Friday, April 12, 2013

Great expectations for 42

Since tonight's game has already been called on account of inclement weather (luckily it's just rain and not the snow/sleet that's afflicting parts of norther New England), I hope that some of you will take this opportunity to go and see 42: The True Story of an American Legend. I'm planning to see it after the weekend with my roommate - she's out of town, and I promised I would wait.

One of the best things about being a baseball fan is the richness of the sports history - but it's important to acknowledge that not all of that history can be romanticized. The game of baseball is just as stained with racism as the rest of US history, and though Jackie Robinson was a revolutionary figure, his first game in the major leagues (exactly sixty-six years ago as of next Monday) was only the beginning.

I have high hopes for 42, but I will always point to Jule Tygiel's book, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his Legacy as the quintessential volume on the career and life of MLB's first African American player. By definition, a film has to cut out things that a book can expand upon - and the life of Jackie Robinson has far and away too many incredible moments to contain in two hours.

Jackie Robinson's legacy is incredible, and simply cannot be overstated. Though Major League Baseball only started officially celebrating Jackie Robinson Day in 2004, ballplayers have always been keenly aware of his amazing contributions; indeed, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano was named for Jackie Robinson (if you're wondering, Sox fans, Jackie Bradley Jr. was named for his father, who was named for singer Jackie Wilson - though Bradley Jr. names Robinson as one of his baseball heroes).

If anything, this movie will bring the hard fought achievements of Jackie Robinson to light in a way that will make a younger generation pay attention. It's easy to pretend that baseball's racial struggles are in the distant past, but one of my mothers was born in 1947 - the very year that Robinson debuted with the Dodgers (the other was born later, but still four years before the Red Sox finally integrated). We are literally just a generation or two removed from such shameful segregation - on and off the baseball field - and it's important to acknowledge the shame of the past, even as we work toward a better future.

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