WARNING: May Contain Spoilers
Pee Wee Reese: “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42. That way they won’t tell us apart.”
If any baseball player, past or present, deserved his own biopic, it was Jackie Robinson. And from the moment I heard about “42” I was interested; curious to see how exactly director Brian Helgeland was going to depict the legendary pioneer of baseball.
The depiction couldn’t have been any better. It was incredibly well done.
Of course, being the fan I am, I went to the movies with my friends geeked out in a blue Dodgers’ shirt with “Robinson 42” on the back, the outfit complete with a Brooklyn cap. I suppose it was my own little way of paying tribute to such an icon.
And come on. It’s not as bad as dressing up like Batman, cape and cowl, and camping outside a movie theater before opening night of “The Dark Knight Rises.” I swear, I’m not one those people.
But I digress.
Robinson was played by Chadwick Boseman, an actor I knew absolutely nothing about going into the movie. Aside from a few one-time roles on TV shows like Fringe, Justified and CSI:NY, among others he didn’t have much acting work under his belt according to his IMDb page. To say Boseman did a fine job as Robinson would be an understatement. I obviously never saw Robinson play, but in doing some historical research, Boseman had it down pat.
The batting stance, the at-bat ritual of picking up dirt and wiping his hands with it; heck, even his looks – Boseman was the right choice for this role. How he resembled Robinson in this film made me think of the way Barry Pepper looked a lot like Roger Maris in “61*.”
In biopics, looks can tell the whole story.
I knew Robinson dealt with a lot of racism, but “42” really gives the viewer a clear picture of how much hatred he truly was forced to endure. When he gets signed by Brooklyn from the Negro League, then eventually called up to the show from the Montreal Royals in 1947 (the minor league affiliate of the Dodgers at the time) Robinson receives an onslaught of name-calling – and “42” doesn’t exactly pull back.
In one scene he is heckled disgustingly during an at-bat by the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk). Throughout the entire AB, Robinson stood stoic – consciously aware of how upset, how angry Chapman’s words were making him, yet suppressing his emotions with the utmost will power before privately breaking down; taking out his frustrations on a bat in the tunnel to the clubhouse.
I can’t imagine having to deal with situations of that nature on a routine basis.
Mentioned in the movie was the fact that other players suffered similar name-calling. For instance it’s brought up that Hank Greenberg, one of the best players the Detroit Tigers ever saw, was called out because he happened to be Jewish. Also noted is the way the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio, was called slurs for being an Italian-American.
Still, I’m not sure if even they went through the type of hardships Robinson coped with.
Harrison Ford’s performance as the gritty-yet-faithful old cigar-chomping Branch Rickey was nothing short of impressive; a typical outstanding job by the same actor who portrayed both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers and the brainchild behind the idea of adding Robinson to his ballclub, was one of the only white supporters of Robinson in the movie – along with teammate and Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese, played by Lucas Black.
Being a huge fan of “Friday Night Lights” (which Black starred in as quarterback Mike Winchell) it was nice to see Black do such nice work in another sports movie. When the white Dodger players attempted to coax Reese into signing a petition to not play on account of Robinson’s presence (boycotting the game because they had to be teammates with a black player), Reese takes a stand and opts not to sign his name.
In a way it was comforting. Even though Robinson was surrounded by hate, he had an ally.
Christopher Meloni served as the wife-cheating Dodgers’ skipper Leo “the lip” Durocher. Robinson’s color didn’t seem to faze the manager, but it’s not as if his character lasted long, anyway: being suspended at the start of the 1947 season because the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) somehow outed him as an adulterer.
If nothing else, the character throws in a “little-did-you-know” aspect.
Like Boseman, I had no clue who Nicole Beharie was before the movie. Not only did she give a mind-blowing performance as Rachel Robinson, she was absolutely beautiful to boot.
I think I may have a new celebrity crush.
And I get the feeling when Rachel saw the movie for the first time, she was happy with how Beharie portrayed her. Rachel has been fittingly dubbed “The First Lady of Baseball” – undoubtedly she had to have been proud of how she and her late husband were rendered on screen.
The character of sportswriter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) made the movie more interesting, too. Smith was assigned to help Robinson along, be sort of his eyes and ears, so-to-speak. When Robinson hits his first home run, Smith is sitting in the grandstands with his typewriter (black sportswriters weren’t allowed in the press box at the time) smiling at his friend’s accomplishment as a divided crowd both cheered and jeered the tater.
Looking at him with his typewriter as Robinson rounded the bases, my only thought was,
“Today, that’d be an iPhone and he’d be tweeting about that home run.”
Along with strong and accurate character representation, “42” gives a kind of feel “The Sandlot” gives: a warm, fuzzy kid-like feeling, at least in two particular scenes.
