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Jackie Robinson biopic '42' makes Phillies look awful, and rightly so


In the history of their franchise, the Philadelphia Phillies and “pride” haven’t always been used synonymously.


And although you would think the preceding statement pertains to their play on the field, I’m unfortunately referring to a whole other subject matter. Photo: espn.go.com


 42, the new film based on the ascension of Jackie Robinson as he broke Major League Baseball's the color barrier, was released last weekend. Robinson’s struggle to be accepted on behalf of fans and even his own teammates because of his skin color has been well-documented prior to the release of 42. In fact, the entire Brooklyn Dodgers team was banned from staying at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel because of their association with Robinson.


But no figure wearing a major league uniform in 1947 perhaps symbolized the racial strife between Robinson and his opponents than Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman. 


In the movie, Chapman (played in 42 by actor Alan Tudyk) stood above the dugout and yelled the n-word at Robinson at least 30 times in a five minute span. It was so nauseating people (including yours truly) were squirming in their seats. Chapman’s real-life actions towards Robinson have been confirmed by many. The trials and tribulations Robinson experienced could have killed lesser men, but he rose above the hatred of Chapman and many others to become perhaps the single most influential sports figure in history. In fact, Chapman’s actions backfired on him, as the American public as well as many of his Dodgers’ teammates used this to rally around Robinson. Photo: phillysportshistory.com


Moreover, Chapman’s behavior had Major League Baseball go into damage-control mode quickly- forcing him to pose with Robinson for a picture when Robinson came to play in Philadelphia a month later. Chapman allegedly refused to shake Robinson’s hand in the picture (and vice versa for Robinson), so the two posed holding a bat. Chapman would manage the Phillies until he was fired midway through the 1948 season. Although he coached briefly for the Reds in 1952, Chapman never again managed in the majors.

To say that Chapman’s sentiments reflected those of all the Phillies as well as team management at the time would be unfounded. But it should be noted that the Phillies were the last National League team to have a black player on their roster when shortstop John Kennedy made his debut with the team in 1957- and that was short lived: Kennedy only had two at-bats for the Phillies and compiled a batting average of .000. It wasn’t until the emergence of Richie Allen in 1964 that the Phillies had a significant black superstar.



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In the last 50-plus years, times have definitely changed. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have become two of the most popular and most talented Phillies in team history, with Rollins currently the longest tenured athlete in the city. But despite these changes, there is a declining number of African-Americans in the majors, which Rollins recently discussed an interview Friday. 

‘42’ was very nicely done, but in all actuality, it remains to be seen as to whether it will inspire younger kids to play baseball. Yes, our nation has come a long way since 1947, but this needs to continue.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: espn.go.com