The next time you venture to Mendocino you’ll want to step inside Frankie’s Creamery. If you have never been to Frankie’s, what’s wrong with you?—ice cream from Cowlick’s, good pizza, all sorts of other delectables, and at reasonable prices by Mendo standards.
After you’ve ordered your ice cream, take a look out the south facing window. Just a bit to the east stands a tree probably unidentifiable to most. It’s an avocado, sometimes called alligator pear for the fruit’s rough skin. The tree is most closely related to the bay laurel. The avocado outside Frankie’s south window does not have a partner, thus no fruit, but an avocado does grow in Mendocino. That reminds me of Betty Smith’s World War II era novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Any mention of Brooklyn, in turn, makes think of the Brooklyn Dodgers, which brings us to Jackie Robinson.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson is the subject of the current film, 42. Dave Zirin has written an article (published in the April 24th AVA) about the movie in which Mr. Zirin states “To tell his tale as one of individual triumph through his singular greatness is to not tell the story at all.”
That is a gross oversimplification, one that a good writer like Zirin should know better than to promulgate. 42 is a two hour amalgam of events. As Zirin’s article points out, amongst other things, the film glorifies Branch Rickey, omitting the fact that Rickey refused to recompense the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs for essentially stealing Jackie Robinson away. However, whether Mr. Zirin likes it or not, significant change does often begin with the actions of singular individuals like Jackie Robinson. The film, 42, condenses and simplifies, but it makes clear what racism looks, sounds, and feels like.
I do believe that some people who see 42 will come away from it with renewed curiosity about Jackie Robinson. Some of them will delve deeper into Robinson’s story to discover that eleven years before Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, Lt. Jack Robinson refused to move to the back of the bus near Camp Hood, Texas and suffered the indignity of a military court-martial because of the incident. They will find out that in March, 1942 Jackie Robinson and pitcher Nate Moreland accompanied journalist Herman Hill to the Chicago White Sox spring training tryout camp in Pasadena only to be turned away by White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes. Perhaps some viewers of 42 will be astute enough to notice that the completely segregated major league baseball clubs of the 1940s were located primarily in northern states, with the borderline exceptions of St. Louis and Washington D.C. It wasn’t redneck bigots in the Deep South keeping the likes of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and so many more out of major league baseball; it was general managers and owners in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Detroit. Perhaps even a few who see 42 will dig far enough into the history of baseball’s segregation to discover that Pittsburgh Pirate owner William Benswanger proposed integrating the National League several years before Brach Rickey plucked Jackie Robinson away from the Kansas City Monarchs.
I also believe that viewers of 42 will leave the theater recognizing there were and are far greater subtleties to racism, then and now, than the overt epithets of a Phillies manager. Some may be inspired to fight against the economic racism and classism that has allowed the divide in salary between corporate CEOs and workers to grow more than a hundred fold since the days of Jackie Robinson.