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Dodgers

Jackie Robinson Day: Los Angeles, the Dodgers and Major League Baseball Celebrate

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Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 3:04 PM
click to enlarge Pasadena Robinson Memorial - HOWARD COLE/LA WEEKLY
  • Howard Cole/LA Weekly
  • Pasadena Robinson Memorial

It's Jackie Robinson Day, America. And it's Jackie Robinson day across America.

The third Monday in January of every year we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. And on April 15 we remember the day Jackie Robinson became the first "Negro" player in Major League Baseball.

And to this son of Brooklyn parents, to this proud Angeleno and lifelong Dodger fan living a Kemp's throw from Jackie's Pasadena, the latter day is indeed something to celebrate.

The Main Squeeze and I hit the matinee of 42 at the Arclight Pasadena Saturday, afterwards driving the two tenths of mile to the Pasadena Robinson Memorial across from city hall, at the corner of East Union Street and North Garfield Avenue.

After contemplating the movie and the sculptures of Jackie (on the left, above) and brother Mack -- the 200 meter silver medalist in the 1936 Berlin Olympics -- we were home in time to watch the Dodgers and Hyun-Jin Ryu beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-5.

I'm hard to please when it comes to baseball movies, and for the life of me I can't understand why filmmakers don't make the effort to get the baseball stuff right, when doing so is as easy and no more costly than not. The Trouble with the Curve, for example, seemingly written on a cocktail napkin in five minutes' time, is the worst baseball movie in a generation, with literally every item related to the game completely off base.

42 is another story, a vitally important story, and gets much of its baseball right. I'll leave the film criticism to the experts, and as much as I'd like to include one spoiler, I'll be vague so as not to. What follows is not a movie review. In fact, I'll just tell you what I liked about it.

* Chadwick Boseman's portrayal of Jackie was especially good. I liked everything about his look (hair, clothes, etc.) and way he carried himself both on the field and off. I loved his athleticism, his base running and the way he held the bat, imitating Jack precisely. I loved the force-feeding lesson in the art of first base play, in the spring of 1947.

* The little boy on the train tracks was also great -- as well as who he turned out to be (stay for the credits, please). And I know how I would have felt to be so lucky as to have my idol throw me a baseball, whether I was eight years old, nine, or 40.

* The tolerance of Pasadena was something to be proud of. And in the same way, Sanford, Florida, should be ashamed. Yes, that Sanford, Florida, of the George Zimmerman, Trayvon Robinson case. And props to writer/director Brian Helgeland for the way that part of the story was handled.

* And when it comes to things to be proud of, more than anything, there's this:

Jackie was a Dodger, only a Dodger, and that he did what he did for and with the help of the Dodgers. Our Dodgers.

Truth be told, while I understand the reasoning behind it, I'm a little jealous of the teams that get to share in the holiday. They didn't do anything in particular, and some made things as difficult for Jack as can possibly be. The Boston Red Sox waited until 1959 to integrate. 1959. I'd kind of like to see just the Dodger players wearing the number 42 on their jerseys, with the rest of teams bowing in reverence.

But OK. MLB has celebrated Jackie Robinson Day since the 50th anniversary of his debut, on April 15, 1997, retiring the number 42 on that day. Grandfathered players, including Mo Vaughn (since retired), were allowed to continue to don the jersey. When Mariano Rivera retires at the conclusion of the 2013 season, that will be it.

And since 2009 all big leaguers wear Jackie's 42 this one day of the year. There will be no names on their backs. Just the 42.

The Dodgers have all kinds of things planned for tonight, the banished-for-eight-games-and-nowhere-near-Chavez-Ravine Carlos Quentin notwithstanding. Rachel Robinson and children Sharon and David will be there. So will the Tuskegee Airmen. The great-granddaughter of Branch Rickey, Kelley Jakle, will sing "God Bless America." The late great Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe will be honored. Harrison Ford will throw out the first pitch. And of course, Magic Johnson will host and beam with pride throughout.

L.A. versus San Diego, Chad Billingsley and Eric Stults the starters, game time 7:10 p.m., with ceremonies beginning at 6:50 p.m. As of this writing, several hundred tickets are available on StubHub, including many below face price.

While 42 is labeled a "biopic" it covers primarily the 1946 and 1947 seasons, Robinson's one and only in the minors and first in the bigs. Since there is little about the numbers, and we baseball fans love our numbers, I thought I'd highlight a few.

Jackie's 1946 Montreal Royals finished the season with a record of 100-54, winning the pennant in a five-game playoff over the 81-72 Syracuse Chiefs. His .349 average was good enough for a batting title; his .468 on base percentage lead the league as well.

He appeared in 124 games, scored 113 runs, with three home runs and 66 RBIs, stealing 40 bases while being caught 15 times. Robinson committed 10 errors at second base; his double play mate, Al Campanis booting 42. There's that number again.

Brooklyn's Dodgers beat the Boston Braves on Opening Day, 1947, Hal Gregg over Johnny Sain. Robinson drew the collar on April 15, getting his first major league hit, a bunt single to third off Glenn Elliott, in the bottom of the fifth the next day at Ebbets Field. He would record 1517 more base knocks over his 10-year Hall of Fame career.

Robinson's 1947 stats include the following: 701 plate appearances in 151 games, 125 runs, 175 hits, 31 doubles, five triples, 12 homers, 48 RBIs and a National League leading stolen bases, earning along the way something called the "J. Louis Comiskey Memorial Award" for rookie performance. It's known today as the Jackie Robinson Award. A record 16 Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers have won the two versions of the Rookie of the Year Award.

Notes:

FoxSportsDetroit.com's Steve Kornacki has a fine piece on Willie Horton, about his dealings with race issues in the 1970s, and his thoughts on Jackie.

Of equal interest is a Darryl E. Owens' Orlando Sentinel column about Sanford, and how far we've come. Or haven't.

For information on the Negro Leagues, to arrange for speakers, and to support former players financially, please visit NegroLeagueLegends.org. Surviving players local to Southern California include Irvine Castile, George Green and Neale "Bobo" Henderson. And of course, Newcombe and Sweet Lou Johnson work for the Dodgers.

And finally, Happy Birthday # 66 to Dodgers' pr man Toby Zwikel. Yes, he was born the very day Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line: April 15, 1947.

Follow me on Twitter @Howard_Cole. Follow the L.A. Weekly on Twitter @LAWeekly.

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