Celebrating Black History in Baseball: Larry Doby
Jackie Robinson is the first player thought of when it comes to breaking the color barrier in baseball, and rightfully so. Robinson, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, opened the door for so many other great African-American stars to become a part of the MLB. The first to follow Robinson in to the league was outfielder Larry Doby, who signed with the Cleveland Indians and became the first black player in American League history.
Larry Doby played for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues from 1942 to 1947, missing the 1944 and 1945 seasons to serve his country as a part of the United States Navy in World War II. In 1947, Doby finally signed with the Indians. Along with his teammate, legendary Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige, Doby became one of the first black players to win the World Series when the Indians won in 1948. In his second full season on the field for the Indians (1949), Doby started a streak of seven straight seasons as a part of the AL All-star team.
Unfortunately, Doby’s career was cut short by severe back and ankle injuries. After nine seasons with the Indians, Doby spent the 1956 and 1957 seasons with the Chicago White Sox. He was back with the Indians in 1958, but only played half of the season. After 1959, spent partially with the White Sox and partially with the Detroit Tigers, Doby retired. Because of the relative brevity of his career, Doby only finished with 1515 hits, 970 RBI, and 253 home runs. However, he had eight straight seasons with 20+ home runs, and broke the 100 RBI mark five seasons. His career OPS was .876.
Larry Doby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veteran’s Committee. Aside from his offensive ability, Doby was forced to endure horrible racism during his time in the big leagues, and managed to be a remarkable player in spite of the bigotry that constantly surrounded him. Larry passed away in 2003 at the age of 79. Upon hearing of his passing, former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent said: “Larry’s role in history was recognized slowly and belatedly. Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line first but in the same year, quite naturally received most of the attention. Larry played out his career with dignity and then slid gracefully into various front-office positions in basketball and then later in baseball. Only in the 90′s did baseball wake up to the obvious fact that Larry was every bit as deserving of recognition as Jackie.” Doby is one of the real legends of the game and will always be missed by true baseball fans.