Jackie Robinson Story (1950)

 

 

 

Director: Alfred E. Green

Starring:  Jackie Robinson (himself), Ruby Dee (Rae Robinson), Minor Watson (Branch Rickey, President Brooklyn Dodgers), Louise Beavers (Jackie's mother), Richard Lane (Clay Hopper, Montreal Manager), Harry Shannon (Charlie, Dodger Executive), Ben Lessy (Shorty, Montreal Player), Billy Wayne (Clyde Sukeforth, Dodger Scout), Joel Fluellen (Mack Robinson), Karpen, Dodger Pitcher.

Black-and-white movie.

 

Biography of the first black man to play in baseball's major leagues.  They always say that Robinson was picked because he could take the abuse of the white racists on the team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, as well as from the other teams.  And he may have been, but this came at a price.  Robinson was made pretty bitter and cynical by the experience.  I have a friend who as a young black kid got the shock of his life upon meeting Jackie Robinson who, bitter and disillusioned, told him and the other black kids gathered there that "Success in this white man's game is to hit the damn little white ball as far as you can."  Then he just walked away.  

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

 

This is a story of an American boy and and American success tale. 

1928. Spring.  Jackie Robinson loves baseball.  He has no glove, but he wants to play with the white kids in his neighborhood.  The white coaches humor him and bang a few grounders to him.  He fields the balls with such great skill that the coaches are impressed and they give him a beaten-up glove.  Jacie he runs home to have his mother sew up his new glove.  Growing up Jackie shines shoes and delivers newspapers. 

1937.  At Pasadena Junior College Jackie Robison breaks his brother's broad jump record.  Jackie's coach helps get him into U.C.L.A. as a football player where he is a star.  Jackie now has a girlfriend Rae.

Jackie's brother is a college graduate, but he has to make a living being a street cleaner.  Jackie tries to get a job as a coach with various schools, but he only receives rejections.  Then one day, Jackie receives his draft notification.  He serves as a lieutenant in the army, becoming an athletic coach.     

1945.  Japan surrenders.  Jackie plays for the Panthers in the Negro League. He is a great base stealer ,as well as a great hitter and fielder.  It's not easy being a ball player in a segregated country.  When they go to a restaurant they send in one man to find out if they are allowed to eat inside and if not, if they can have sandwiches.  Jackie asks if the team can wash up a bit, but the manager says his restroom is out of order.

Clyde Sukefort, a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, asks Jackie to come with him to meet Branch Rickey, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jackie and his buddies think i'st a joke and Jackie doesn't show up at the train station.  Then Jackie is woken up out of his sleep by a mad Clyde Sukefort who asks him why the heck he didn't show up at the train station.

Branch Rickey wants better talent and to that end his scouts having been looking at players for the Negro League.  They think Jackie could be the first black man to play in the white professional leagues.  But, more important than talent, will be if Jackie is the type of man who can take the insults and taunts that he surely will receive as the first black man.  When Rickey meets Jackie he tells him that he cannot fight back.  Jackie agrees and gets his try out. 

Jackie marries Rae and they head for Daytona Beach for spring training at Sanford, Florida.  The Montreals are a Dodger farm team.  In the beginning there is a little resistance, but soon he is in the swing of things.  Mr. Rickey comes down to look at the team and Jackie.  He is impressed by what he sees and the manager says:  "Mr. Rickey you really think he's a human being."   

An exhibition game between the Dodgers and Montreal is canceled because of color mixing.  The head of major league baseball comes to visit Rickey about all the problems he's been running into as a result of Jackie Robinson.  He says he has been getting letters protesting against Robinson.  Even the white sports writers don't think he should play.  Ricky is not deterred.

The day arrives that Jackie plays his first professional game in the white leagues.  Jackie tells his wife that "I've got to be the best ball player they've ever seen any where."  The game takes place in Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, New Jersey.  Jackie bunts his way to first base.  He then steals two bases.  A balk sends him home.   At the end of the game Rickey says "That's the greatest first day any ball player ever had.  Four hits, including a homer, two stolen bases and he scored twice on balks."  After the game, three whites attempt to beat up Jackie, but he is saved by a couple of fellow ball players.    

Even though Jackie did well, he had only begun to see racial harassment.   Fans and players have signs saying Shine; they show him watermelon slices; bring a black cat to the stadium; and hurl all kinds of insults and taunts at him.  But the worst is a petition against Jackie playing signed by six Brooklyn Dodger players.  Rickey calls the six in and gives them a good talking-to. 

Jackie plays superbly, but the strain of the harassment starts to tell on him.  He goes 0 for 19 times at bat and the doubters start in on him.  But Jackie snaps out of it and starts hitting well.  The scuttle-butt is that Jackie will be Rookie of the Year.  Jackie steals home and wins the pennant for the Dodgers. 

He goes to Washington, D.C. to testify to Congress about his experiences with discrimination.  He has been largely accepted in major league baseball, opening the path for many others to follow.

 

A nice, inspiring tale of two civil rights pioneers:  Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.  Racism is rampant in the United States, but the two men persevere against all kinds of terrible challenges to break new ground for the integration of baseball's major leagues. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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