In Robinson’s first game in Montreal, he gets nothing to hit and draws a four-pitch walk. He steals second, swipes third, and distracts the peeved pitcher enough for him to balk, which enables Robinson to score from third.
A young black man (who at the end is revealed to be a future major leaguer named Ed Charles) is attending the game with his mom, and is overly impressed with how Robinson – the man who is visibly giving him hope – singlehandedly created a run. His mother didn’t understand how or why Robinson was awarded home plate and inquired about it, to which Charles responds,
“He discombobulated him!”
Baseball is a kid’s game and kids say the darndest things.
The other scene that brings out the childlike nature of baseball is later on when Charles is at the train station, trying to get a glimpse of his hero before he boards. Robinson gets on the train without even looking in his direction, much less acknowledging Charles.
That is, until the train starts chugging.
Robinson calls back to him. “Young man!” and then tosses him a rock.
It had to be my favorite scene in the movie. The authenticity of it was magical.
If you are a baseball fan – and even if you’re not – “42” is a must-see. Filled with history, a stellar plot, countless “did-you-know” facts, and incredible character depiction, it is easily (now) in my top-3 favorite sports movies.
I learned from “42” that Robinson didn’t just break the color barrier in baseball. He showed humility in a divided and fearful nation – and I only use the word “fearful” because people felt he was different. People are always afraid of what’s different.
Yet his gentle and quiet personality and ability to hold back in the face of hate only showed that, if he was different, he was different for the better. He showed the guts to endure an environment full of folks who spiked him with their cleats, shouted racist remarks his way while he stood in the batter’s box, and threw at his head – and showed those guts with bold, astounding patience and wisdom.
There’s not much more to say about “42” except GO SEE IT. You will be moved.
In 2001 Barry Bonds crushed 73 home runs, becoming the single season home run king. That same year the Seattle Mariners set a major league record, winning 116 games during the regular season. Cy Young is the winningest pitcher in baseball history, owning 511 victories over his 22-year career.
All of these are incredible achievements and accomplishments made by teams and certain individual players. And with all these achievements, one gets to thinking:
Who has accomplished the greatest feat in the history of the game of baseball?
Believe it or not, I have the answer. It’s not Babe Ruth. It’s not Jackie Robinson. It’s not Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or even Ted Williams.
The answer…is Bugs Bunny.
No, I’m serious.
On Feb. 2, 1946, Bugs Bunny won a game of baseball, 96-95. If that isn’t impressive enough, he beat the entire team by himself.
At the Polo Grounds (although the frieze that surrounds the top of the ballpark looks a lot like Yankee Stadium) the Gas-House Gorillas are pummeling the Tea Totallers mercilessly; the Gorillas are made up of a group of gigantic muscle-heads whereas the Totallers are a team of old men, it seems. One claims to be 93 and a half years old.
Upon witnessing the unfair advantage the Gorillas have over the Totallers, in a not-so-subtle way, Bugs issues an open challenge.
“The Gas-House Gorillas are a bunch of dirty players! Why, I could lick them in a ballgame with one hand tied behind my back! All by myself! Yeah! Get up there, WHAM! A homer! WHAM! Another homer!” he confidently exclaims.
In the first four innings the Gorillas put up over 90 runs, while the Totallers did not score, leaving Bugs plenty of work to do. He is announced at all nine positions and goes to the mound to pitch.
Bugs throws two pitches to the first batter – both looked like four seam fastballs – and after tossing each pitch races from the mound to behind the plate, catching both of his own pitches.
He then decides to “perplex” the Gorillas with his slow ball, a pitch that traveled with such reduced speed it strikes out three batters at the same time.
Bugs then gets his set of at-bats (receiving his bat from a boy with bat wings) and commences chipping away at the enormous deficit. He hammers the first pitch he sees, celebrating all around the bases until he is met at home plate by the Gorillas’ catcher who has the ball.
Just when it looks like Bugs was going to be stuck with the ball and called out, he whips out a poster of a woman in a bra and panties. It snatches the attention of the Gorilla player, and as he ogles it, Bugs happily crosses the plate for the Totallers’ first run of the game in the top of the fifth.
On his very next at-bat, Bugs gets another hit. Realizing Bugs is capable of getting back in the game and maybe even coming from behind, the Gorillas try to cheat by abducting the umpire. One of the Gorilla players puts on the umpire’s gear, and even though Bugs crosses the plate uncontested, he calls him out.
Immediately Bugs begins to protest.
“Where do ya get that malarkey? I’m safe!”
The umpire upholds his call, igniting an argument.
Safe! – Bugs
Out! – Ump
Safe! – Ump
“I say you’re safe! If you don’t like it, you can go to the showers!” the umpire claims.
