Originally written on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 11/17/14

Today marks the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier of Major League Baseball in the 20th century. Technically, Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black player in the major leagues – he played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884, his only major league season. In the decades succeeding, baseball’s powers had an unwritten yet firm rule banning black players until Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson. The movie 42 opened in theatres on Friday to showcase Robinson’s achievement. He played under duress that would have broken a lesser man.  But his fierce competitiveness combined with natural talent changed the minds, hearts, and maybe even the souls of those who taunted him. “Robinson could hit and bunt and steal and run. He had intimidating skills, and he burned with a dark fire,” states Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer, the ur-chronicle of Brooklyn Dodgers history in the 1950s. “He wanted passionately to win. He charged at ball games. He calculated his rivals’ weaknesses and measured his own strengths and knew—as only a very few have ever known—the precise move to make at precisely the moment of maximum effect. His bunts, his steals, and his fake bunts and fake steals humiliated a legion of visiting players. He bore the burden of a pioneer and the weight made him more strong.” 42 depicts a scene lifted from real life involving Ben Chapman, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. During a Phillies-Dodgers game in 1947, Chapman hurled taunts at Jackie Robinson that were more vicious than any fastball. Robinson suffered them. Again and again. Bench jockeying was one thing, but Chapman’s version was laced with venom the likes of which most people had never witnessed. Branch Rickey saw Chapman’s hatred as an asset. Rickey stated that Chapman united the Dodgers. Jackie Robinson thought differently, even though he acceded to having his picture taken with Chapman upon Rickey’s request. 42 reenacts the scene.   In his autobiography I Never Had It Made, Jackie Robinson elaborates his view of the Chapman incident. “Privately, at the time, I thought Mr. Rickey was carrying his ‘gratitude’ to Chapman a little too far when he asked me to appear in public with Chapman. The Phillies manager was genuinely in trouble as a result of all the publicity on the racial razzing. Mr. Rickey thought it would be gracious and generous if I posed for a picture shaking hands with Chapman. The idea was also promoted by the baseball commissioner.  I was somewhat sold—but not altogether—on the concept that a display of such harmony would be ‘good for the game.’  I have to admit, though, that having my picture taken with this man was one of the most difficult things I had to make myself do.” Vincit Qui Patitur is a Latin proverb translated to: He who endures will conquer. Jackie Robinson endured. Jackie Robinson conquered.

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