African-American, America, baseball, Brooklyn Dodgers, Civil Rights Movement, Ebbets Field, Jackie Robinson, Kansas City Monarchs, Ken Burns, Major League Baseball, Montreal Royals, NAACP, National League, Pasadena, PBS, UCLA, UCLA Bruins, Vietnam War, Westwood, World Series, World War II
A very good painting of the man who broke baseball’s color line. Image courtesy of quotesthoughtsrandom.wordpress.com
CELEBRATING THE ANNIVERSARY OF JACKIE ROBINSON’S BREAKING OF BASEBALL’S COLOR BARRIER BY REVIEWING THE RECENT PBS SPECIAL FROM NOTED DOCUMENTARIAN KEN BURNS
When I heard a few years ago that Ken Burns, the documentarian who made perhaps my two favorite TV programs of all time, 1990’s “The Civil War” and 1994’s “Baseball”, was planning to produce a documentary on the greatest Dodger of all time, the greatest UCLA Bruin of all time, and the greatest man in the history of sports,
A guy who, by playing first base at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn wearing a Dodger uniform on April 15, 1947, essentially started the Civil Rights Movement,
While going through pure bigoted hell in the process, ultimately sacrificing his life as he passed away from diabetes and a failing heart – no doubt caused by the stress of what he had to go through – at the much-too-young age of 53,
I happily looked forward to Burns’ production, which I was confident would be first class.
And which did not disappoint as “Jackie Robinson”, shown in two parts over four hours on April 11th and 12th, gave an intimate look at an athlete whose impact on this country was so pronounced, he became the first athlete whose jersey number, 42, was retired by an entire league, Major League Baseball bestowing that honor to Jackie in 1997.
The most revered number in sports history creating havoc on the bases. Photo courtesy of wbal.com
Having been a longtime fan of Jackie Robinson, a longtime baseball fan in general and an alum of Jackie’s collegiate alma mater, UCLA, without intending to be boastful I already had much knowledge about the man from a relatively early age, before the PBS project began.
I already knew about his beginnings in rural Georgia and coming to Pasadena as a baby, growing up there and eventually starring in multiple sports at that town’s John Muir High School.
I already knew about Jackie’s legendary exploits at UCLA, where baseball – incredibly enough – was his worst sport in Westwood, batting less than .100 in his one season there while breaking records and making All-Conference and All-American in football, basketball, and track.
Jackie in his UCLA football uniform, starring at running back and punt returner during his two years as a Bruin. Photo courtesy of thatsenuff.com
I already knew about his stint in the army during World War II, when he was court marshalled for refusing to sit in the back of the bus in Fort Hood, TX and subsequently being acquitted due to the judge finding him being fully within his rights.
Not only did I already know about Jackie’s big league career; a .311 lifetime batting average and 19 steals of home over a ten-year career which saw him lead the Dodgers to six National League pennants and a World Series title in 1955,
But also about his time with the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 and the minor league Montreal Royals, where he spent 1946 after being signed by Dodger owner and general manager Branch Rickey (I knew about that, too!)
I knew about his struggles with his oldest son, who had a troubled childhood and fell into drug addiction after serving in the Vietnam War, overcoming such only to die in a car crash in his mid-20s.
Jackie Robinson with Martin Luther King, who famously said that what he did in baseball made it easier for the civil rights icon. Photo courtesy of theatlantic.com
I knew about his post baseball career activism; being involved in the NAACP, writing articles in publications like the New York Post, giving various speeches across the country, and marching for civil rights in places like Birmingham, AL as well as participating in the March on Washington in 1963.
And of course I saw the movie “42” depicting the struggles of Jackie breaking the color line, in 2013.
So one can see that when it comes to this man, I didn’t exactly fall of the turnip truck.
With his wife Rachel, who he met at UCLA and was an absolute rock to him during their time together. Photo courtesy of blogs.indiewire.com
Having stated all of that…
I still found the Jackie Robinson documentary quite enjoyable.
The best thing about it, in my view, is that much like “42”, which starred Chadwick Boseman as Jackie and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey…
For those who are not baseball fans or who don’t follow sports, this documentary gives a master lesson on the man, his life, what he was about, the struggles and pressures he had to go through as an African-American man in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and even the 1960s, and the impact he made not just in baseball and sports, but in America as a whole.
So much so that it needs to be shown in not only in K-12 classrooms, but college history and sociology courses as well.
The Bottom Line:
“Jackie Robinson” was as much a first class production as I thought and hoped it would be.
And on the 69th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier this Friday (April 15th),
I strongly encourage everyone to see it; watch it online, Netflix it, buy the DVD…
Do whatever you need to do, but go see it.
A nice shot of Jackie Robinson at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Photo courtesy of emaze.com