Always Coming Up 2nd: Baseball's Forgotten Trailblazer, Larry Doby
Even in the most remedial high school U.S. history class, we are all given a small dose of the great Jackie Robinson. Whether you are an enormous baseball fan or an Emo loner, the breaking of the color barrier means something to you and the birth of our melting pot we call America.
But, while Robinson is celebrated as a glowing symbol of the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, many are left in the shadows. Negro League stars such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige were considered by most to be better than Jackie.
However, Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey thought Robinson would be the perfect ambassador for this “Noble Experiment,” which involved Robinson agreeing to not fight back from racial bigotry for the first three years of his career.
While Paige and Gibson eventually got their due, for some inexplicable reason we seem to always forget about the accomplishments of Larry Doby.
“Who is Larry Doby?” is a question asked by many Americans.
Celebrated every year, April 15th represents that inaugural day in 1947, when Jackie Roosevelt Robinson slowly trotted out to his second base post at Ebbets Field and successfully broke the age-old color barrier in baseball.
Yet, there is no fanfare for July 5, 1947.
After Cleveland general manager Bill Veeck, signed the 24 year old to a big league contract that day, he entered the game in the seventh inning for the Indians. He became the first African-American player to suit up in the American League and second in the league overall.
The day began very much like Robinson’s first day on the job: With ignorance, blank stares and excommunication from teammates. “I walked down that line, stuck out my hand, and very few hands came back in return,” Doby admitted. “Most of the ones that did were cold-fish handshakes, along with a look that said, 'You don't belong here.'"
The next year he and new teammate Satchel Paige became the first black players to win a World Series championship, when the Indians defeated the Boston Braves in six games in 1948. Ricky Vaughn, Jake Taylor, and Roger Dorn must still be jealous, as this was the last time the Indians ever won “the whole @%!-ing thing.”
The next year, Doby embarked on a string of seven consecutive years as an American League All-Star (1949-1955), where his individual performance nearly percolated all the way to the top. In 1954, he slammed 32 home runs and 126 RBI’s only to finish second in the voting for American League MVP.
All throughout his career, as Robinson, he heard the smartass remarks from the peanut galley. He felt the racial zings that were propelled daily. And like Jackie, he became a stronger person for experiencing searing uneducated hate.
When playing opportunities dried up in the Major Leagues, Doby would have to look elsewhere for a chance to keep on keeping on. So in 1962, he debuted in the Japanese Nippon Professional league, as part of the Chunicki Dragons. Always fitting the bill of runner-up, he became the second African-American to play overseas in Japan, as teammate Don Newcombe joined the team a few weeks prior.
Only lasting a year overseas, Doby returned to life after baseball, which included hypothetically waiting for a call from Cooperstown. No, his stats probably weren’t enough to stack up to the greatest in the game, but they were comparable if not better than some, including Jackie Robinson.
In their careers, Doby had more runs, homeruns, and runs batted in than Robinson. In addition, he only trailed Robinson by three hits for his career.
Jackie was ceremoniously voted to the exclusive Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1962.
Doby kept waiting for that call.
After years of sitting idly in retirement, he once again re-entered the game in several coaching capacities before becoming a manager in 1978 for the Chicago White Sox. In an eerie coincidence, the general manger of Chicago was none other than Bill Veeck, who introduced him to the Majors 31 years earlier. Once again the Veeck/Doby connection had the word “second” attached to it, as Doby became the second black manager in MLB history.
His tour in Second City only lasted one year with 37-50 record.
In 1997, MLB retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 throughout baseball and it was to never be worn again. In an odd twist of fate, Doby threw out the first pitch for the Indians on opening day, which marked throughout baseball 50 years since Robinson stepped on that Brooklyn field.
The next year in 1998, he received that call he had been waiting for. At the tender age of 73, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans committee. His contribution to the game had finally been recognized in the highest regard.
No one is saying Jackie Robinson doesn’t deserve the historical accolades he garners. His courage, patience and willpower make him more than suiting to collect the admiration he does. But, the Buzz Aldrin of baseball barriers doesn’t get his due.
Do me a favor: Next time someone talks about the historical significance of Jackie Robinson, don’t forget to mention Larry Doby.
Both of these guys are second to none.
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