The venerable Donora Mayor John Lignelli asked me the other day if Stan “The Man” Musial was mentioned in the new movie “42” about Jackie Robinson and the racism he experienced after becoming the first black man to play major-league baseball.
I replied to the 91-year-old mayor by saying the movie was really good, but that Musial, a native of Donora who played 22 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, didn’t show up in the film.
Disappointed, Lignelli said Musial should have been mentioned as being among the first white ballplayers to endorse Robinson after Robinson broke the color barrier when he debuted in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As it turns out, actor David Stanbra had been cast in the role of Musial; however, his scenes ended up on the editing room floor to shorten the film, the actor said on his Facebook page.
That’s a shame, even though there are differing versions of the story about the day Robinson, from a sharecropping family in Cairo, Ga., made his initial appearance on the baseball diamond in St. Louis.
It has often been written that Musial refused to join his teammates in their threats to refuse to play on the same field with Robinson, although Musial, before he died Jan. 19 at age 92, would deny such a strike was ever considered.
Often remembered as the nicest man to have ever played baseball and one who avoided controversies and scandals, it’s easy to conclude that Musial mostly stayed out the debate.
However, he’s often been quoted as saying he didn’t like “rough and racist” talk in the clubhouse, and he did earn Robinson’s respect.
Lignelli, who developed a long friendship with Musial, said the ballplayer became a “regular guy” while playing sports as a youth in the Mon Valley steel town alongside black children, including Buddy Griffey, the father and grandfather of baseball greats Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr.
The color of a man’s skin “didn’t make a difference to him,” Lignelli said.
The movie “42,” released April 12, has met with mixed reviews and criticism from some uber baseball fans who feel it didn’t bring anything new to light about Robinson.
For a fan like me, who went to the theater without much knowledge about Robinson, it came as somewhat of a shock to hear so, so many racial slurs directed at him on the playing field, especially the verbal abuse lodged by Phillies manager Ben Chapman.
That, in itself, was enough to cause me embarrassment to belong to the same race as Chapman.
Scott Beveridge is a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter.