My youngest son Sean lives and breathes baseball. He can’t get enough of playing the game, watching it on television, listening to it on the radio, or reading about the legends of the sport.
Ever since he was five years old, his favorite player has been Jackie Robinson. He was drawn in by Jackie’s historic status as the first African-American player of course, but I honestly think the thing that impressed him the most was that Jackie Robinson stole home more than 20 times in his career.
“He stole home!” he would point out, sheer amazement in his voice.
Over spring break this year my sister told Sean she would take him on a vacation to anywhere he wanted to go in the continental United States. He didn’t hesitate before telling her his choice.
“Cooperstown!” he said.
So, they went to upstate New York and checked out the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. When Sean returned home he was wearing a Jackie Robinson jersey and a Brooklyn Dodgers cap.
Just a few weeks later the movie “42” came out, and I knew I had to take him to see it. We were in the audience for one of the very first screenings of the film, and I think I watched Sean as much as I watched the movie. He was just in awe at Jackie’s abilities, but he appeared to be even more affected by seeing racism in action. It was really bothering him.
There’s a scene in the film where one of the players on the Cardinals (Enos Slaughter) intentionally spikes Robinson in the foot, hoping to injure him. Sean nearly jumped out of his seat.
“But Slaughter’s a Hall of Famer!” he said.
“He was a Cardinal,” I pointed out.
Sean nodded knowingly. Of course. Only a Cardinal could do something that heinous.
To be honest, having said that to Sean really bothered me the rest of the film. Here I was watching a movie about people hating a man for no other reason than the color of his skin, and I was telling Sean to hate someone just because of the color of his cap. I knew that was wrong, and I took steps to correct it.
When we got home I showed him some of the reading material I had accumulated about Sean’s favorite team, the Cubs. I have many books about them because I write a website called Just One Bad Century, and it’s filled with stories about Cubs history.
So, I told Sean about Cap Anson, a Cubs Hall of Famer who was one of the instrumental forces in creating the color barrier in the first place. And I told him about the 1947 Cubs team that voted unanimously to not even take the field when Jackie Robinson was playing. And I showed him an article that Mike Royko had written about seeing Jackie Robinson’s first game at Wrigley Field.
Royko wrote about how crushed he was when his favorite Cubs player, a home town hero, had also intentionally spiked Jackie Robinson at first base.
“See,” I said. “All of the teams in baseball had players that were racist, not just the Cardinals.”
“Is that the part of the movie that affected you the most?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Nope. Did you see Jackie steal home?”
That’s the bottom line for Sean. It’s all about the baseball. And it doesn’t matter if the player is black, white, Hispanic, or Albanian.
And I suppose, that’s the way it should be.