On a May day, hotter than this one, with lilacs in full bloom, like this one, I went to a party at Jane Jones’ home. Jane Jones, as my father told me that day in the 1980s, was Branch Rickey’s daughter.
And who is that? I asked.
Branch Rickey: he is the guy who broke the color barrier by bringing Jackie Robinson into the major leagues.
That aside, 42 was going to be just a baseball movie to watch.
What I did not expect was that the movie was largely about the strong relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson.
I did not expect that Rickey not only brought Robinson into the major leagues, but that he carefully picked him and emotionally supported him. Rickey wanted a good player and one that could withstand bigotry. In the recruitment phase, Branch and Jackie have a conversation in which Branch tells Jackie:
Branch Rickey: Your enemy will be out in force. But you cannot meet him on his own low ground.
Jackie Robinson: You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?
Branch Rickey: No. I want a player who’s got the guts *not* to fight back.
Jackie Robinson: You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back, I’ll give you the guts.
I thought Jackie Robinson was a baseball hero. I did not know he was a human hero. The movie depicts the discrimination and prejudice Robinson stoically tolerated to play baseball. A man of fortitude, Jackie Robinson was not a victim of his color and this is alluded to in his interchange with a reporter:
reporter: Whatcha gonna do if one of these pitchers throws for your head?
Jackie Robinson: I’ll duck.
Finally, I did not know that Branch Rickey really cared about Jackie Robinson, Rickey believed in baseball and his actions showed he believed in practicing what you preach. He tells Robinson in the beginning, his hiring is just about the money, but through the story you learn that it is not.
Watching the film, seeing Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, I could see Jane Jones for a moment (they looked and talked so much a like), at that party where I drank a cocktail with her. I’m glad I found out the story my Dad alluded to that May and what he meant when he said Branch Rickey broke the color barrier in the major leagues.
Jane Jones and my Dad are long gone this Memorial Weekend and racism still exists. For a few moments, watching that movie, I felt connected to a long ago world and to a hope that in America, things do get better, one person and story at a time. It’s always about the story and I 42 is one film I would show my students if I still taught history.