'42' may open the eyes of a new generation

Is it ironic to mention affirmative action in the context of Jackie Robinson being denied a chance to compete? Is it impolite? Just what is safe to talk about, when we talk about race in America?

As to the baseball in the movie, the one thing I wanted to see was Robinson stealing home. But that came after his rookie year. I also hoped to see more in the locker room, fewer speeches and more action.

Professional athletes aren't given to monologues. They're savants of their craft, and they speak with movement, with shrugs and blurted curses. But if they'd focused more on action, they might have taken time away from the speeches.

No one talks more than Branch Rickey in this movie, and at times it seems too much like "The Branch Rickey Story."

It was Rickey, of course, who used Robinson to break the color barrier. As played by Harrison Ford, he has all the best lines.

Some of his lines work well, especially the one in which Rickey tells Robinson about a white boy Rickey had just seen playing a pickup game in a sandlot.

Rickey describes the white boy reaching down to rub his hands with dirt just like Robinson, taking his warm-up swings just like Robinson, "with his arms stiff," just like Robinson.

"It was a white boy," Rickey says, realizing that his experiment was a success. "A white boy …."

And I thought of white boys like that, white boys just 20 years after Robinson's rookie season, white boys from white-flight families, tension all around them, protests and fear, riots in the streets and cities burning, pretending to be black baseball players.

I was the white boy who said "Say hey" like Willie Mays. My brother Nick would wiggle his fingers on the bat like Ernie Banks. My brother Pete would walk up to the plate, spit and swing just like Billy Williams.

And I'm going to see "42" again, with my sons.

jskass@tribune.com Twitter @John_Kass

CHICAGO

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