The Herald Bulletin

April 13, 2013

Rick Teverbaugh: Evocative ‘42’ transcends baseball

The Herald Bulletin

— Most of the really good baseball movies are about something other than the sport.

The only exception I can find for that is Major League, and that was played strictly for laughs.

The list that fits that first supposition is lengthy and legendary. It includes “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Rookie,” “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “Trouble with the Curve.”

There’s now another film to add to that list: “42,” released Friday, is about the Brooklyn Dodgers breaking baseball’s bigotry and the first black player to participate in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson.

Certainly there are many good baseball scenes. But those who view the film for its baseball content may very well be disappointed.

Anderson’s own Carl Erskine said before Thursday’s advance screening that the movie testified as to the authenticity of the content and the portrayals of the major characters. “It’s authentic,” he told a crowd of 250 who were waiting to get into the theater. “(Dodger General Manager) Branch Rickey never said anything stronger than ‘Judas Priest,’ has a line in the movie that I doubt he ever said. But I’ll let you figure out which one. When we were watching the film, during a scene in the locker room, I turned to my wife Betty and said, ‘That’s my locker.’”

Erskine isn’t in the film because “42” focuses on the first year that Robinson broke into the majors and Carl hadn’t yet made the jump.

There are many villains in the film, named and unnamed. They are villains because they represent the biogtry that so scarred the U.S. landscape in the late 1940s when the movie takes place. The two bad guys who are front and center in the movie are pitcher Kirby Higbe, who was a Dodger and tried to organize a player boycott on the team to not play with Robinson, and Ben Chapman, the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Chapman’s bench jockey techniques would never be tolerated in today’s sport, but moviegoers will quickly learn this is another time.

Robinson is played by Chadwick Boseman, a veteran actor who has had guest shots in several television series including “Justified,” “The Fringe,” “Castle” and “The Glades.” His performance is controlled, just as Robinson had to be throughout this ordeal.

Strictly from the perspective of the film and not the story, Harrison Ford nearly steals the show with his portrayal of Rickey. His motives for taking this chance, which was largely unpopular within Major League Baseball, are a bit cloudy throughout the movie until he is pinned down by Robinson toward the film’s finale.

Christopher Meloni has a very nice run as Leo Durocher. The same can be said for Max Gail, who played Burt Shotton, who was called in to manage the Dodgers in this pivotal season when Durocher was suspended for one year. There are many other good ones as well.

There are a multitude of reasons to see “42.” It will make you angry; it will also make you cry, laugh and be proud to be able to pay homage to this great American and what he endured for all of his race and the game of baseball.

Sports Editor Rick Teverbaugh’s columns appear twice weekly.