How many people remember the second man to walk on the moon?
We’re conditioned to remember who did something first. First is always notable, either in success or failure.
Those who come second can be remarkable in their own right. Their achievement can be just as historic.
But too often, their greatness remains forever obscured by the ones who came first.
Larry Doby is one of those people.
He is sometimes overlooked – but the courage Larry Doby showed in breaking the color barrier in the American League cannot be overstated.
— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) July 5, 2021
There was no celebration on Monday for Doby, who made his debut in the major leagues on July 5, 1947; just weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the modern color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Doby integrated the American League with the Cleveland Indians. Signed by legendary owner Bill Veeck, who initially proposed integrating baseball in 1942, Doby played his final game for the Negro League’s Newark Eagles on July 4 before joining his teammates in Chicago for a series with the White Sox.
Faced Same Bigoted Abuse As Jackie Robinson
His trials were no less harsh than Robinson’s. Larry Doby was shunned by his own teammates, required constant security, and remained segregated from the rest of his team on the road. He only started one game during his rookie year, getting just 29 at-bats in 33 games.
In a 1978 interview with Jet magazine, Doby said “Jackie got all the publicity for putting up with [racial abuse], but it was the same thing I had to deal with. He was first, but the crap I took was just as bad. Nobody said, ‘We’re gonna be nice to the second Black.’”
The Power Of Black Baseball
What Doby did have, was the support of his community. During that first weekend series in Chicago, Black fans flooded Comiskey Park. Estimates from that time suggested that roughly 30 percent of the crowd was Black, as they came in droves from their homes and churches to witness for themselves the same history that fans in the National League had been watching with Robinson.
That had to carry him through the frustration of leaving the Negro Leagues, where he had been an All-Star and a champion, to being a utility infielder who wasn’t being utilized.
Jackie Robinson was given the benefit of a minor league spring training and an organization that had a plan for his career. Doby, at 24-years-old, was alone in a world that used him as an example to prove that Blacks weren’t capable of competing on the field with their white counterparts.
Moved to the outfield in 1948, Doby rediscovered his game in a major way. The Indians won the World Series and Doby was a major factor, batting .301 with 14 home runs and 66 RBI. He led Cleveland with a .318 average in the series.
In just one year, the Indians had proven that an integrated team could win a championship. Furthermore, Doby proved that he just needed the opportunity. He paved the way for Negro League legend Satchel Paige, who joined the Indians late in that 1948 season and at the alleged age of 41 went 6-1 with a 2.48 earned run average over 21 games.
Between 1948 and 1955, Larry Doby was one of the best players in all of baseball. He made the All-Star team in seven consecutive seasons, and finished in the top 10 of the AL MVP balloting twice (1950, 1954).
As a result, the Indians were one of the best teams for most of the decade, winning the pennant again in 1954 before losing the World Series in four games. That season he became the first Black player to hit a home run in the All-Star game, as the American League won 11-9.
Perennial All-Star Despite Daily Racism
His eight-year average stat line boasted a .287 batting average, 25 home runs, 91 runs batted in, 96 runs scored, and 84 walks. In 2019, only Cody Bellinger and Mike Trout produced that same level of across-the-board excellence.
Injuries led to a premature end of Doby’s prime. And like many Black athletes at the time, the end of his tenure was greeted with disdain rather than respect. He was labeled as “sullen” and “surly,” though he was the one who endured racism on a daily basis from society, the fans, and his own teammates.
After a solid 1956 season with the same White Sox he debuted against, Larry Doby was unable to be an everyday player, and he retired in 1959.
A decade later Doby went to work as a scout and was the first base coach for the Indians in 1974 with hopes of becoming a manager. However, it was Frank Robinson whom Cleveland selected to be MLB’s first Black manager.
Though passed over, he would return to Cleveland two years later as batting coach under Robinson.
Second Black Manager In Baseball
Finally, on June 30, 1978, Larry Doby would get his chance as manager of the Indians, becoming the second Black manager in baseball history. After going 37-50 under his leadership, Cleveland decided to return Doby to his previous role.
He never got a second chance at managing and retired from baseball for good in 1979.
It isn’t right that Doby’s story has been pushed aside. There’s no room for him in baseball’s chosen history.
Doby was ignored when baseball celebrated the retirement of Robinson’s number 42 across MLB. He wasn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame until the Veteran’s Committee selected him in 1998, nearly 30 years after his last game. And though he was the first to do so, he was the last of the only four players to compete in both a Negro League and Major League World Series.
Larry Doby was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral, and his achievements were effectively buried alongside the icon.
Though his number 14 has been retired in Cleveland, his story largely remains untold.
It’s our job and our responsibility to keep the name and career of Larry Doby alive. While his societal impact may not approach that of Robinson, his place in the game should be just as secure.
Baseball Nation Should Celebrate Larry Doby Day
Larry Doby was a hero.
Larry Doby is a hero.
Let’s remember that together next July 5.