The wide-reaching legacy of Jackie Robinson has a constant presence in baseball and society, but at times we need reminders of just what it meant when Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
That comes in the form of “42,” a movie opening locally Friday that chronicles Robinson’s rookie season. Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson, while Harrison Ford plays Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey.
And with the movie’s opening comes a chance for longtime Twin Cities resident Ron Rabinovitz to share his personal tales of Robinson. As a youngster growing up in the 1950s in Sheboygan, Wis., Rabinovitz was a huge baseball fan. His father, David, wrote a letter to Robinson in hopes that the player and the young boy could meet when the Dodgers played in Milwaukee.
Robinson wrote back and said he would love to meet the family, while also sending along an autographed picture. The meeting at the ballpark not only happened, it spawned a kinship that lasted into Rabinovitz’s adulthood until Robinson’s death in 1972.
“At first, I just loved him because he was helping my Dodgers win pennants,” Rabinovitz said. “Then I realized how much bigger than baseball he really was.”
The two traded letters, many of which Rabinovitz still has in his home. Robinson sent a telegram of congratulations when Rabinovitz graduated from high school. Many times when the Dodgers played in Milwaukee, the Rabinovitz family had a meal with him.
“I often wondered, ‘Why me?’ ” Rabinovitz said. “I was white, he was black. I was Jewish, he was Christian. I was a kid, he was an adult.”
The answer might be found in one of the letters Robinson wrote to Rabinovitz so many years ago. It started out with pleasantries about the weather and the season the Dodgers were having, but then it wove its way into something far more philosophical. “I learned a long time ago that a person must be true to himself if he is to succeed,” Robinson wrote.
Now Robinson’s story is reborn on the big screen. “I think it’s tremendous,” Rabinovitz said of the movie. “He’s getting the recognition and due he deserves.”