SAM LACY (AFRO Photo)
by Moses J. Newson
(NNPA)–The hit movie “42” talks plenty about Jackie Robinson, baseball’s color barrier and fair play but snubs Afro-American Newspapers’ legendary sports editor Sam Lacy, who played a key role in the baseball integration saga.
Included among those who believe Lacy, a leader in the media push in the 1940s to integrate baseball was low-balled by the flick, are Jake Oliver, AFRO publisher, and Lacy’s son, Tim, who called the omission “a travesty.”
Lacy, who is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., was the one of the first Black reporters to be inducted into the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Lacy traveled throughout the U.S. and to a number of foreign countries with Robinson. He suffered many of the same indignities faced by the baseball star because of his color.
He was also the only sportswriter and the only Black on the four-man committee established to explore integration of Major League Baseball but was not mentioned in the film.
During the rockiest moments of Robinson’s first year with the Dodgers, Rickey allowed Lacy to work from the Dodgers dugout.
Lacy was in his mid-90s when he published his life’s story, Fighting for Fairness,” 1998. He was born in Mystic, Conn., but he spent most of his career in Washington, D.C., his home until his death at age 99 in 2003.
42 boasts a solid cast with Chadwick Boseman as Jackie; Harrison Ford as Rickey; Nicole Beharie as Jackie’s always supportive wife Rachel; and Andre Holland as Wendell Smith, the Pittsburgh Courier and daily Chicago American Hall of Fame writer.
Lacy and Smith often got together to map strategy.
The stage was set for breaking baseball’s color barrier in the 1940s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 1942 federal fair employment practices legislation, New York in 1945 had the Quinn-Ives anti-discrimination law and a Boston councilman was threatening to block the Red Sox and Boston Braves from getting licenses required for Sunday play unless Blacks were given an opportunity to make the squads.
New York Voice sports editor Joe Bostic took two players to the Dodgers’ Bear Mountain camp and demanded tryouts. Wendell Smith arranged tryouts for three players, including Jackie Robinson, with the Red Sox. None was accepted.
Meanwhile, Lacy took his case for integration directly to the then-16 team owners, according to the sportswriter in his book.
Lacy spoke to Major League Baseball Commissioner and all the team owners in Detroit.
A four-member committee on baseball integration was set up: Rickey of the National League, Larry MacPhail of the Yankees, American League; Magistrate Joseph H. Rainey of Philadelphia; and Lacy.
Lacy met twice with Rickey in the Dodgers offices. MacPhail never showed, so no official business could take place.
However, Lacy and Rickey talked about Black players, including Jackie Robinson.
Rickey soon told Lacy he wasn’t waiting any longer for MacPhail. At the April 1945 meeting Rickey had set off angry, alarmist reactions when he announced his decision to act, although he hadn’t selected the player.
Rickey’s earth-shaking announcement and the signing of the newly married Jack Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers’ AAA Montreal Monarchs touched off dramatic and often bitter racial conflicts.
42 captures much of the on-and-off field drama that covered brutally tense events involving Jackie’s fellow teammates as well as racist threats and efforts to harm him on the diamond. Ben Chapman, a manager in Philadelphia, was the most vocally nasty, but Robinson singled out Baltimore as the place where he was most surprised by the level of venom.
Not only did 42 snub Lacy, it didn’t always do justice to its hero. It makes clear that Robinson, as a U.S. Army second lieutenant, was court-martialed while stationed at Fort Hood, Texas for refusing to move farther back on a military base bus and loudly objected to the use of the N-word in his presence. But the movie does not make clear to viewers that Robinson was acquitted of all the charges against him.
There also were instances in the film when after a particularly good play, the actor portraying Jackie seemed to clown and showboat, demeanor not typical of the serious Robinson.
Situations involving kids provide some of the meaningful moments in 42.
Once when Jackie was feeling down, Rickey boosted his spirits by talking about “a white boy who was pretending to be you…pretending to be a Black man.”
On the other hand, there was the young white boy who after hearing his father yell racial slurs at Robinson, started doing the same thing.
Moses J. Newson, is a veteran AFRO civil rights journalist. Having served as executive editor of the AFRO, Newson also chronicled the Civil Rights Movement including the trial of Emmett Till, and is one of four journalists who rode along with the Freedom Riders in 1961. Among his many accomplishments Newson co-authored “Fighting for Fairness: The Life Story of Hall of Fame Sportswriter Sam Lacy.” In 2007 Newson was inducted into the Maryland D.C. Delaware Press Association Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Reprinted from the Afro American