Doby, Lawrence Eugene Sr. 1924–
Lawrence Eugene Doby, Sr. 1924–
Professional baseball player
Breaking the color barrier 50 years ago, in 1947, Larry Doby became the first black baseball player in the American League when he joined the Cleveland Indians. In an interview with New York Times reporter George Vecsey, baseball player Willie Mays emphasized, “Don’t forget Larry Doby. Larry came right after Jackie [Robinson] .... From what I hear, Jackie had Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca, but Larry didn’t have anybody.” There was no fanfare either. In 1947, Doby was also the first black to play in the American Basketball League.
Son of a semi-pro baseball player who died when Doby was eight, he grew up in Camden, South Carolina, moving to Paterson, New Jersey in his teens. At Eastside High School, as the only black player on the team, he lettered in baseball, football, and basketball. He also lettered in track. In 1942, as a 17-year-old, Doby joined the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League, playing second base under the name of Larry Walker to protect his amateur standing. Former shortstop Willie Wells was the manager. Wells told him, Doby informed New York Times reporter Dave Anderson in 1997, “You’re here because you can play. Don’t let anybody intimidate you because of your age.” His first professional baseball game was played at Yankee Stadium.
At the end of the season, the talented Doby signed a contract with the Paterson Panthers of the American Basketball League. The next two years were spent in the U. S. Navy, but he returned to the Eagles, leading them to a Negro National League pennant and World Series championship win over the Kansas City Monarchs. Doby’s batting average, .415, and home runs, with 14, were at the top of the league in his final season.
Two years later Doby would again be playing on a winning World Series team, this time in the major leagues. Bill Veeck purchased the 22-year-old second baseman from the Eagles. Doby recalled, according to Ira Berkow in the New York Times, that when Veeck signed him he said, “’Lawrence,’—he’s the only person who called me Lawrence—’you are going to be part of history.’ Part of history? I had no notions about that. I just
At a Glance…
Born Lawrence Eugene Doby, Sr., December 13, 1924, in Camden, SC; married Helyn Curvey; children: Chris, Leslie, Larry, Jr., Kim, Susan; Education: Long Island University; New York University; Virginia Union University.
Second baseman, played under the name Larry Walker, Newark Eagles, 1942; under his own name, Newark Eagles, 1943-44; U.S. Navy, 1944-45; Newark Eagles, 1946-47; center fielder, Cleveland Indians, 1947-55; played with the Paterson Panthers, American Basketball League, 1947; coach, Chicago White Sox, 1956-57 and manager, 1978; coach, Montreal Expos, 1971-73; coach, Cleveland Indians, 1974; coach, Montreal Expos, 1976; director of community relations, New jersey Nets, 1977, 1980-89; licensing department, Major League Baseball Properties, 1990-.
Awards: Negro World Series championship, 1946; first black in the American League, 1947; first black in the American Basketball League, 1947; played in two World Series, 1948, 1954; member of the World Series Champion Cleveland Indians, 1948; played in six consecutive All Star Games, 1949-54; center fielder, Man of the Year, Baseball Writers Association of Sporting News, 1950; elected to Cleveland Hall of Fame, 1955; National Black Sports Hall of Fame, 1973; Baseball Hall of Fame, 1977; led the American League in slugging, 1962; batted 542; honorary doctorate, Montclair State University; honorary doctorates, Princeton and Fairfield Universities, 1997; honored by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, 1997; honored at the All-Star game in Cleveland, 1997.
Addresses: Office —Major League Baseball Properties, 350 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022.
wanted to play baseball. I mean, I was young. I didn’t quite realize then what all this meant. I saw it simply as an opportunity to get ahead.”
Doby continued his recollection, “When Mr. Veeck signed me, he sat me down and told me some of the do’s and don’ts. ‘No arguing with umpires, don’t even turn around at a bad call at the plate, and no dissertations with opposing players; either of those might start a race riot. No associating with female Caucasians’—not that I was going to. And he said remember to act in a way that you know people are watching you. And this was something that both Jack [Robinson] and I took seriously. We knew that if we didn’t succeed, it might hinder opportunities for the other Afro-Americans.”
Doby remembers his first day with the Cleveland Indians on a Saturday, July 5, 1947 at Comisky Park in Chicago. When player-manager Lou Boudreau took him into the visiting team locker room, some of the players shook his hand, but most did not. Doby did not realize then what the next 13 years would entail: that he would be segregated even during spring training for ten of those years; that he would eat in a separate restaurant and sleep in a separate hotel; that day after day he would be called “coon,” “jigaboo,” or the “N-word;” and that he would be spit in his face when he slid into second base. Lou Brissie, a pitcher for the Philadelphia A’s in 1947, recalled in an interview with Berkow, “I was on the bench and heard some of my teammates shouting things at Larry, like, ’Porter, carry my bags,’ or ’Shoe-shine boy, shine my shoes,’ and well, the N-word, too. It was terrible.”
