Robinson biopic holds lessons for modern players

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies first baseman
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies first baseman (Ryan Howard said he and his colleagues can learn a lot from watching "42.")
Posted: April 12, 2013

AS THE Phillies wrapped up their spring training schedule last month in Florida, Ryan Howard was among a group of players that took in an advanced screening of the movie "42," which tells the heroic, true story of American legend Jackie Robinson. In 1947, 32 years before Howard was born, Robinson broke baseball's longstanding color barrier, becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball.

"I loved it," Howard said of the movie. "I thought it was great. I think it helped to kind of show his struggles, his journey. I thought the movie depicted it pretty well."

Howard's teammate and fellow African-American Ben Revere also saw the advanced screening.

"It's just really an inspiration to me," the 24-year-old Revere said. "It was a wonderful movie. I think anyone that's a big baseball fan should see it."

The nightly booing at baseball stadiums and even the occasional unruly fan behavior that gives the sport a black-eye - Josh Hamilton's family was harassed in his return to Arlington last weekend - are nothing compared to what Robinson endured when he broke into the big leagues.

Robinson, then 28, was verbally assaulted by players, fans and coaches alike, and took physical punishment, too. He was constantly bombarded with racial slurs, hit with pitches and slid into violently in the infield.

More than a handful of those ugly on-the-field incidents are depicted in "42," including one in Philadelphia. Former Phillies manager Ben Chapman was among Robinson's strongest detractors.

The Tennessee-born manager stood outside his dugout for one game during Robinson's rookie season and ran through the gamut of vulgar, racist obscenities each time Robinson stepped into the batter's box. While Chapman verbally assaulted him, Robinson did his best to ignore it and continue playing.

The scene is a little difficult to watch, even for those who knew all about the incident.

"A little bit," Revere said. "But I've seen a lot worse than that. To me, it's just what he had to deal with, but he kept fighting on. There was bad, but good [for him], too. It was tough for him, but he showed the courage to keep going, to play, and that's why he was a special person and player. Not a lot of people could have done it. I don't know if I could have done it."

"It's disturbing to see [that stuff], but that was society," Howard said. "That was right here. Philadelphia, other cities, Cincinnati, all across the United States. It's tough. The man just wanted to play baseball. Just being able to play the game of baseball, it was hard to do that."

Howard took his 12-year-old son, Darien, to see "42." If kids are briefed on the subject matter beforehand, the film is an excellent educational tool.

Not only was Robinson a baseball legend for leading the fight against segregation in baseball, but he was also an American hero during the civil-rights era.

"[Darien] had an idea of what it was about," Howard said. "But to actually see it and get an understanding for it, that was newer for him."

What Robinson did, Howard said, "sent a ripple throughout the entire United States. The rest of baseball followed and it helped changed the way things were all across the country."

On Monday, MLB's Jackie Robinson Day, every player in baseball will wear Robinson's No. 42, which was retired leaguewide in 1997. Revere said that he'd like to be able to do more to honor Robinson at some point in his young career.

"My grandfather was a big baseball fan, and he'd always talk about Jackie Robinson," Revere said.

"He used to tell me to run like Jackie Robinson. I'm still waiting to steal home one time so I can show my grandpa I can do it. Hopefully, one of these days I will."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

 

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