Larry Doby: The Forgotten Pioneer

Calvin W Boaz@Burrellfan1Correspondent IIJuly 6, 2009

8 Jul 1997:  Larry Doby throws the first pitch to start the All-Star Game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport

There is a huge difference between a historical fact and trivia knowledge. A historical fact is a piece of common knowledge and trivia knowledge is esoteric information people learn to show off to their friends.

Everyone knows George Washington was the first President of the United States. If you know that Martin Van Buren was the eighth President, Jeff Foxworthy needs to have your cell number.

In the sports world, Roger Bannister being the first person to break the four-minute mile is basic information. However, although John Landy was the second to do so, he is mostly confused for the rotund actor that starred in Uncle Buck.

Jackie Robinson has been revered and honored for years for being the first black player in the major leagues. Sadly, Larry Doby's status in baseball lore is reduced to simply being an answer to a trivia question of who was the first black in the American League.

Lawrence Eugene Dody, the son of David and Etta Doby, was born in Camden, SC in 1923. David Doby was a World War I veteran who worked in the horse industry as a groom. Mr. Doby played semi-pro baseball and was known as a tremendous hitter.

Unfortunately, Larry Doby didn't get a chance to learn much baseball from his father. He was out of town working most of the time, and he died when Doby was still quite young.

His mother was absent quite often in Doby's upbringing as well as she moved to Paterson, NJ while he stayed in Camden living his with grandmother at first and eventually with his aunt and uncle.

It was at the Mather Academy in Camden that Larry Doby first participated in organized baseball and other sports.

He learned the intricacies of the art of baseball from Richard DuBose, a well-known presence in African-American baseball in South Carolina for more than 25 years. DuBose had also coached Doby's father.

In 1938, Larry Doby graduated from the eighth grade and moved to Paterson. Despite the move, he lived with a friend of his mother and only saw his mother one day a week.

At Eastside High School, Larry Doby earned 11 varsity letters in baseball, basketball, football, and track. While still in high school, Doby played with semi-pro teams in both baseball and basketball.

Before Doby graduated from high school, he played in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles under the assumed name of Larry Walker since high school students were not allowed to play. He played his first pro game at Yankee Stadium.

After graduation, Larry Dody continued to play for the Eagles throughout the summer.

In September of 1942, Doby attended Long Island University on a basketball scholarship.  The situation was not to his liking so he transferred to Virginia Union.

In 1943, Larry Doby was drafted into the segregated Navy. For a time, he was stationed at Camp Robert Smalls in Great Lakes, IL where he was a physical education instructor.

Doby spent the last year of World War II on a coral reef in the Pacific unloading ships and organizing recreational activities for other servicemen.

After Larry Doby was discharged by the Navy in 1946, he returned to professional baseball. He spent the winter playing in Puerto Rico and then went back to the Newark Eagles to play second base.

For the Eagles in 1946, Doby batted a sparkling .348, and the Eagles won the Negro League World Series.

Doby batted a league leading .458 In the first half of the 1947 season.

On July 3, Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians and the only person to call Larry Doby "Lawrence", purchased Doby. Doby's first game playing for the Indians was on July 5. Larry Doby's only at-bat against the Chicago White Sox that day came as a pitch hitter, and he struck out swinging.

Despite later attempts to revise history, society's attitude toward blacks did not change much in the 11 weeks between Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Doby's first game with the Indians.

"The only difference [was] that Jackie Robinson got all of the publicity," Doby was quoted as stating according to Historicalbaseball.com. "You didn't hear much about what I was going through because the media didn't want to repeat the same story."

When Larry Doby first met his teammates, some of them would not shake Doby's hand.

On July 6, the Indians were scheduled to play a doubleheader against the White Sox, and the Indians' manager Lou Boudreau penciled Doby in at first base in the second game.

The problem was that Larry Doby didn't have the proper glove to play at first, and regular first baseman Eddie Robinson refused to give Doby his glove. Traveling secretary Spud Goldstein had to convince Robinson to lend him the glove and then Goldstein gave the mitt to Doby.

Fortunately for Larry Doby, a few of the Indians, such as Joe Gordon, Bob Lemon, Jim Hegan, and Steve Gromek befriended him.

Larry Doby only appeared in 29 games in 1947 and had just five hits in 32 at-bats.

In the winter following his first year in the majors, Doby became the first African-American player in the American Basketball League.

He signed with the Paterson Crescents on Dec. 30, 1947 and made his professional debut in January of 1948. Doby scored 15 points in eight games that season.

Having moved ton center field in 1948, Larry Doby began to blossom. He batted .301 with 14 home runs and 66 RBI.

Doby batted .396 over the last 20 games of the season to help the Cleveland Indians clinch the American League pennant. in the World Series, Doby batted a team-leading .318 .

In the fourth inning of the fourth game of the series, Larry Doby launched a 420-foot home run off of Boston Braves' pitcher Johnny Sain to propel the Indians to a 2-1 victory and a commanding three games to one lead in the World Series. Two games later, the Cleveland Indians won the World Series by shutting out the Braves on the road.

Finally, Doby beat Jackie Robinson to the punch. Larry Doby was the first black to hit a home run in a World Series game and the first to be on a championship team.

!n 1949, Larry Doby batted .280 with 24 home runs and 85 RBI. That year, Doby joined Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Roy Campanella as baseball's first black All-Stars.

Doby was selected to participate in seven straight All-Star games starting in 1949. In 1954, Batting as a pitch-hitter, Doby became the first African American in the American League to hit a home run in an All-Star game in 1954.

