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Former Jackie Robinson teammate loves '42' movie

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Erskine says new picture is authentic portrayal of what happened

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 5:32 am

Usually, there are three problems with any Hollywood movie about sports:

1. The directors often twist the actual details to fit their needs, sometimes making the story unrecognizable from the reality of what happened. True life often isn't good enough for Hollywood.

2. It's also rare that a movie can recapture the drama of a close game, especially when you already know who won the game.

3. Worst of all, no matter how good the actors are they can't come close to accurately portraying professional athletes.

None of those things are a problem for the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson. Some critics have disliked the movie, but a guy who should know more about it than just about everyone loves it.

"I saw `Pride of the Yankees' when I was a kid, and I never thought I'd see another baseball movie that looked real to me,'' said Carl Erskine, Robinson's longtime teammate with the Brooklyn Dodgers. "I think there was a lot of authenticity to the movie. You can tell they did a lot of research and went into a lot of detail.''

Erskine, who lives in Anderson and regularly makes appearances in Fort Wayne to talk about baseball, said he saw the movie twice at private screenings before it opened last week.

The movie shows Robinson's struggles to become the first African-American player in Major League Baseball during the 1947 season. Erskine, a right-handed pitcher, joined the Dodgers the next season after pitching against them in spring training.

"I pitched five innings for AA Fort Worth against them, and Jackie came over to our dugout and asked for me,'' Erskine recalled. "He said, 'Young man, I hit against you twice today. You aren't going to be down here very long.'

"When I got called up later that year (July 25, 1948), Jackie was the first guy to my locker and said, 'I told you you couldn't miss.'"

The pair were teammates for nine seasons with the Dodgers, and Erskine wrote the book "What I learned from Jackie Robinson" in 2005.

As for the movie, Erskine said people need to see it for themselves.

"I was looking for too much racism in baseball from it,'' he said. "It's a hard-nosed game, and you get plenty of flack from the bench. Jackie was certainly a target, there's no doubt.

"In those years black and white America were truly separated. He couldn't stay at the same hotels with us or eat at the same restaurants. When he took off his uniform, he was just another black man in America and not a superstar any more.''

Brooklyn General Manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford in the movie, prohibited Robinson from responding to his critics for his first three seasons as a player.

"I thought the portrayal of Jackie's frustrations when he couldn't fight back were very accurate,'' Erskine said. "He had to restrain himself and take a lot of heat. He just lived with it and that was the culture of the day.''

The movie earned $27.2 million the first week to become the highest-grossing premiere in history for a baseball movie.

"I felt like it was a pretty honest portrayal,'' Erskine said. "The first time I saw it, it was all a surprise to me. I kept saying to my wife, 'They got that right, they got that right.' I saw a few things in there which were off, but they were all little things not worth mentioning. They did a pretty good job.''

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at .