Just in time for the 2016 Major League Baseball season, a more comprehensive look at one of its legends comes to high-definition light in the Blu-ray set Jackie Robinson (PBS Distribution, rated TV-PG, $29.99, 240 minutes).
This two-part, near 4-hour-long documentary (also currently showing on PBS) offers the complex life of Robinson, an often outspoken American who broke the color barrier in professional baseball when he walked onto Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as the first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The series not only covers the eloquent athlete’s childhood, Army years and rise though the sport’s ranks, fighting an enormous amount of disgusting prejudice along the way, but it also explores Robinson’s retirement and further immersion into the civil rights movement through the 1960s and early 1970s until his passing in 1972.
Created by Emmy-winning director Ken Burns along with daughter Sarah and her husband David McMahon, the presentation, narrated by Keith David, mixes vintage images and film footage with Jamie Foxx occasionally representing the voice of Robinson.
Historic moments include parts of his speech during the March on Washington in 1963, his correspondence with Richard Nixon in the 1960s, his 1948 testimony before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities and throwing out the first pitch in the second game of the 1972 World Series.
Interviews also abound with his wife Rachel, daughter Sharon and son David, along with roughly two dozen luminaries, including: former Dodgers teammates Ralph Branca, Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine; players Willie Mays, Buck O’Neil and Minnie Minoso; celebrities Carly Simon (Robinson taught her to swing a bat) and Harry Belafonte; broadcasters Red Barber and Vin Scully; and plenty of historians.
Even President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama offer memories and words about his role in promoting racial equality.
However, watching the Hall of Famer in action on the field will thrill baseball fans considering Mr. Robinson’ fantastic athleticism (he lettered in four sports in college). It allowed him to turn a bunt into a triple with the blink of an eye and then steal home a few pitches later just to rub it in to the rednecks who taunted him.
The majority of the extras focus on unused footage of the documentary including roughly 17 minutes worth of outtakes covering interviews about Robinson as a fierce competitor, an intelligent decision-maker and how he was a childhood hero to many.
Also, viewers get a 15-minute conversion with the trio of filmmakers about the series. It’s much more of a preview than an enlightening addition to the Blu-ray but still worthwhile to hear about what Mr. Burns and his team hoped to accomplish.
Finally, the extras offer a quick, 5-minute look at the Anderson Monarchs, a South Philadelphia inner-city youth baseball team that adopted Robinson’s work ethic and style of play.