The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 20, 2013

Robinson’s is an unfinished sports story

By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

— Went to see the movie “42’’ Wednesday night about the rookie season of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball.

The only disappointment was it played to a near-empty theater. Hopefully it was because it was the 9:15 p.m. show.

It is a rare sports movie that sticks to the facts.

It should be a must-see for youth and high school baseball teams, some of whom might never have heard of Jackie Robinson and what he went through to break the racial barrier.

The movie was set in 1946 (Robinson’s first year in organized baseball with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ triple AAA farm club) and 1947 (his rookie season).

That was seven years before the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision banning segregration in public schools and 17 years before the 1964 Civil Rights act.

Robinson died at age 53 from complications from diabetes and a heart attack. Many felt the stress Robinson went through as a player contributed to his early death.

Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey did tell him he wanted a player with the courage not to fight back in the face of racial taunting.

He was on a team full of Southern players, some of whom signed a petition asking the team not to bring him up from Montreal. Rickey solved that problem by trading the discontents.

One who didn’t sign was Pee Wee Reese, a true Southern gentleman who put his arm around Robinson at Cincinnati’s Crossley Field. It wasn’t in 1947 as depicted in the movie, but it did happen. Reese still is a hero today for it.

The Dodgers had to train in Panama and Cuba in 1947 because of Florida’s racial policies. One reason Dodgertown, the Dodgers’ spring training facility was built, was due to African-Americans being denied entrance to hotels there.

Robinson was anything but meek on the field. He answered back by being baseball’s most fierce competitor. He did get some “payback’’ when the restrictions were taken off him in his third season with the Dodgers and had the courage of his convictions as shown in the movie.

According to the late Buck O’Neill, Robinson once told a service station attendant to take the nozzle out of the Kansas City Monarchs’ team bus when told he couldn’t use the bathroom. The bus’ gas tank was 100 gallons. Economic decision. The attendant relented and Robinson got to use the bathroom.

Major league infielder Ed Charles told of his excitement as a young boy in Florida when he saw Robinson play in spring training. That gave him hope his race wouldn’t prevent him from playing major league baseball.

There also was some irony.

Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, who was suspended for the 1947 season, was an early supporter. He told his players Robinson was coming to the Dodgers and more black players were coming, so they better get used to it during spring training.

However, Robinson and Durocher would later become bitter enemies when Durocher went on to manage the hated New York Giants. Some words they exchanged can’t be used in a family newspaper.

Robinson’s signing was one of the first steps toward racial equality or at least acceptance ... we’re still not there yet.

We must never forget Jackie Robinson and the sacrifices he made.

Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.