This weekend I saw the Jackie Robinson bio-pic ’42,‘ an excellent film about the first African American to play Major League Baseball. I’ve seen the previous feature film about Robinson’s life, The Jackie Robinson Story where the baseball star had the opportunity to play himself the year after had been named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. I am not a movie critic, nor is this a site about baseball. So why am I writing about Jackie Robinson today? The movie prompted me to consider his life and his baseball career in the perspective of his times. Jackie Robinson was born in 1919, only a year after Ted Williams. In 1936, according to Robinson biographer Arnold Rampersad, Robinson was selected to an annual Pomona tournament All Star team along with Williams and future Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Lemon. Jackie Robinson earned his high school athletic accolades in Pasadena, California. Ted Williams earned his not too far away in San Diego. Jackie Robinson went from high school to Pasadena Junior College in 1937. During the same year Ted Williams played baseball for the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League (PCL); his mother did not want him to stray too far from home. Two years later, Williams was the starting left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Robinson was on his way to becoming the first four-sport letterman (football, basketball, track, baseball) in UCLA history. While he did not earn a degree from either Pasadena Junior College or UCLA, Robinson completed six semesters of college. Imagine if a 17 year-old Jackie Robinson had been able to do what Ted Williams was able to do? Like the major leagues, the Pacific Coast League did not welcome African-American players in 1937. Suppose Robinson had been able to skip college and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL? Would he have been noticed in front of a national audience, too good of a player to ignore? Possibly, but World War II had not yet begun, the country was in a Depression and African Americans were barred from many types of employment, not just professional sports. It took a presidential edict to integrate the armed forces. That helped advance the integration of professional sports. So, Jackie Robinson had to go to college. And, from reading his autobiography I Never Had It Made as well as Arnold Rampersad’s excellent work on the ballplayer’s career, he was presented with enough help towards a degree. Instead he played minor league football, then he later enlisted in the Army. With the help of legendary fighter, Joe Louis, Robinson was later selected for officer training. Today, an athlete with Robinson’s gifts might have been awarded a college athletic scholarship or a major league baseball contract. In 1937 his only options were to go to college–he had wanted to be a track Olympian like his brother, Mack–or play in the Negro Leagues. The less experienced Negro League players, Robinson told Branch Rickey, as reported in Jimmy Breslin’s biography of the late baseball executive, were paid by the game. The money was not there. However, Robinson did play one Negro League season with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 after he was discharged from military service. His play got him noticed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. It is impossible to imagine a racially-integrated major leagues before the end of World War II. But suppose that had been the case. Jackie Robinson might have played a season in the PCL in 1937. Then he might have been offered a major league contract at age 19. By 1940, instead of playing college football–he injured an ankle while playing–he could have made the major leagues. As long as the owner of his team did not try to keep him down in the minors. Even considering that he would have been drafted for military service, Jackie Robinson could have played fifteen seasons in the major leagues instead of ten. Or, after leaving UCLA, had professional football been an integrated sport in 1941, Jackie Robinson would have been a high pick in the NFL draft which had started five years earlier. One of his UCLA teammates, Kenny Washington, was the first African American to sign a NFL contract–six years after he left college. He had spent those six years playing minor-league football and in military service. His pro career only lasted three seasons. If you read Arnold Rampersad’s biography or Robinson’s own, you may be led to believe that Jackie’s time in college and the military shaped his maturity, that the experience made him more ready to be a more successful major league ballplayer at age 28 than he would have been, had he began his career at age 22. I doubt that. As a high school senior Jackie Robinson was as promising an athlete as Ted Williams. Sadly, the Red Sox blew a chance to have both men on their team. They gave Robinson a tryout in 1945, but never followed up. If he had been as promising an athlete as Ted Williams, I would believe that he would have taken as mature an approach to his game as Ted Williams. Today, because of Jackie Robinson, so many promising athletes have choice that he never had. They can thank him by learning about him and seeing the movie.