Friday, August 23, 2013

Soul of The Game: Jackie Robinson Movie

Baseball has a lot of issues and the black eyes on the game are visible. However, baseball is not only great but it will always be important. 50 years ago this week Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" during the historic march on Washington. Keep in mind that it was baseball that got the ball rolling in this country when it came to desegregation and equal rights to blacks.

16 years before MLK inspired so many with his speech, it was Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby entering a brave new world for race relations. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus eight years after Jackie and Larry. Baseball does a lot of things wrong but this is one thing they got right and not only did they get it right, they were first.

Is there a march on Washington without Jackie and Larry? Is there a Rosa Parks? We will never know but it is easy to see that MLB shattering the color barrier made it a lot easier for there to be a Dr. King and a Rosa Parks. So while you celebrate the 50 year anniversary, don't forget about baseball and the role it played.

While we are on the topic, let's talk about movies. I have yet to see 42 as of yet. I am sure I will eventually see it but the reviews have me a little hesitant to see it. It sounds like a great movie to show youngsters who don't know the story but for baseball nerds like me it sounds like a very superficial Hollywood production. Once again, I have not seen it so I don't want to kill the movie. I just wish Spike Lee had the opportunity to make the movie. I want a movie that has more depth to it and really gets into the mind of Jackie. I don't think 42 does that.

My favorite movie on this subject still is Soul of the Game. If you have not seen it, you need to. The only bad thing about the movie is no mention of Larry Doby. I have a soft spot for Larry. He was born and raised here in South Carolina, was a great ballplayer and made his debut just a few months after Jackie. We seem to only celebrate the first. Larry gets short changed. He went through all the crap that Jackie had to endure but without all the adulation that would eventually come to Jackie. It is sad when you think about it. I always make it a point to let kids here in South Carolina know all about Larry Doby. If you bring up Jackie, you need to bring up Larry as well. He deserves it.


  1. How can you judge a movie without seeing it first? "42" is not superficial, and while it may not be the perfect film, I don't know that Spike Lee would have made it any better. It's certainly worth seeing. Yes, if you know the history, you probably won't learn all that much, but you will possess a better sense of the social and psychological pressures that Robinson needed to fight through, as well as the society that he was confronting.

    I do agree about Doby.

    1. You are right and I did say that I hate to make judgements about a movie I have not seen. I have just read and talked to several people who did see it and who actually liked it but talked about how it wasn't real deep in terms of who he was. It was more about the "legend". It is what Hollywood does. I had the same issue with the Ernie Davis movie. I am sure when I do see it I will enjoy it but I am sure I will also feel it could have been a whole lot better. I think Spike Lee would have nailed it

    2. Well, the thing is that "42" is not a bio-pic. It covers Branch Rickey signing him in the first place in 1945, and then it mainly covers his debut season of 1947, stopping short of the 1947 World Series. Due to the temporal limitation, the film is more about what he goes through and how he responds to adversity, as opposed to a broader and deeper exploration of character. Seeing the full range of his life and career would have been worthwhile, but it also may have made for a less accessible film that reached smaller audiences.

  2. By the way, Pesky, when I tried to reply to your comment about David Justice and his position, I was unable to do so, as that page is quasi-gone, I guess. So I'll just copy what I wrote and post it here, if you don't mind.

    First, thanks for the reply.

    ... doesn't really matter how good of a fielder Justice happened to be; the point was his comfort level. Justice had played the outfield almost exclusively in the minor leagues (he'd played all of 3 games at first base, with just 13 chances), so playing first base in the majors (to accommodate Dale Murphy) figured to constitute a major adjustment. Sure enough, in 1990, Justice committed 10 errors at first base in just 69 games (60 starts), meaning that over the course of a full season, he would have recorded about 23 errors, an astronomical figure for a first baseman. Sure enough, the adjustment seemed to affect Justice's hitting severely, as he was probably taking his defense to the plate (so to speak) or unable to prepare his hitting as usual, given that he needed to worry about his defense so much. And the change in Justice's hitting that came with the positional switch was not coincidental, for he caught fire almost immediately after shifting from first base to right field in 1990, basically in his second game after returning to the outfield.


  3. Additionally, Justice may have merely been a "pretty average" defensive right fielder in 1991, but according to Baseball-Reference's Defensive WAR figures, along with the opinions of some people that I respect and what I remember observing, Justice amounted to quite a good defensive right fielder for must of his tenure in Atlanta. In fact, based on B-R's Defensive WAR data, Justice constituted one of the National League's best defensive right fielders from 1992-1996. Actually, according to B-R's figures, Justice was the best defensive outfielder in the entire National League in 1992. Now, WAR represents an estimate based (like any metric) on a contrived and thus inherently flawed formula, but I do think that Justice was one of the better defensive right fielders around. At this link, you can see John Smoltz, whom Justice obviously played behind for parts of eight seasons, call him "a pretty good defensive player that flourished."

    So I think that the notion that Brunansky would have represented a defensive upgrade over Justice is dubious. What's less ambiguous is the clear reality that a combination of Brunansky in right field and Justice at first base would have severed downgraded Atlanta defensively compared to featuring Justice in right field and Sid Bream at first base. And then when one considers that Brunansky had proved to be a pretty poor hitter in 1991, I really don't see the upside of a switch that could have seriously harmed the Braves both offensively and defensively.

    But the bottom line is that Atlanta did not see Justice as a malleable defensive player who should swing between right field and first base. In fact, after August 16, 1990, Justice never played another professional inning at first base, not with the Braves, the Indians, the Yankees, or the Athletics in a career that lasted through 2002. Indeed, consider that in 1993, Atlanta theoretically could have shifted Justice to first base and played Deion Sanders and Otis Nixon in the outfield simultaneously, a speedy combination that had functioned dynamically in the 1992 World Series, when Sanders usually played left field in place of a slumping Ron Gant. Instead, Atlanta stayed with Bream and Brian Hunter at first base until the team traded for Fred McGriff after the All-Star break. And in 1991, the Braves could have theoretically shifted Justice to first base and played Lonnie Smith in right field; Smith constituted a better right-handed hitter and offensive player than Brunansky at that point. But again, the Braves surely never entertained the idea (and certainly never executed it) because Justice amounted to a defensive liability at first base, and his liable defense had clearly undermined his offense as a first baseman the previous year.

  4. ... never head of "Soul of the Game" ... I'll try to keep it in mind.

    And I definitely agree with you about the trailblazing civil rights role that baseball ended up playing, albeit not without major ambivalence and ambiguity. I actually wrote my college 'Senior Essay' (about 46 pages, as I recall) on that subject, back in 2002.