wendell sees the whites start approaching the car because they see Jackie. Wendell slams on the accelerator and takes off like a shot. He just misses an oncoming car. Jackie asks Wendell what has gotten into him? Wendell replies: "Mr. Rickey said to get you to Daytona Beach ASAP." Jackie starts laughing and Wendell asks him what the hell is he laughing at? Jackie answers with a laugh, saying: "I thought you woke me because I was cut from the team."
DeLand, Florida. The sheriff is at the ball field and Jackie is performing spectacularly. So the sheriff tells Jackie: "Get off the field. Now." Jackie asks why and the sheriff says: "No nigger's gonna play with white boys." The Montreal Coach tries to help Jackie, but the sheriff tells him he ain't up north anymore. He's here in the South where the races stay separate. "The Brooklyn Dodgers ain't changing our way of living."
Jack and Rachel are walking in the neighborhood when a white man with a stern look on his face approaches them from across the street. Both Jack and Rachel think there's going to be a confrontation and Jack puts Rachel behind him. The fellow stops and says: "I want you to know something. I want you to know I'm pulling for you to make good. A lot of folks around here feel the same way. If a man's got the goods, he deserves a fair chance, that's all." He turns around and walks back across the street.
Rickey says he's proud to tell Jackie that he has earned a place on the Montreal Royals team. He'll be on the train when the team heads for Jersey City, New Jersey. Jackie is happy about that, but he's got one question. Why is Rickey doing this? Rickey says with Jackie and the other Negro players he hopes to bring to his organization are going to build a team that will win the World Series. And that means money.
Jersey City, April 18, 1946. Opening day of the International League season. At least this time, Rachel and Wendell can sit in a non-segregated ball park. Rachel feels sick and goes to the bathroom. A women there asks if she's okay and Rachel tells her she feels sick, but she doesn't know why. The woman tells her it may mean that she's pregnant.
In the game Jackie hits a home run. The Montreal coach says to himself: "He may be superhuman after all."
Pasadena, California, 8 months later. Rachel has a boy. Jackie remembers that his own father left him when he was just 6 months old. He has no memories of his father. Nothing bad, nothing good. He makes a promise to his son that he will be there for his boy until the day he dies.
Beverly Hills. February 16, 1947. Rickey calls Doroucher in the middle of the night waking the coach. He says he needs to know the coach's attitude on Jackie Robinson. The coach says he doesn't have any attitude toward Jackie. He doesn't know the man, but he would throw his own brother off a team if Jackie is a better player.
Jackie is heading off to Panama for spring training. He says goodbye his mother, wife and son. Rachel tells him the closer he gets to the prize, the worse the taunting will be. She just wants him to be prepared for that. Rachel adds that she will see him in Brooklyn in eight weeks.
Panama City, Panama. March 18, 1947. Higbe and some other team members draw up a petition that they won't play ball with a Negro. Then they go around getting everyone's signature. Pee Wee Reese, shortstop, is the only one who won't sign the petition. Meanwhile, Jackie is learning how to play first baseman. Jackie has to learn the position and how to use the oversized glove.
Rickey learns of the petition and he calls Dourocher on the phone to put the kabosh on that whole idea. So, the coach calls out the team in the middle of the night to meet.
Dourocher talks really tough with the guys. He tells Dix that Rickey can trade him off to another team if he keeps this up. So everybody should get used to the idea, because Robinson is coming. And, think about this. Robinson is just the first to come, for there will be lots of others right behind him. These men have talent and they want to play. The team better stop worrying about their petition, because if they don't pay close attention to their jobs, " . . . they're gonna run you right out of the ball park!"
Rickey tells Bragan that most of his team mates have already recanted on the petition. Bragan stands fast on not wanting to play with Jackie Robinson. Rickey decides he will transfer Bragan to another team, but it will take awhile.
Robinson arrives back in New York and Wendell is there to pick him up. Jackie is not happy to see him and Wendell wants to know what's the problem of his picking him up at the station and driving him to where he wants to go? Jackie's go an attitude and Wendell has to tell Jackie that he is not the only person who has a stake in this game. One day, Wendell would like to be in the press box with the white reporters. Jackie apologizes. He says he just doesn't like being dependent on anyone, including Wendell.
