Filmmaking in '42' creates fields of dreams
Rendering of classic ballparks adds to brilliance of Jackie tale
CINCINNATI -- It's still there. It's the same ramp that took you quicker than a Jim Maloney fastball to the corner of Western Avenue and Findlay Street, along the way to The Bleacher Gate. Once inside, heaven was on earth, and it was called Crosley Field.
What baseball paradise. Before city officials ripped the guts out of the old home of the Cincinnati Reds with wrecking balls and bulldozers in 1972, you could see center field up close and personal to your right while driving south into downtown along I-75.
Now, you look over there, and you see, well, yikes. It's a floral warehouse complimented by a massive parking lot.
Let's pause for a word of prayer.
I'm discussing the late, great Crosley, because I had a flashback earlier this month. There I was, watching the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball on April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I kept getting chills. Not so much from the script, which was good, but from the scenes, which were great.
About those scenes: They resulted from the "42" folks seeking to stay historically accurate. As a result, this movie surpassed all of its predecessors regarding the feel and the look of ballparks of yore.
You could tell the places were built with twists, curves and turns to fit into their particular residential neighborhood. You could see the billboards along the outfield walls and the uniqueness of the architecture.
The bleachers. The grass. The sound.
Even the smell.
You were right there. In my case, you were right there AGAIN. This was especially true if you ever sat inside Ebbets Field or Forbes Field, or if you strolled through The Bleacher Gate.
In other words, courtesy of the storyline of "42," Ebbets Field, Forbes Field and Crosley Field were the most prominently shown of those old ballparks.
Ebbets Field was the Dodgers' cozy home in Brooklyn, and it featured Robinson's opening games after his debut. Forbes Field was used in the movie to show how Robinson tantalized pitchers -- one from the Pirates in particular. Crosley Field represented a microcosm of the hatred directed toward Robinson throughout the Major Leagues.
As for the latter, there were those riveting scenes in "42," when Cincinnati fans yelled ugliness Robinson's way. What happened next has been debated among historians forever. To have the movie tell it, Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese ignored his roots as a southerner from Louisville to walk over in the midst of it all and throw his arm around the shoulders of his first baseman with the target on his back.
They stood there in "42" and talked before they were forced to return to their respective positions by umpires.
Through it all, you were there in the theater, watching Pee Wee and Jackie, making a mockery of segregation, as Crosley Field went quiet. You had entered either The Bleacher Gate or walked through the other turnstiles to sit in one of the 27,000 or so spots in the grandstand that made you feel as if you were no farther back than the dugout.
Whether those Robinson-Reese scenes happened, nobody knows, especially since both players are dead. Still, the Crosley Field things were present in the movie's background, either real or imagined.
There was the laundry across the street behind the left-field wall, complete with the hill called The Terrace that served as the warning track against the base of that wall. There was the massive brick wall serving as a billboard, and it stood high beyond the right-field stands while facing home plate. There were the right-field bleachers, called the Sun Deck during the day and the Moon Deck at night.
For those movie scenes, I was decades younger.
Ebbets Field was before my time, and I never visited Pittsburgh before the demolition of Forbes Field during the early 1970s. That said, Crosley Field became one of my best friends after we moved from South Bend, Ind., to Cincinnati during the winter of 1968.
In South Bend, we were Cubs fans, since Chicago was a two-hour drive away. We never went to Wrigley Field, though, which meant I attended my first Major League game in 1969 at Crosley Field.
The Reds played the Cubs. How appropriate, right?
I still remember my parents, two brothers and I sitting in Crosley Field's lower grandstands along the first-base side, seemingly with the ability to reach out and touch each player.
I still remember Ernie Banks' spikes at first base. We couldn't believe how shiny they were throughout the game.
I still remember Pete Rose sprinting like a maniac toward the infield from right field to make a diving catch with his cap flying. And I still remember Rose leading off the bottom half of that inning, drawing a walk and sprinting even more like a maniac to first base.
I still remember the smell. It was the same smell for every game at Crosley Field, which was this lovely combination of roasted peanuts, hotdogs, cigar smoke, Cincinnati beer and freshly cut grass.
I still remember how this Dixie Land band played its version of "Take Me Out To the Ballgame." I still remember every note.
Come to think of it, I still remember nearly every time I watched the Reds at Crosley Field, especially the last time. It was June 20, 1970, and the afternoon sun never was brighter. It was the NBC Saturday Game of the Week against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The star of the game was Johnny Bench, and NBC announcer Tony Kubek interviewed the Reds catcher at home plate with sprinklers going off in the outfield.
My brother, Dennis, and I rushed down from the upper grandstands to view life from the edge of a box seat.
We looked around at the Crosley things, with Bench and Kubek across the way, and then we smiled at each other. We never said a word, because we were thinking the same: This is so cool.
Four days later, the Reds played their last game at Crosley Field, and it slowly vanished -- until "42" came along.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.