Let us note, here, on the day after Jackie Robinson Day, that there were two men who integrated major league baseball in 1947 — Jackie Robinson in the National League, and Larry Doby in the American League.
Larry has always gotten much less attention than Jackie – no doubt that comes partly from being number two, and perhaps also from playing in Cleveland rather than in Brooklyn. Perhaps too, the fact that Larry did not play a lot in his first year made a difference. Larry played second base for the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, but when he was signed by Cleveland they had Joe Gordon at second, and Lou Boudreau at shortstop, and Ken Keltner at third. Hence, Larry played in only 29 games that first season, with only 32 at bats. In 1948 Larry established himself in the outfield, a new position for him, and hit .301 with 14 home runs and 66 rbi, and Cleveland won the pennant and the World Series over the Boston Braves, four games to two. Out of that series came the well known photo of Doby celebrating the win in game three with pitcher Steve Gromek.
I found a biography of Larry Doby, Pride Against Prejudice, by Joseph Thomas Moore, and it was an interesting read; before that I knew very little about Larry Doby.
While Branch Rickey went about the signing of Jackie Robinson with a good deal of planning and forethought, Bill Veeck, who signed Larry for the Cleveland club, seemed to be less aware of the situation. Veeck had talked about signing blacks to play in the major leagues for some time, and in fact had plans and financing arranged to purchase and integrate the Phillies club in 1942. That plan, though, was derailed by then Commissioner Landis, who saw to it that the club was sold to the National League, instead of to Veeck.
In 1946, though, Veeck became owner and President of the Cleveland club, and in 1947 he signed Larry Doby, integrating the American League. Moore’s book points out how important Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau was to the success of Larry Doby, but also relates how Doby still needed to contend with the pervasive racism in America, often on his own. Doby often could not stay in the same hotels as the rest of the team, for example, and the Cleveland organization just looked the other way. As late as 1958, Doby was forced to have separate accommodations from the rest of the team due to segregated hotels.
Larry played 13 seasons, seven times was an all-star, led the AL in homers twice and rbi once, and helped the Clevelanders go to two World Series. In 1955 he set a record by playing in 158 consecutive errorless games in the outfield. He was one of the first American ball players to play baseball in Japan, was a widely respected hitting coach in the minors and the majors, and was the second black manager in major league baseball, when he took over the helm of the White Sox in 1978. He finished his playing career with a lifetime batting average of .283, with 253 home runs and 970 rbi.
Larry’s first game for Cleveland came on July 5th, 1947, two and a half months after Jackie Robinson opened the season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But today almost all you hear about is the courage of Jackie Robinson. There was the recent move, 42, and Jackie’s number is deservedly retired by Major League Baseball. Every April 15th, the major leagues celebrate Jackie Robinson Day. Certainly all this is well deserved and worthy of remembering. I do think, though, that it’s high time we also gave Larry Doby his due. Major League Baseball should retire his number as well, and July 5th, they day he made his American League debut, would be a fine choice for Larry Doby day. Let’s remember the courage, the class, and the baseball ability of Larry Doby.