Jackie Robinson rightfully has his place as one of the icons of our national pastime, but Larry Doby is also an important pioneer who deserves significant recognition as well. Doby was the first African American ballplayer in the American League and the second after Jackie Robinson in Major League Baseball. And like Robinson, Doby proved to be an incredible ballplayer along with being a great person. His accomplishments were recognized in 1998 when he was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Cleveland Indians by their owner Bill Veeck signed Doby in 1947, eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Doby was a part of two incredible Indians teams. The Indians won the World Series in 1948 against the the Boston Braves. Then the Indians won a staggering 111 games and the American League pennant in 1954. Unfortunately they were swept by Willie Mays and the New York Giants after Willie’s iconic over-the-shoulder catch in Game One of that series. For obvious reasons, Doby remains a revered figure in Cleveland. Bill Veeck also deserves credit for his bold move. The video above offers a nice retrospective even if the narrator totally mangles the pronunciation of Veeck’s name.
Doby endured many of the same hardship endured by Robinson when he entered the league. But he also had the character to handle all of the adversity. In the end, his play on the field became the focus of his career. Doby hit .283 for his career and he slugged 253 home runs and drove on 970 runs in a career that spanned 1,533 games. He led the American League in dingers twice with 32 in 1952 and 1954m and he had a streak of at least 20 homers in each season from 1949–56.
Doby had some other interesting milestones as well. He was the third American to play professional baseball in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. And, in another interesting twist, he was also the second black manager in the major leagues after Frank Robinson got the Cleveland job. It was the legendary Bill Veeck who also made this move, hiring Doby to manage the Chicago White Sox.
It’s a shame that sometimes Doby’s accomplishments are overshadowed by Jackie Robinson, but true baseball fans are very aware of what this man did for the game.