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Did players flip bats in the 1940s?

Sep 21, 2012, 1:03 PM EDT

I posted the link to the trailer for the new “42” movie last night.  Here is again. Watch it, and then join below for a brief discussion:

Since that came out, a couple of topics of conversation have popped up.

First: Do we like what we can see of Harrison Ford’s Branch Rickey? Last night I suggested that it was actual acting instead of Leading Manning from Ford, which is something we haven’t seen from him in ages.  But now that I’ve watched it a few times, I’m struck by how his first lines of dialogue — starting at the :30 mark and going through :47 — in the trailer make it seem like he’s doing an impression of Heath Ledger doing The Joker.  Interesting choice.

Second: at the 1:03 mark or so, Robinson hits a homer and flips the bat.  People on Twitter are wondering — as am I — if bat flipping as a means of defiance was a thing in the 1940s. Or, alternatively, are the filmmakers retconning some attitude to Robinson that wasn’t really there.

It’s all interesting, mostly because Robinson has sorta been canonized in a way that has, regretfully, robbed him of his humanity in the public imagination. Dude probably wasn’t always a saint, whether or not people flipped bats back in the 1940s.

Anyway, now would be a good time for me to go find a good Jackie Robinson biography.

  1. hammyofdoom - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    Well just going off of the top of my head I’m assuming if there was bat flipping there was a whole lot less of it seeing how it wasnt unheard of to see numbers in center field in the high 400’s to even 500 or so feet. You flip a bat when you KNOW its a home run, and I have a feeling there were a lot more wall-scrapers back then

    • Roger Moore - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:22 PM

      On the other hand, you had ballparks that were less than 300 feet down the line, so it was very possible to be certain about a HR. Ebbets Field, where Robinson played his home games for his whole career, was considered to be a bandbox. The deepest fence in the park was barely over 400 feet when Robinson played there, and the power alleys were not especially deep. And it had by no means the cheapest HR in the league. The Polo Grounds, which I assume is where you’re thinking of for the 500 foot center field, had extremely short fences down the lines; it was less than 260 feet to right field and only 250 feet to the overhanging second deck in left.

      • clydeserra - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        that appeared to be the Montreal Home park.

  2. b7p19 - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    If they did, I’m sure they got drilled by a fastball. And of course that caused all kinds of rucus on the internet (or whatever came before the internet) in the following days.

    • indaburg - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:39 PM

      Those carrier pigeons must have gotten really tired from all that flying.

    • mybrunoblog - Sep 21, 2012 at 5:56 PM

      Wait. The Internet wasn’t around in the 1940s? I guess Al Gore had things in the planning stages back then.

  3. Jason Chalifour - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Isn’t it possible the actor inadvertently flipped the bat and it wasn’t scripted?

    • chadjones27 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:06 PM

      Yes, it is possible it wasn’t scripted. But it’s the director’s job, and whoever is on staff to keep things historically accurate, to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen. Like Sparticus wearing a digital watch. Now if there was a Delorean in one of the shots… well, I guess that is possible, since they are capable of time travel and all.

      • b7p19 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:26 PM

        At the risk of people knowing that I actually watched this movie, I will say that you can also travel through time by jumping off the Brooklyn bridge.

    • elmo - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:45 PM

      Unlikely, but even if he did, the decision to include the shot had to have deliberate. The very next shot shows the (white) pitcher sort-of glaring, so its pretty clear its intended to create an effect.

    • clydeserra - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:51 PM

      there is no possible way it is not deliberately in the film as a bat flip no matter who thought of it first.

  4. nolanwiffle - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    I still can’t move past that god-awful “music”.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Sep 21, 2012 at 3:48 PM

      Until I learn otherwise, I prefer to believe the music in the trailer is only that, and that the actual movie will stick to music from the period. And besides the bat-flipping, which seems extremely unlikely to be authentic, another measure of how honest this movie is will be in the nature of the verbal abuse we hear heaped on Mr. Robinson. Did the filmmakers stay true to reality, in which case we’ll hear torrents of horrible, racist language spewed from the crowds and opponents, or did they fear offending modern sensibilities and clean it up?

    • chicitybulls - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:43 PM

      @ nolanwiffle – you’ll get over it someday. God-awful to you. Or maybe you prefer some rock. Cause that speaks to the audience the director is going for, right?

      @ nothanks – I agree that the music is most likely for the trailer to get a certain demographic interested. The movie itself will probably have more jazz and be more period specific.

    • thewrongalex - Sep 21, 2012 at 6:52 PM

      I have no problem with the music itself, and I consider myself a Jay-Z fan, but I don’t think anyone paid close attention to the lyrics before setting the trailer to it. Sure, it mentions Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson, and I think that’s all the editors heard. But it (cleverly) uses Jackie’s name as a metaphor for a successful criminal lifestyle (I jack, I rob, I sin…’cept when I run base, I dodge the pen), and that’s kind of the opposite message I imagine the movie is going for.

  5. mamerica1 - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    If you’re looking for a Jackie Robinson book, I must suggest “Baseball’s Great Experiment” by my former professor, the late Jules Tygiel, a Brooklyn native and diehard baseball fan:

    • Detroit Michael - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:35 PM

      Jonathan Eig wrote a decent book on Robinson’s debut season too not too many years ago.

    • Roger Moore - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:29 PM

      Tygiel is definitely worth reading. If you like his work on Robinson, you’ll probably love Past Time. It’s a history book that uses baseball as an example and starting point to discuss the social and economic history of the US between the Civil War era and today.

  6. thefalcon123 - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    HA! I was wondering the exact same thing when I saw that trailer!

    You know what movie I’d like to see (in addition to this, not instead of this): The Larry Doby story. What was it like for the guy who caught all the same shit on a daily basis from opposing teams and fans, but lacked a lot of the fame and national support (not to mention national scrutiny)?