The Commissioner of Baseball telephones Rickey. The Commissioner is going to suspend manager Dourocher for a year. Rickey is very upset, but the Commissioner says the public outrage against Dourocher for his adultery in his marriage is too strong for him not to punish the Dodger coach. The Catholic Youth Organization is considering a boycott of baseball. Rickey calls the Commissioner a son of a bitch, but the Commissioner just hangs up on Rickey.
Rickey has Robinson sign his contract. Reporters are there to take pictures for the newspapers.
Opening Day, April 15, 1947. Robinson comes into team locker room. Some greet him, while others snub him. Jackie's number will be 42.
Robinson walks out on the field to applause, but some whites jeer him. At his first at bat, Jackie and the ball reach first base at the same time. That usually means the runner is safe, but this time the umpire says that Jackie is out.
Rickey talks a retired manager, Burt Shotton, into managing the Brooklyn Dodgers. He tells the team don't be afraid that old Burt Shotton is going to hurt their chances of winning the pennant. They can win the pennant in spite of him.
In the game Robinson hits his first home run in the Major Leagues.
Brooklyn, April 22, 1947. Jackie runs into some real harassment. Ben Chapman, the Phillies manager, starts really taunting Robinson in racist ways. The pitcher throws a ball right at Jackie's head. The taunting starts to get to Jackie. He pops out two times at bat. He goes inside the exit/entrance for the dugout and beats the crap out of his bat by hitting the walls with it. He cries. Rickey comes up to Jackie and Jackie says he's going to clobber the next white man who gives him any trouble. Rickey tells him that he doesn't have the right to pull out from the backing of people that believe in him, respect and need him. He goes on to say that everybody needs Jackie Robinson. Jackie is medicine for the whole, sick country. Jackie goes back out there to take more abuse.
Chapman continues his racist taunts. Dodger Stanky goes out and confronts the Phillies' manager. The umpire tells Stanky to get back to his dugout. As Stanky heads back, Chapman asks him what's it like being a nigger's nigger. Stanky replies: "I don't know Chapman. What's it like to be a redneck piece of shit?"
Jackie gets a base hit. Jackie steals second and, on a wild throw, he continues on to third base. The next batter gets a single and Jackie walks to home base scoring the first run of the game. Robinson tells Stanky: "Thanks." The Phillies lose the game.
Harold comes in all mad about Chapman for the way he treated Robinson. Rickey tells him that Chapman is helping them because Chapman is creating sympathy on Robinson's behalf.
Bragan comes to Rickey and says he doesn't want to be traded. He says the world's changing and he can handle it.
The nasty pitcher Higbe is traded off to Pittsburgh. Oh, how he hates the thought of having to go out to western Pennsylvania.
A business owner of the Phillies named Herb calls up Rickey and tells him that when he comes to play in his stadium, Rickey can't bring that nigger down here. They're not ready for that. Rickey tells him they're coming down to Philadelphia and if Herb's team does not show up, the game will be forfeited to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Ben Franklin Hotel, Philadelphia. May 9, 1947. The manager of the hotel says the Dodgers can't stay here. One of the white racists, named Dixie Walker, on the team blames it all on Jackie. Dixie tells Jackie that he wants an apology to the whole team for turning this season into a damn sideshow. Jackie says he's not going anywhere. He's staying with the team without the apology.
Herb gets really mad at his manager Chapman. He says Chapman makes the entire Phillies organization look racist. He adds that this started on the field and it's going to end on the field.
So Chapman asks that Robinson take a publicity shot of the two of them shaking hands and being cordial to one another. And Mr. Rickey likes the idea because it's gonna be in every sports page across the country. Robinson says, in that case, they will take the picture on the field where everyone can see it. The photos are taken on the field.
