PAINTER: The movie ‘42’ brings back wonderful memories

It’s been a summer of reading and watching movies for me.
Aug 21, 2013

That’s what happens when you add two puppies to the family. Cha-Cha and Coco require a lot of lap time.

And I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

I have made it known in the past about my love of baseball, so the reading and movie lists have been dominated by baseball-theme titles.

I’m also nostalgic about my youth, in which baseball played a dominant role.

As a boy living in McKeesport, Pa. — a small town not too far from Pittsburgh — my grandfather and I spent many afternoons sitting by his radio listening to the Pittsburgh Pirates games, and sometimes the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rooting for the Pirates wasn’t easy in the early 1950s. The Pirates were terrible. Their record was 42-112 in 1952 and 50-104 in 1953, finishing dead last both years. My grandfather used to call the Pirates “dumb clucks” when they made a bad play, which was often.

The Pirates were the laughingstock of Major League Baseball.

On the other hand, the Dodgers were the best team in the National League, winning the NL pennants in 1952 and 1953. The “Boys of Summer” were very good.

I can still remember picturing Ebbets Field in my mind while listening to Red Barber and Vin Scully broadcast the games (yes, the same Vince Scully who is still broadcasting Los Angeles Dodgers games).

It didn’t take much to convince my mother to take my brother and me to see the Pirates and Dodgers play.

I still have vivid memories of that game in 1953. The Pirates played most of their games during the day, but this game was a rare night game. Number 42, Jackie Robinson, was playing left field.

I still remember my grandfather telling my stories about how Jackie Robinson changed the game of baseball. Robinson was the first black player to play in the Major Leagues. But, by 1953, the Brooklyn Dodgers had at least five black players on their roster.

Incredibly, the Pirates won that night, 7-1. The Pirates, on this night, had silenced the great Brooklyn Dodgers.

While I rooted for the Pirates, I couldn’t help but admire one of the greatest names in baseball: Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, who led the Dodgers to National League pennants in 1947 and 1949, was on the downside of his career when I saw him play on a warm August night. He had been replaced at second base and moved to left field. The new stars of the team were Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo.

Still, I knew that the opportunity to see Robinson play would be something that I would always treasure. Even as a kid, I knew what a great player Jackie Robinson was for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

We recently watched “42,” the movie about how Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson to break “the color barrier” in Major League Baseball.

Rickey scoured the Negro League for a player who he felt could withstand the verbal abuse from fans, players and his own teammates. The rest is history. Jackie Robinson was that man.

Longtime baseball fans remember what Robinson had to tolerate. Not only was he verbally abused, he received death threats.

But Robinson prevailed. In 1949, he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

I didn’t get to see the Jackie Robinson who was a dominate player prior to 1953. He was no longer stealing bases at an amazing clip or leading the team in hitting.

But his presence in the dugout was still significant for the Dodgers. Jackie Robinson was not only a great baseball player — he was a great leader.

I’ll never forget that night in 1953 when I saw a legend perform.

— By Len Painter

Comments

Tri-cities realist

Hi Len Painter. I know this is off topic but a couple of us on here were recalling the fond memories we had of Andy Loree's pictures in the Trib. Can you or someone else let us know why we don't see any of his pictures any more? Perhaps a tribute to his fine work in a future column is in order? I did a quick web search and cannot find any of his pictures for the Trib after late 2011. Thanks in advance.

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