I sat in a Quail Springs AMC theater Friday, watching the Jackie Robinson movie “42,” and when the opening scene showed Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the guy sitting next to me exclaimed out loud.
“Looks just like him.”
The guy should know. I went to the movies with Bobby Morgan.
We are getting further and further from 1947, when Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and helped change America. It was 66 years ago. Few primary sources are left from one of America's great stories, sports or otherwise.
Morgan wasn't there in 1947. But from 1950-53, Morgan was a Boy of Summer. A Brooklyn Dodger. Jackie Robinson's teammate.
Who better to offer us a movie review?
Morgan grew up in Oklahoma City, was a 1944 Classen High School graduate and the International League MVP in 1949, with the Montreal Royals.
Now Morgan is 86 and sharp as ever. Still talks about the old Ebbets Field days as if it's 1953 and he's standing in the Brooklyn sunlight.
On Robinson: “He was a super human being. Honor to play with him.”
On Pee Wee Reese, the Dodger shortstop in those glory years: “My first roommate with the Dodgers in 1950. Just a super, super guy. He was the captain of our ballclub. He's still our captain, although he's gone.”
On Rickey: “Son of a …” Well, best left unsaid what Morgan says about the fabled Dodger president. Too many rough negotiations for Morgan to feel much kinship with the Mahatma.
Morgan doesn't mince words. So believe him when lauds “42” for capturing the spirit of sport's greatest trailblazer.
Morgan's quick take: “I thought the movie was super. Real moving. No punches were pulled at all. They made the movie like it was.”
Morgan marveled at the likenesses of some of the actors. Chadwick Boseman looks a lot like Robinson. Christopher Meloni of Law & Order fame favors the 1940s photos of Leo Durocher. John C. McGinley made a mean Red Barber.
Morgan was stunned at how much Hamish Linklater looked like a young Ralph Branca. And Ford, well, it was eerie how much he was Branch Rickey and not Harrison Ford. “He had his actions real good,” Morgan said.
Even the stadiums — Crosley Field, Ebbets, Shibe Park, Forbes Field — were well-replicated.
But even without such realism, this movie was a winner, because it crystallized the hostility which Robinson had to endure.
The movie focuses on the years 1945-47, from the hatch of Rickey's integration plan to the completion of Robinson's rookie season. Focuses on the will of Robinson to succeed but also the fortitude necessary to withstand the malice.
From fans. From teammates. From opponents. The vitriol from Phillies manager Ben Chapman was particularly unnerving to 21st-century sensibilities. Chapman famously berated Robinson and is the movie's heavy, though he certainly didn't stand alone.
Morgan said the reproach he saw Robinson take in 1950 was worse than what the movie depicted.
“The abuse was still bad, every year I played with the Dodgers, although in '52 and '53 it started to loosen up a little bit,” Morgan said. “We all realized what he was going through.
“Philadelphia was bad on Jackie. Fans used to come down to the dugout, poke their heads in there, swear at him. It was bad. Jackie just sat there, stared straight ahead.”
The film stays true to the Robinson history, even if it does condense a few stories, as Hollywood is prone to do.
For instance, the famous scene in which Reese walks over and places his arm around Robinson on the field probably did not take place in 1947. More likely it was 1948. In the movie, Alabamian Eddie Stanky takes up for Robinson and challenges Chapman face-to-face in front of the Phillie dugout, but in reality Stanky accosted the entire Philadelphia team, saying, “Why don't you yell at somebody who can fight back?”
And Durocher, the manager who delivers a stirring warning to Dodgers presenting a petition to ban Robinson, was suspended just before the 1947 season not solely for cavorting with a Hollywood actress. Commissioner Happy Chandler had a litany of charges against Leo the Lip.
But those are minor quibbles.
The fire and dignity of Jackie Robinson comes alive in the movie. Bobby Morgan says so, and he would know.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.