!n 1950, Sporting News named Larry Doby the best center fielder in baseball over the likes of Duke Snider and Joe DiMaggio.

Doby led the American League in home runs in 1952 and 1954 by hitting 32 in each season. Doby led the league with 126 RBI in 1954.

The Indians made it back to the World Series in 1964, but the New York Giants swept them to claim the championship.

Although Larry Doby made several errors when he first converted to a center fielder, Doby went 167 games without an error between 1954 and 1955.

Doby's last good season with the Cleveland Indians was in 1955 when he slugged 26 home runs and 75 RBI while batting .291.

After the 1955 season was over, Larry Doby was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Jim Busby and Chico Carrasquel. Doby had a solid year for the Sox batting .268 with 24 home runs and 102 RBI.

Injuries started to take their toll on Doby and he started to get traded quite often. Larry Doby ended up belonging to the Baltimore Orioles and never playing for them when the White Sox traded him to Baltimore on Dec. 3, 1957, and the Orioles turned around and sent Doby back to the Cleveland Indians on Apr. 1, 1958.

Larry Doby played his last season in the majors for the the Detroit Tigers and White Sox 1959. Doby's professional career in the United States ended when he broke his ankle playing with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League later that season.

Larry Doby finished his career with 1,515 hits, 253 home runs, 970 RBI, and a batting average of .283. Doby only had three fewer hits in his career than Jackie Robinson.

Doby played briefly in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons in 1962 and return to the states to coach with the White Sox, Indians, and Montreal Expos.

Larry Doby enjoyed coaching so much he dreamed about becoming the first black manager in baseball. He thought the Indians were going to hire him in 1975 but management selected Frank Robinson instead.

Again, Doby was stuck being second again.

!n 1978, Bill Veeck, who then owned the Chicago White Sox, fired Larry Doby's old friend and ex-teammate Bob Lemon and hired Doby to manage the team.

The team improved under Doby but was only 37-50 the remainder of the season. 

Bob Lemon became the fortunate one because after he was fired by the White Sox, the New York Yankees fired Billy Martin and hired him. As fate would have it, the Yankees won the World Series that year under Lemon.

Veeck did not retain Larry Doby for the 1979 season. Bill Veeck was hoping that the hiring of Doby would increase ticket sales but it didn't. Veeck decided that a white manager would do a better job of bringing back the White Sox fans, the majority of which were white.

Between 1980 and 1989, Larry Doby worked the New Jersey Nets of the NBA as a director of community relations. He worked for Major League Baseball Properties, handling the licensing of former players and being a special assistant to American League President Gene Budig from 1990 to 2003.

Larry Dolby finally began to receive the honors he greatly deserved later in his life. In 1994, the Cleveland Indians retired his No. 14.

The 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland was dedicated to Doby. He threw out the first pitch and was an honorary American League captain.

In 1998, Larry Doby received the honor all players dream about during their career. It was long overdue, but the Veterans Committee voted him into the Hall of Fame.

Even before his induction, Doby's health was being to fail. In 1997, Doby had his left kidney removed because of the presence of a cancerous tumor. In 2001, Doby began treatment for bone cancer, the same year his wife Helyn died of cancer.

On Dec. 18, 2003, Larry Doby finally succumbed to cancer at the age of 79.

The lack of honor and respect that Larry Doby has garnered during his career and after his death shows that racism is alive and well in baseball.

The media back in the '40s and '50s acted like it was a chore instead of a honor or duty to follow the trail of a black athlete breaking the color in baseball and in society.

Sportswriters just didn't think it was worth their trouble to cover another black athlete fighting for equality.

It was always apparent that the sportswriters were against Larry Doby. Although Doby finished second in MVP voting behind Yogi Berra in 1954, he also had strong seasons from 1950 to 1952. The best Doby could finish in MVP voting those years was eighth, and in 1951, Doby received no votes at all.

As disheartening as it sounds, Major League Baseball is treating Jackie Robinson like a token black. MLB has no issue celebrating the achievements of one African-American, but they behave like nobody should expect them to honor another for similar achievements.

Racism didn't end when Larry Doby started playing for the Cleveland Indians. For several seasons, Doby faced tougher obstacles than Jackie Robinson.

Larry Doby was younger than Robinson, and Robinson had almost a year and a half head start. Jackie Robinson had two winters and year in the International League in Montreal to prepare physically and mentally for the anguish and abuse he was about to face.

Larry Doby went directly from the Negro Leagues to the Indians with no time to think out a strategy.

It seems contradictory that when it comes to integration Major League Baseball is one league but in regards to everything else, it it two distinct leagues. Each league has it own rules and awards. A team from each league is represented in the World Series.

So why doesn't the American League honor its representative the same way the National League does?

The Cleveland Indians have already retired the No. 14. There is no reason for Major League Baseball not to mandate that every American League team retire the number like all teams retired the No. 42.

Bud Selig always kind words to describe Larry Doby, but he is all words and no action. Selig can fix this injustice but chooses to do nothing.

Major League Baseball should not forget the great contribution and sacrifice that both men made to baseball and to all society.

I also blame living African American ballplayers that played around the same time as Robinson and Doby. Most of these players are willing participants in celebrations of Robinson but don't take the opportunity to speak up against the injustice done to Larry Doby.

Perhaps one day, Major League Baseball will become colorblind, and we will see the No. 14 jersey on display at all American League stadiums.


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