Pittsburgh. May 17, 1947. Jackie gets hit in the head with a fast ball. Jackie is stunned. Trying to get up he realizes that the two benches have emptied onto the field and they're pushing and shoving and shouting at each other. What a change from Jackie's first experiences. Now his whole team came off the bench for him.
Pee Wee Reese comes into Rickey's office showing him a peace of hate mail from Kentucky. Rickey chuckles and then gets up and goes to his files. He hauls out three huge folders of hate mail from people across the United States. He has Pee Wee read a good sampling of the letters. Pee Wee says he just wants to play ball.
A kid in the stands loves Pee Wee Reese. He is a bit upset when the crowd boos the Brooklyn Dodgers as they take the field. His own father shouts out racial epithets against Robinson. So the boy, supporting his father, shouts out the word nigger and says we don't want you here. The boy then sees Pee Wee go right over to Robinson and put his arm around the black man. Now the boy doesn't now what to think since his hero obviously seems to be buddy-buddy with Robinson.
Brooklyn. August 20, 1947. The Dodgers are playing against the St. Louis Cardinals. The two teams are rivals for first place. A Cardinal known as Slaughter deliberately spikes Robinson high up on the leg as he is thrown out at first base. Jackie goes down.
After the game the reporters try to start a bigger problem between Slaughter and Robinson. Is Robinson calling Slaughter a liar when the man says it was just an accident? Rickey comes in and throws all the reporters out of the room. The newsmen don't like that.
Rickey tells Robinson about something he saw today. A white boy playing baseball was pretending that he was none other than Jackie Robinson. "Little white boy pretending he's a black man."
And now Robinson really wants to know from Rickey what are the personal reasons why Rickey is doing all this? And Robinson won't let Rickey give him some generalized answer that sounds good. Rickey says he loves this game of baseball. He's given his whole life to it. He tells him about a black catcher he knew who was broken because of the color of his skin. "And I didn't do enough to help. Told myself I did, but I didn't. There was something unfair at the heart of the game I loved. And I ignored it. But a time came when I could no longer do that. You . . . You let me love baseball again. Thank you."
Wendell writes: "Since the 4th of July, the Brooklyn Dodgers have gone on a hot streak holding off all challengers." And now the kids are dying to get an autography of Robinson's. The Dodgers win the pennant.
Pittsburgh, September 17, 1947. The Pirates pitcher beaned Robinson on the head last time the two men faced each other and now Jackie faces him again. Robinson tells the pitcher to give him something he can hit. Ostermuller murmurs to himself: "Be careful what you wish for, boy!" The pitch comes in and Jackie gets another home run. The Dodgers are going to the World Series.
"Branch Rickey was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. Pee Wee Reese was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. Wendell Smith became the first African-American sportswriter to join the Baseball Writer's Association of American in 1948. Eddie Stanky went on to manage the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers. Ralph Branca was a three time all-star. He won 21 games in 1947. He lives and works in Rye, New York. In 1948 Ben Chapman was fired and never managed again. Dixie Walker was trade the following season . . . to Pittsburgh. Ed Charles [the little boy who loved Jackie Robinson and even prayed for him] grew up to become a Major League Baseball Player. He won the World Series in 1969 with the Miracle Mets."
"Rachel Robinson started the Jackie Robinson Foundation in 1972. It provides students with scholarships to colleges across the country. Jackie Robinson was named Major League Rookie of the Year in 1947. In1948 he was joined by Roy Campanella and in 1949 by Don Newcombe. He won the World Series in 1955 against the New York Yankees, stealing home in game one. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962."
"Every year in April, all MLB players wear the number 42 as a reminder of Jackie's accomplishments on and off the field. The number '42' is the only number retired by all of baseball."
Damn good movie. Very inspirational. It's a feel good movie because finally in baseball people started doing the right thing and integrating baseball. And this in spit of all the horrible racism and hatred directed to those doing the right thing. The movies is a good reminder why integration is good and segregation is bad, because currently racism is on the rise in the USA. It's also a good reminder not to give up hope. Chadwick Boseman (as Jackie Robinson) and Harrison Ford (as Branch Rickey) were both very good in the film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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