There's an odd little moment in 42 ... Jackie Robinson has just been added to the Brooklyn Dodgers' active roster at the conclusion of spring training, and he walks into the Ebbets Field locker room for the first time. It seems an awkward moment for just about everybody, all the more so when the clubhouse boy directs Jackie to his "locker" ... a folding chair placed beneath a nail on the wall.
Jackie will get a real locker, the clubbie assures him, but right now this is the only thing that's available.
In all honesty, I sort of assumed this little detail had been invented, or perhaps twisted some to make a point.
In 1948, Jackie Robinson came out with the first of three or four books that would serve as his memoirs. And here's how he described his first foray into the Dodgers' clubhouse:
When I started out for the park that morning, I was concerned about the reception I would be given in the dressing room. Would I be welcome, or would my new teammates be cool and aloof -- or even ignore me? Before I opened the dressing room door I stopped, took a deep breath, and then walked in. Many of the players were there already. I looked for a locker with "Jackie Robinson" on it, but couldn't find one. I stood in the middle of the room for a while wondering what to do. There were lockers there marked: "Pee Wee Reese," "Dixie Walker," "Hugh Casey," "Ed Stanky," "Bruce Edwards," "Pete Reiser," "Ralph Branca," "Arky Vaughan," and "John Jorgensen." In fact, there were lockers for everyone but me.
Finally, the club house man saw me. "Jackie," he said, "you'll have to wait a few days until we can get a locker for you." He handed me my uniform. "Dress over there, if you don't mind." He pointed to a folding chair. I sat down at my locker and started dressing.
Just because it's in a book doesn't mean it's true. Jackie Robinson: My Own Story is listed was officially "as told by Jackie Robinson to Wendell Smith," and there's little doubt that Robinson -- a very busy man -- didn't tell every word in the book to Smith, who must have filled in a great number of blanks. But My Own Story does have the benefit of being written shortly after the 1947 season, when everyone's memories were their freshest. As such, it's a valuable document that, perhaps because it's now somewhat rare, has often been overlooked by Robinson's more casual biographers.