“OK then Doc, have it your way, I’m safe,” Bugs replies, scoring his second run, successful in his cunning attempt to trick the umpire.
Bugs steps back up to the plate, and pops up the next pitch. The ball hits one of the outfielders, who is calling off everyone else.
“I got it! I got it! I got it!”
The ball comes back down and nails the fielder in the head, killing him and even burying him on the field. His tombstone read, “He got it.”
With that, Bugs scored his third run.
In his next at-bat, Bugs hits yet another ball to the outfield. The fielder runs towards the ball, smoking a cigar. The ball strikes him in the face, putting out his cigar, and knocking him unconscious. He gets hit so hard his body pressed up against the outfield fence on an ad that read, “Does your tobacco taste differently lately?”
Just like that, four runs for the bunny.
Bugs goes to the plate for his next at-bat, cracking the ball around the deep infield and shallow outfield. The baseball game basically morphs into a pinball game, as the cowhide bounces off each fielder, making a distinguished “ping” noise after every hit.
A bunch of runs appear on the scoreboard for Bugs, as well as the word “tilted.” A tilt in pinball means a pinball machine will tilt, ending the current ball and discarding the end-of-ball bonus if the player moves the cabinet too violently or tries to lift it.
Although Bugs was never shown making an out, the next batter is one of the Gorillas, and he smacks the ball to the outfield. He runs the bases and is on his way home, only to be greeted by Bugs at the dish, who plugs him with the ball for an out, knocking him silly.
Adding insult to injury, Bugs holds up a sign that reads, “Was this trip really necessary?”
Finally the game nears an end: bottom of the ninth, Bugs up 96-95. With two outs and a runner on base, one of the Gorillas gets in the batter’s box, needing a home run to win the game. But before he takes his hacks, the slugger leaves the park, chops down a tree with an ax, and fashions a bat out of the tree trunk.
He takes Bugs’s offering deep – way deep. As a matter of fact, he clobbered the ball so hard it flew over the roof of the Polo Grounds, out of the Stadium. Bugs may be a bunny, but he was on his horse, speeding as fast as he could out of the park.
Bugs gets in a waiting taxi, and instructs the driver to follow the ball, which is still airborne.
As it turned out, the driver was one of the Gorillas, purposely driving in the wrong direction. Bugs promptly exits the cab at the bus stop, and conveniently enough, a bus shows up right in time. Bugs hops on the bus, and even has a few seconds to read the newspaper.
He gets off at the “Umpire State Building” and takes the elevator to the roof. Bugs then climbs up the flagpole, tosses his mitt up in the air…
For the ball to land safely in the webbing. The glove comes back down, Bugs catches it, and it’s an out.
Game over. Bugs wins, 96-95. The Gorilla player vehemently argues the call, but the umpire somehow miraculously shows up at the Umpire State Building – confirming the ruling.
The Statue of Liberty – which, for some reason is located next to the “Umpire State Building,” comes alive and tells off the Gorilla player.
“That’s what the man said, you’re out!”
It ends with Bugs mocking the player. “That’s what the man said, that’s what the man said…”
So let’s do a little inventory here.
- Challenges a team of players who are obviously bigger than he is
- Strikes out three batters on the same pitch – that’s nine strikes, if you’re counting
- Distracts a player with a picture of a woman and gets a home run out of it
- Outsmarts the other team, even when they cheated
- Kills and buries an opposing player with a pop up
- Knocks out a smoking outfielder with a fly ball and scores
- Turns a game of baseball into a game of pinball
- Down by 90 runs, comes back to take the lead
- Surrenders what looks like a walk-off home run, but goes from the Polo Grounds to the top of the “Umpire State Building” – even after being taken out of his way by a wayward taxi cab
- Catches the ball for an out
- Wins the game
- Mocks the other team
I don’t care who you are in baseball, or what you’ve done, nothing is ever going to top that.
First of all, I’d like to say this has been a crazy week. I have had such a “Yankee hangover” (I guess you could call it). Opening Day took everything out of me; I had absolutely nothing left at the end of the day, I was exhausted.
But at least it wasn’t for nothing. It was one of the best days I can remember.
After the Yankees dropped a 5-3 decision yesterday, they bounced back and beat the Angels 6-2 on Thursday. With the win, the Yanks took the Opening Series from the Angels, two games to one.
Today was not just any ordinary day in baseball. Today, every player on all 30 teams wore the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodger who broke the MLB color barrier on this date in 1947.
The tradition of Jackie Robinson day has been a part of Major League Baseball since 2007, yet has lasted since 1997 when the number 42 was universally retired throughout MLB. Every player who was still wearing the number was able to keep wearing it, as they were grandfathered in. In other words, if you had 42, you could keep wearing it, but it was no longer available to any other player.