    • thefalcon123 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:23 PM

      …or the Hank Thompson and Willard Brown story, the other two African-Americans to debut in 1947 who are know mostly forgotten.

      • thefalcon123 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:40 PM

        Oh, and Willard Brown is in the Hall of Fame. So allow me to edit my comment to say “mostly forgotten by people who are complete morons”.

  7. indaburg - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    I don’t know the answer to the bat flipping question. If work stays quiet, I’ll do some research.

    As for Harrison Ford, he’s unrecognizable, which in this case, it’s a good thing. Sometimes actors become phony, as Caulfield would put it. For a few years there, Ford did. I didn’t get Joker via Heath Ledger from him, but maybe I’m missing something.

    I hope they show that Jackie Robinson as a real man with faults rather than a saint. I want to see his seething anger and resentment. I would even hold him in higher esteem. A saint would find what he had to do easy. If the trailer’s song is any indication (one of the lyrics is “I sin”), they will show him as a complex, multi-layered person and not some holier than thou goodie goodie.

    • raysfan1 - Sep 21, 2012 at 9:18 PM

      His is one of my favorite autobiographies–for one thing he is very clear about how angry the injustices made him. He also made a point of saying he was not a saint. He became more vocal about his feelings after his first two years with the Dodgers, including publically calling the Yankees racist in 1952 when they were still an all white team.

      I would like his time in the Army portrayed too. He was court-martialled and acquitted after refusing to move to the back of a troop bus.

  8. lumpyf - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    Artistic license. No way, no how did that ever occur.

  9. thetruth702 - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    Horrible.. No showboating back then at all. People wore suits and dresses to the games, it was a classy thing back then. No street clothes in the crowd. Director is terrible

    • indaburg - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      No showboating at all? Babe Ruth didn’t call his shot? Of course, it’s been questioned if that actually happened, but the fact the he himself perpetuated the story shows that showboating’s been around for awhile.

    • naliamegod - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:40 PM

      Showboating has been around ever since the game started. Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame partially due to his reputation as baseball’s biggest clown during his time. Showboating is one of the main reasons why Satchel Paige was the biggest star of the Negro Leagues during his prime. Dizzy Dean and the Ganghouse Gang were also partially infamous for this type of stuff (along with general nastiness). And these are just some major players, there are probably quiet a few I am not aware of.

      And even if there wasn’t “showboating” in what we describe it; physical posturing was widespread and frequently violent. If anything, the game is far more professional and “mature” now than it was back then.

    • plseattle - Sep 21, 2012 at 8:01 PM

      is flipping a bat really “showboating”? lets be thankful players don’t act like they sacked a QB every time they hit one out.

  10. blacksables - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    Any one who follows the history of baseball knows that he wasn’t a saint, and was considered an unlikeable person by many.

    That doesn’t take away from what he did, but artifically giving him a better personality than he had is like pretending Madonna is hot just because she kisses girls.

    Doesn’t cheapen their achievements, but it doesn’t make me want to swap spit in a warm shower either.

  11. natstowngreg - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    The actual bat flip didn’t seem all that big a deal, but it was shot to make it look like a big deal. No doubt, part of the film’s drama.

    Remember Branch Rickey’s instructions to Jackie Robinson not to fight back against the haters (which is also in the trailer). You could look at the bat flip two ways. One, as something done to provoke the haters. The other, as Jackie Robinson going as far as he could without breaking his promise to Rickey. From what I know of the story, it’s probably the latter. It’s just hard to tell without seeing the clip in context.

  12. elmo - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    I expect this film will contain quite a bit of ‘retconning’ of the JR story in order to make it more palatable to modern audiences. The music was the first clue. Some of us actually prefer carefully researched and exquisitely detailed period pieces. But I think we’re in the minority these days.

  13. kiwicricket - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Why don’t we ask Old Gator? He would of been in his mid 50’s back then. :)

    • b7p19 - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:32 PM

      Na, it’s 2 O’Clock. He’s eating dinner at the local family restaurant and talking about how much hotter it was last September.

  14. kountryking - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    I’m old enough to remember the 1940s. We dropped the bat and ran out all hits including over-the-fence home runs. Today’s showboating would have caught flak from one’s teammates as well as from the opponents.

    • raysfan1 - Sep 22, 2012 at 12:07 AM

      Funny, when I searched YouTube for news reel highlights of Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, I saw a lot of home run jogs. No Jackie Robinson flipping bats though.

  15. ptfu - Sep 21, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    What, no Jamie Moyer cameo as himself?

  16. clydeserra - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    And the shot of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around robinson, wasn’t that supposed to have happened in Cincinatti? it looked like home uni’s there.

    • mazblast - Sep 21, 2012 at 6:00 PM

      It was in Cincinnati, the northernmost city of the South in terms of racial attitude. Reese was a Southern boy himself (Louisville, KY).

      Somehow, when the Reds are reciting their overrated history (all of five world championships, the first of which was a fix), they never mention this incident at Crosley Field.

  17. yahmule - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    One condition of Robinson’s promotion was that he would not react to anything his first few years. He agreed because he understood that it might be used as an excuse to hold back other black players. He became more assertive after he established himself in the league for a few seasons.

    The first player I remember openly showboating after home runs was Reggie Jackson in the mid 70s. Maybe it was done before him, but I believe that would been asking to get dotted in your next at bat.

  18. historiophiliac - Sep 21, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    Obviously this is not exhaustive research, but none of the NY Times articles from 1947 mention Robinson flipping his bat — although one mentions “his larceny” (stealing home) in a game. I think Craig should start referring to stealing bases as larceny on a regular basis, but he’d probably stick “alleged” in front of it.

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