Robert Redford Returns to Baseball in Brian Helgeland’s Branch Rickey Biopic

     April 6, 2011


You know who apparently doesn’t get enough credit in Jackie Robinson’s story about breaking the color barrier in baseball?  White guy Branch Rickey.  Because it’s not simply enough to give credit to an African-American who risked his life to play the great American pastime, Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale) will write and direct a biopic about Rickey, an executive who made the brave decision to sign Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945.  24 Frames reports that Robert Redford who starred in the 1984 baseball drama The Natural, will play Rickey in a role I’m fairly certain will be preachy and simplistic.

Hit the jump for more on Redford’s participation and why this project makes me cringe.

Rather than focus on Robinson’s story, Helgeland’s movie will look at the “complex” relationship between Rickey and Robinson, and how Rickey signed the famous athlete for reasons both economic and idealistic.  Says Redford of the story:

“No one really knows the Rickey part, the political maneuvers and the partnership they had to share.  It’s the story underneath the story you thought you knew.”

Because if there’s a group of people who really don’t get their stories told any more, it’s rich white guys.  I will lay 10-to-1 odds that the big message of the movie is: “Racism is bad.”  Of course, preachy has become Redford’s trademark as seen in his recent films Lions for Lambs and the upcoming The Conspirator.  Basically, this movie just sounds like Helgeland and Redford trying to make a Jackie Robinson movie through the lens of white privilege.  Hooray.


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  • Stinky

    Big Dodgers fan here… so you can punch my ticket to this flick.

    I don’t think anyone is going to equate the nightmare Jackie went through with Rickey’s dealings, but the guy saw some serious shit.
    Rickey was integral in not only getting Jackie to the majors, but having him stay there and keep the door open for African-Americans. Jackie had the talent on the field, Branch Rickey had it off the field. A pioneer, and I’d like to see his story.

  • Eric J. Baker

    Branch Rickey arguably changed baseball more than Jackie Robinson. Not to demean Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier (again– he wasn’t the first black man to play major league baseball, just the first since the AL and NL colluded to keep out black players in the late 1800s), but that’s more a statement about Rickey. Besides doing the considerable amount of work necessary to break the collusion and sign a black player (managers like McGraw had wanted to for years, but nobody did), he also created the modern minor league farm system and built the St. Louis Cardinals into a dynasty. It was so effective that the Yankees adopted the same system and transformed themselves into a major baseball power.

    Agreed, Rickey’s role in breaking the color barrier is not as noteworthy as Robinson’s, but Rickey’s contributions to the game are legendary. Who else changed the game forever… twice?

    • Matt Goldberg

      And that would be a movie I would like to see. But it sounds like the movie isn’t going to focus on his entire legacy. It sounds like it will just be about him and Robinson.

  • Nick

    Matt, chill out. It took serious balls to do what Branch Rickey did, and as somebody who’s familiar with the game and history, Rickey risked just as much as Robinson did. This could be a good one.

    • Matt Goldberg

      I must have missed the footage of pitchers trying to hit Rickey with their fastballs.

  • Elitist Prick

    I agree and disagree with everyone!

    Rickey, no doubt, had an immeasurable impact on baseball, both in the development of the minor leagues and the farm system, as well as with hiring Jackie Robinson. And sure, he did stand to lose something if hiring Robinson didn’t work out, but not nearly as much as Robinson did, who, along with his wife, received all sorts of death threats. If he was a failure, Robinson’s career and livelihood would have been over, but Rickey would have merely had to deal with a financial setback (along with some personal humiliation).

    Still, both were extraordinary personalities and are fertile ground for biographical films, but VASTLY different ones. Rickey was an abrasive business mogul while Robinson was an athlete who showed tremendous courage and resolve, so you can’t tell both of those stories simultaneously. I’d actually prefer to have a trilogy of movies or an HBO series about the Dodgers, since that franchise has such a ridiculous and storied history. From being one of the worst teams in baseball (being nicknamed “Dem Bums” in the 1930s), to Rickey’s grandiose personality, to Robinson’s hiring, to them finally winning the World Series in 1955, you can’t do justice to all that story in one movie. It’d be like if Pride of the Yankees, along with being a movie about Lou Gehrig, tried to be a biopic of Babe Ruth while telling the story of the team’s dominance of the sport itself. It would just be muddled missed opportunities.

    Hell, I’m not even a Dodgers fan, and I still think they’re fascinating. I think there’s more than enough territory to mine, so I just wish studios/filmmakers could recognize when a story is too big for one film to do justice to.

  • mike adams

    Awesome! Redford would portray a great Rickey Branch. I also recently saw a sneak preview for the new movie Redford directed called, THE CONSPIRATOR, it was EXCELLENT! Check out the trailer,

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  • bob whitehead

    now 75 years old I grew up on long island and went to high school in Brooklyn. Jackie Robinson was my boyhood hero. Saw him play many times including infamous game against St. Louis Cardinals in August 1947 in which he was spiked by Enos Slaughter. Movie must tell the whole story–including the impact he had on young boys. I would love to tell my story to the people making the movie.