Eighty-one days after Jackie Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, Larry Doby played his first game with the Cleveland Indians.
Both the National and American League were now integrated, and Doby’s accomplishments on and off the field are every bit as deserving of recognition as Robinson’s.
According to MLB historian and author Anthony Castrovince, Doby had headed home after his Negro League team, the Newark [New Jersey] Eagles, had complete a series against the Philadelphia Stars in Wilmington, Delaware.
He got home at 5:30 a.m., and 90 minutes later, Doby’s phone rang. It was Eagles owner Effa Manley.
“Larry, you have been bought by the Cleveland Indians of the American League and you are to join the team in Chicago on Sunday,” she said. This was on July 3, 1947.
Doby played the first game of a doubleheader on July 4 before boarding a train and heading to Chicago where Indians were facing the White Sox. He arrived on Sunday, July 5
A footnote in history is a man named Louis Jones. Cleveland owner Bill Veeck had hired Jones to determine scout Doby in the Negro Leagues and determine if he was ready for the pressure, racism, and grind of becoming the American League’s first Black player.
Jones endorsed Doby wholeheartedly and met him at a Chicago train station the morning of July 5. A taxi took them to the Congress Hotel where he met Cleveland owner Bill Veeck for the first time. [Doby was not allowed to stay there once he joined the Indians. He had to lodge at the DuSable Hotel, which welcomed Black patrons.]
Veeck was unlike most of his fellow owners. He felt there was a place for Black players in Major League Baseball, and he shared his thoughts with owners and reporters.
Later that day, Doby took the field for the Indians.
In 29 games with the Indians in 1947, Doby looked like anything but a future hall of Fame member. He hit just .156 with no home runs and two runs batted in.
Veeck was obviously convinced he could play, and there was no talk of returning him to Newark.
In 1948, Doby posted a .301 average, 14 homers, 66 Runs Batted In, 23 doubles and nine triples Cleveland won its first AL pennant in 28 years and faced the Boston Braves in the World Series.
Doby was 7-for-22 in the series and belted the game-winning home run in Game 4. The Indians’ sweep of the Braves remains the franchise’s last World Series title.
In 1952, his 32 home runs, 104 runs scored, and .541 slugging percentage all led he American League.
Two seasons later, Doby should have won the AL Most Valuable Player Award. He hit 32 home runs and drove in 136 rums, which both led the AL. He also batted .291, was a stellar centerfielder and the Indians won 111 games.
Doby would finish second to New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in MVP voting, in part because three of his teammates also garnered MVP votes. The split vote benefitted Berra – as did his skin color most likely.
Berra, a St. Louis native, and Doby had become friends in 1947 and remained close throughout their lives.
Doby would go on to play in nine All-Star Games and closed his 17-year career with a .288 batting average, 273 home runs, and 1,099 RBIs.
He did not leave baseball after his playing career ended. He became a scout, minor league instructor, and batting coach for the for the expansion Montreal Expos.
He managed winter league baseball in Venezuela for five seasons and returned to the Indians in 1974 as first base coach. He became baseball’s second Black manager when he was hired by the White Sox in 1977.
Frank Robinson was the game’s first Black manager after taking over the Indians in 1975.
Doby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July 1998 by the Veteran’s Committee.
His acceptance speech drew several standing ovations, including when he said, “You know, it’s a very tough thing to look back about things that were probably negative.”
“You put those things on the back burner. You are proud and happy that you’ve been a part of integrating baseball to show people that we can live together, we can work together, and we can be successful together.”
Larry Doby was MLB’s second Black player and second Black manager. When it comes to baseball history, he is second to none.