I saw 42 tonight. It’s the new movie about Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough with the 1946 Montreal Royals, and then with the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in modern Major League Baseball.
The movie’s a bit cheesy, redeemed mainly by the glorious story it recounts, and by a wonderful performance from Harrison Ford as Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey—the man who spearheaded baseball’s integration.
There are some nice touches, as when Rickey picks Robinson’s bio out of a stack of Negro League player reports he’s considering.
“He’s a Methodist,” notes Rickey. “I’m a Methodist. God is a Methodist. It should work out well.”
Growing up in a liberal family in a 1950s New York suburb, I was weaned on Robinson’s story, and I rooted passionately for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But tonight I learned an obscure detail that had never registered with me.
In the summer of 1945, Robinson had just been released from World War II army service and was batting .381 for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. On August 28, 1945, Rickey summoned him to a three-hour meeting in his Brooklyn office, where he taunted the 26-year-old player with racial epithets.
“You want someone tough enough to fight back?” asked Robinson.
“No,” said Rickey. “I want someone tough enough not to fight back.”
He signed the 26-year-old player to a contract with the Royals, a Dodger farm team.
On that same day, 300 miles to the northwest, in Children’s Hospital, Buffalo, NY, Flora Best Donham, 31, was cradling her fourth child, a day-old baby boy.
That would be me. You could say I was born the day before they integrated baseball.