The film opens and Robinson is playing for the all-black Kansas City Monarchs because the big leagues are still segregated and prejudice still reigns supreme. However, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers has ideas of his own. He sends a scout to offer Robinson a contract that Robinson accepts and he finds himself with the Montreal Dodgers. After the good news Robinson proposes to his girlfriend Rachel and they get married soon after. The two of them head down to spring training, and with the help of a black journalist Wendell Smith, Robinson begins to settle in.
Despite being the only black man on an all-white squad, his athletic ability and speed lead to a successful season. Although there is some initial backlash it seems like Rickey’s “noble experiment” might be working. The next spring training in Panama opens and the real trouble begins. The Dodger squad signs a petition vowing not to play with a black man. Then, to add insult to injury Leo Durocher is prohibited from managing.
It is a rough start to Robinson’s career in the big leagues, and soon it becomes obvious that this is just the beginning. Discrimination is rampant. Robinson is taunted, beaned, spiked, and threatened with death. But in agreement with Rickey, Robinson vows not to fight back. Instead, he beats his adversary on the field. This mindset, along with the support of his wife, and several teammates, lead Jackie to success. He took home the Rookie of the Year and the Dodgers, in turn, won the pennant.
Fittingly, the film closes with postscripts that describe number 42’s impact on the game. It seems that some have said that from a film standpoint it is unexciting or unremarkable storytelling and that well night might be true, but with a story as good and important as this, I don’t think it matters that much. Fans, including me don’t care. This film is meaningful, because although I knew a lot about Robinson’s life, I never really thought about people like Ralph Branca or Ben Chapman in this light. They are more than just statistics in a baseball almanac. They were men who played a part in this story, whether good or bad. I have always considered Jackie Robinson one of my greatest heroes, not only because I am a Dodger fan but because he was a remarkable man and this movie simply reinforced that notion. Here’s to you number 42.