Only 11 players were wearing 42 at the time it was retired.
Mariano Rivera is the only player out of those 11 who is still playing the game. Hence, he will be the last player to ever wear the number 42. People often ask why Rivera is the only one allowed to wear 42.
Well, there’s your answer.
Before the game tonight, Robinson’s widow Rachel was on hand to throw out the first pitch. I find it so wonderful that she tossed the first pitch from Yankee Stadium. She could have just as easily been in Los Angeles and thrown out the first pitch from Dodgers Stadium.
As for the actual game…
It turned out to be the “Robinson Cano Hitting Show,” if you will. The young second baseman–named after Jackie–put on a home run clinic, belting two long balls out of Yankee Stadium.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the second, Cano clubbed a screaming line drive to right field. The ball landed in the short porch for a solo homer, and Cano knotted the game at 1-1.
Later in the bottom of the fifth with one man on, Cano was at it again. He smashed yet another home run to right-center field, putting the Yankees up 6-1 at the end of five innings.
Cano now has a team-leading four home runs on the year and nine RBIs.
Derek Jeter also smacked a home run, a solo shot in the bottom of the third. It was Jeter’s second home run of the season, as his first long ball came on Tuesday afternoon in the home opener.
Jeter also knocked Curtis Granderson with an RBI double in the fourth.
Speaking of Granderson, he had quite a day at the plate. The Yanks’ center fielder pounded out two triples in as many at-bats. His first triple in the bottom of the fourth drove in Marcus Thames, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 edge.
I thought it was a good sign that Granderson hit off a good left-handed pitcher on Scott Kazmir. Everybody always complains how Granderson struggles against lefties, so the fact that he got around on a lefty of Kazmir’s caliber is hopefully a sign of improvement for the future.
I also have to hand it to Granderson for making a brilliant outfield assist. He nailed Hideki Matsui at home plate to end the top of the fourth, showing off his stellar defense on the field.
Granderson may have gunned Matsui out at home, but he showed the Yankees what they are missing in the top of the second.
The 2009 World Series MVP smacked a solo homer off his former teammate Phil Hughes, his third home run of the season; a shot that landed in the Yankee bullpen. It was Matsui’s first hit of the series, as he went a combined 0-for-9 in the last two games prior to that at-bat.
If you ask me, Matsui was sending a message. Basically telling the Yankees, “This is what you are missing. And you should have paid me.”
It kind of reminded me of June 2003, when Tino Martinez homered twice off Andy Pettitte as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yankee crowed roared for Martinez and was happy to see their former hero go deep. In Martinez’s words, Pettitte was “a bit flustered after the home run.”
The same thing happened with Matsui tonight.
Thousands of people on hand cheered for Matsui after he went yard, and that same look Pettitte had in 2003 was on Hughes’s face tonight. Hughes looked a bit flustered after Matsui took him deep.
I was honestly happy for him. I miss him as a member of the Yankees. He was so valuable to the team and proved it last year. In fact, on Tuesday at the game during his first at-bat in Yankee Stadium as an Angel, I overheard an interesting comment from one of the Yankee fans.
“I really want Matsui to hit a home run right here,” he said. “I want him to go deep, just to show the Yankees how they should have gone after him and gotten him back.”
It may not have come Tuesday, but tonight, Matsui sent the message.
Howard Kendrick grounded out to first in the top of the sixth, allowing Torii Hunter to score, giving Los Angeles their second run.
On the mound, Hughes pitched effectively. The 24 year-old hurler tossed five-plus innings of work. He scattered two earned runs on three hits, walked five, and struck out six. For his efforts, he earned his first win of 2010.
Overall, I saw a lot of good out of Hughes tonight. For a pitcher who barely spent any time in the starting rotation last season, he did very well. The walks were a little bit of an issue, but his breaking ball was absolutely disgusting. His fastball was dancing all over the place and he showed great movement on each of his pitches.
Hughes is going to win a lot of games he pitches the way he did tonight.
Joba Chamberlain tossed a scoreless 1 1/3 innings in relief tonight, walking one and fanning one along the way. Like Hughes, Chamberlain looked very good and I expect his fine pitching to continue. His fastball wasn’t as live as it was against the Red Sox, but as long as he is getting guys out, everything is fine with me.
Rivera notched his fourth save of the year and once again ended the game. He’s on pace for (I would say) about 45 saves this year. I have a feeling he will reach it. He always does.
It was a very good night for the Yankees. They improved their record to 6-3 and will open up a three-game series against the Texas Rangers this weekend.
CC Sabathia (1-0, 3.46 ERA) will face C.J. Wilson (0-0, 0.00 ERA) Friday night.