According to the panel that spoke after the Austin premiere of the film, “42,” Spike Lee and Robert Redford previously had the rights to the movie about baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Neither of their projects resulted in the recent film. When I attended the film premiere and panel discussion, I wondered about the quick-read yet fiction books out there that captured some of the details that Robinson’s own daughter and the grandson of the Brooklyn Dodgers owner agreed were true to life. I found such a book at a branch of the Austin Public Library. Jackie’s Bat, illustrated by Caldecott winner Brian Pinkney, was a delight to read as I fact-checked some of my notes from the panel discussion and from the internet.
The book is written in first person. A fictional “bat boy” tells the story of Robinson’s struggles after crossing the color divide in major league baseball as if said bat boy saw it with his own eyes.This part of the book is embellished, as author Marybeth Lorbiecki admitted in the book’s notes and foreword comments.
The parts that are true to the story are numerous and well-detailed without being too cumbersome. The illustrated pictures which accompany the story make it a page-turning wonder. I enjoyed reading it because of the balance.The art and words were properly balanced. The fictionalized bat boy character was balanced with the true telling of Robinson’s story.
Many fictionalized details help move the story of Robinson along at an enjoyable pace. Some of them are included below, and seem to capture the spirit of what is well-known about Robinson’s struggles.
- The bat boy adopts some of his father’s prejudices
- He refuses to clean Robinson’s shoes when he cleans those of the other player
- He ignores Robinson when the legend attempts to address him
- He has a change of heart over time
When I did some fact-checking against my notes from the internet, and from Sharon Robinson and Branch Rickey III, I found that there were some factually true details in the book, as told by the bat boy. Those findings follow below:
- Robinson also played baseball. Biography.com indicates that he played with the Los Angeles Red Devils
- He received the MVP award in 1949
- He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962
- He was voted Rookie of the Year
- His mother was Mallie McGriff Robinson
- He had the encounters with Durocher, Eddie Stanky and Ralph Branca that the book mentions. These were specific details that Branch Rickey and Sharon Robinson confirmed during the panel discussion.
Nowhere in the book did I see a reference to it as a historical fiction story. I believe it certainly qualifies. Not only that, it was a joy to read. It could be a quality read for anyone wanting to know more about Jackie Robinson.
Also by Shirley
Take Me Out To The Ballgame