The characters of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey are the central focus of the new movie 42.
By Rob Rains
Red Schoendienst does not have to see the movie 42 to remember how hard it was for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in major league baseball. He was there as it was happening.
Schoendienst was the Cardinals’ starting second baseman in 1947 when Branch Rickey brought Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the story which is told in the movie premiering around the country on Friday.
“What he did was hard,” Schoendienst said. “It was pretty tough for him to come in the way he did.”
The movie tries to depict some of the taunts and abuse Robinson had to endure as he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues.
There is only one incident shown in the movie involving the Cardinals, when Enos Slaughter spiked Robinson during a game on Aug. 20, allegedly on purpose.
Newspaper accounts at the time did say that Robinson was spiked as Slaughter ran across first base, in the 11th inning of the game at Ebbets Field, but he did not admit to doing it intentionally.
“I’ve never deliberately spiked anyone in my life,” Slaughter was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story the following day which was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
. “Anybody who does don’t belong in baseball. It was an accident, pure and simple. I hope it is not serious.”
In the same article, Cardinal manager Eddie Dyer took exception to claims by reporters that it was intentional.
“I’ve particularly told my boys to be very careful when playing this club, so there wll be no chance of an incident,” Dyer is quoted as saying. “Not once this year has Robinson even had to duck a ball thrown by one of my pitchers.
“So you may be dead certain it was an accident when Enos spiked him. Enos runs mighty hard and with his head down, he didn’t see Robinson’s foot.”
One of Robinson’s staunchest defenders, in the movie and in real life, was Eddie Stanky and he challenged Dyer’s statement.
“I always had the highest regard for Slaughter,” Stanky said in the AP article. “He is one of the keenest competitors I have ever known and I admired him for it. I’ve lost all respect for him.”
What isn’t detailed in the movie is that if he had wanted to spike Robinson intentionally, Slaughter would have had numerous chances to do so earlier in the season. The game on Aug. 20 was actually the final game of a four-game series between the two teams and was the 19th game that season between the Cardinals and Dodgers.
The movie does not discuss rumors that the Cardinals had voted to strike and not play the Dodgers because of Robinson’s presence. It was widely reported that before the two teams met for the first time, on May 6 in Brooklyn, the Cardinals had taken such a vote.
Schoendienst said that never happened, supporting claims over the years made by Stan Musial and others.
“I never heard one bit about it,” Schoendienst said. “I know our club didn’t say anything about it. I can’t remember anybody saying they weren’t going to play. There were a lot of rumors. I guess they had to talk about something once in a while.
“Stan and I roomed together and we never talked about anything like that. I don’t remember Slaughter ever saying anything at all. He just went about his business and I think the rest of us did too.”
Schoendienst said there were extra pressures placed on Robinson because of his race, but that much of the way other players tested him was also true for every rookie coming into the league.
“In those days as a player it didn’t matter whether you were German, Italian, Irish, black or white, they would test you if you were a rookie,” Schoendienst said. “They would brush you back or might hit you in the ribs once in a while just to see if you could take it. That’s the way it was years ago.”
After the Cardinals played three games in Brooklyn on May 6-8, the Dodgers were scheduled to play in St. Louis on May 20 and 21. Anticipation for Robinson’s first game at Sportsman’s Park was so great that the game was sold out in advance. Unfortunately, however, the game was rained out.
The following afternoon’s game drew a crowd of 16,249, the largest for a weekday day game that season at Sportsman's Park, including an estimated 6,000 African-Americans.
“I remember there were a lot there, all down in right field,” Schoendienst said.
The Dodgers had thought there might be protests or trouble for Robinson in both St. Louis and Cincinnati, the two most Southern cities in the major leagues at the time, but apparently there were no incidents, at least none that were reported in the St. Louis newspapers.
In a game story on May 22, the Post-Dispatch
reported, “Robinson was cheered each time he went to bat and the Dodgers as a team received more vocal encouragement than they usually got at Sportsman’s Park.”
Even though Schoendienst was there for all of those moments, he expects to go see the movie when he gets a chance.
"Branch Rickey was pretty smart," he said. ". “I had played against Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson when I was in the Army and you knew they were good ballplayers. “So was Jackie. He was always able to do everything well.”
Movie Trailer for 42