42 was his number, Jackie Robertson was his name – the first Black player in Major League Baseball and you can imagine it will be a life altering if not a divine opportunity that will change a young man, the men he called teammates, and challenge a nation to break down the walls of racism, inequality and segregation. A story, I think is told very well in 42 the movie.
After his discharge from the Army in 1944, Robinson began to play baseball professionally. At the time, the sport was segregated, and African-Americans and whites played in separate leagues. Robinson began playing in the Negro Leagues, but he was soon chosen by Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to help integrate major league baseball.
He joined the all-white Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1946. He later moved to Florida to begin spring training with the Royals, and played his first game in Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
I think the story of Jackie Robertson is also the story of Branch Ricky. When we celebrate Robertson we should also celebrate Ricky. Both men should be credited for breaking down walls of segregation in the game of baseball.
Thank God for the great courage to endue hate and racism on the part of Robertson – He should be praised for suffering under immense pressure as he wrestled with the idea of turning the other cheek in the face if hate and injustice.
However, I think the movie successfully cast Branch Ricky, played by Harrison Ford, as a hero as well in the story of Jackie Robertson.
In 1945, he founded a new league for black players, who had been fully excluded from organized baseball beyond the various segregated leagues (there are no records showing that Rickey’s new league ever played any games, however).
While he was criticized for encouraging continued segregation in sports, Rickey’s overriding idea was to scout black ballplayers until he found just the right one to bring about the desegregation of the major leagues. Rickey wanted a man who could restrain himself from responding to the ugliness of the racial hatred that was certain to come.
I the film, 42, there is a beautiful exchange between Branch and Jackie, which I think is the heart of the movie or the story of Jackie Robertson:
Rickey: “I know you’re a good ballplayer. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.”
Robinson: “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”
Rickey, exploding: “Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
If it wasn’t for Branch, I think the young Robertson would have sub come to the pressure from teammates, competing teams, their managers and the crowds spewing their venom of hate.
This does not take anything away from Jackie, cause he was the one who had to go through the pain, but Branch knew there would be difficult times ahead for the young athlete, and made Robinson promise to not fight back when confronted with racism.
From the beginning of his career with the Dodgers, Robinson’s will was tested. Even some of his new teammates objected to having an African-American on their team. But it wasn’t until that fateful day in the tunnel (Robertson’s breaking point in the movie), where He struggled with this idea of turning the other cheek.
“Should I react… Should I not?” The manager of the opposing team was hurling crude remarks and racial slurs, and Branch Ricky was watching the young Robertson to see if he would give into the pressure. He runs into the tunnel and repeatedly hit his bat against the wall until it breaks – as if – I want to hate someone – it doesn’t feel right to just listen to all this hate and do nothing about it.
In that moment with Ricky by his side – mentor – mentee, he had a decision to make, embrace this plan to turn the other cheek or go down in history as another angry black man.
In that tunnel that day a legend, a hero was born. One young man at his breaking point with “enough guts not to fight back” – stepped up. One simple act of surrender, one simple “not my will but thy will, one decision to embrace a kingdom principle.
One man under immense pressure – at his breaking point – in the tunnel of decision. One decision that will change a sport, a nation forever. Of him the great Branch said,
There was never a man in the game who could put mind and muscle together quicker than Jackie Robinson
Robinson’s success led other owners to seek talented black players, and by 1952, there were 150 black players in organized baseball. The last of the Negro Leagues disbanded soon after, their marquee players all having been brought into the desegregated major leagues. Rickey was officially deemed the leader of the revolution, and his vocal support of civil rights extended beyond the baseball field for the rest of his life.
Let me conclude with a thought from my good friend John Paine, “As Christians we are called to fight every day. Not with our fists or guns or knives, but with love, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. Being a Christ-follower isn’t a proposition for sissies–but thank God we have the encouragement of those who suffered so that we may have it better than they did.”
Photo via Twin Daily
Get the Movie and watch it… You will not regret it. God bless!