The next 15 months, until Satchel Paige became his roommate, Doby would be lonely, especially after games. He told Berkow, “It’s then you’d really like to be with your teammates, win or lose, and go over the game. But I’d go off to my hotel in the black part of town, and they’d go off to their hotel.”
Doby’s talent at least garnered fans—due to his speed and skill as a center fielder and to his hard-hitting runs. In 1948, his home run won the fourth game of the World Series. After the series, in his home town of Paterson, the citizens, black and white, paraded him to the steps of his former high school. In 1949, his five-hundred-foot ball cleared the bleachers at Washington’s Griffith Stadium and landed on the roof of a house. An irate mother called the Senators’ front office and complained, “You’ll have to stop it. Someone from your stadium just threw a ball onto our house and woke up my children, and now I can’t get them back to sleep.”
Doby was the league leader a number of times. In 1952 he led in runs, and in 1951 and 1954 he led in home runs and runs batted in. He became the first black player to hit a home run in a World Series. He made six straight All-Star teams. On the 1949 team, he played along with three other distinguished men: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe. In 1950, he and ”Luscious” Luke Easter gave Cleveland the most powerful black duo in baseball. Doby’s 13-year career average was .283. Out of the 1,533 games he played, he hit 253 home runs.
In 1955, Doby played his last game with the Indians, played briefly with San Diego in the Pacific Coast League, and in Japan before taking a two-year-coaching position with the Chicago White Sox. In 1968, after a hiatus of eight years during which he sold insurance and worked at other vocations, Doby joined the Montreal baseball organization in Canada. Doby expressed to a New York Times reporter, “I went crazy. If I get up at 6 a.m. to go to an office, I hate it. I can get up at six for baseball, and love it.” In 1971, he coached first the Montreal Expos, then the Cleveland Indians, before returning to the Expos.
Doby became director of community relations for the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association in 1977. The late commissioner Bart Giamatti insisted it was wrong that such a pioneer could only find work in the front office of the Nets. Doby was offered a position with the Major League Baseball Properties in 1979 where he remains to this day, handling the licensing of former players and advising Gene Budig, the American League president.
Doby has not gotten the recognition that Jackie Robinson has over the years, yet he has never been bitter, preferring to keep a low profile. When he shared his history with students in Northfield, Minnesota during a Carleton College program founded by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, Doby stated, “If we all look back, we can see that baseball helped make this a better country for us all, a more comfortable country for us all, especially for those of us who have grands and great-grands. Kids are our future and we hope baseball has given them some idea of what it is to live together and how we can get along, whether you be black or white.”
Despite never connecting himself to political or social issues, Doby has committed to kids. During the time he worked as the director of community relations for the New Jersey Nets in the eighties, Doby involved himself in a number of inner-city youth programs. In 1997, Harvey Araton in the New York Times quoted Aubray Lewis as saying, “He [Doby] is more than a role model. He is an American hero.” Lewis was the dinner chairman for a $500-a-plate sports memorabilia dinner and auction benefiting Project Pride, a Newark college preparatory and scholarship organization that Doby, a volunteer board member, has served with for more than nine years.
Some recognition for Doby finally came with the creation of a National Black Sports Hall of Fame in 1973. He was one of 38 athletes chosen that year by the editors of Black Sports magazine In 1997, New Jersey Representative William Pascrell suggested naming the main post office in Paterson after Doby. That same year, Princeton and Fairfield Universities bestowed honorary doctorates on Doby. When Montclair State University, a baseball throw from Doby’s home, decided the new baseball stadium would be christened Yogi Berra Stadium, New York Times reporter Araton submitted that the name, Berra-Doby Field, would better represent the community. In 1997, Doby was honored at an Indians game, and on July 8, at the All-Star game in Cleveland, almost 50 years to the day of his start in the majors.
Former teammate Lou Brissie gave Knight-Ridder Newspapers reporter Bill Robinson a summation of Doby that has been echoed by many others, “He had dignity. He had talent. He gave forth his effort anytime he walked out there. That is the ultimate in professionalism.” Brissie added, “Larry, in my mind, deserves whatever honor that baseball can give him. He earned it.”
Moffi, Larry and Jonathan Kronstadt, Crossing the Line: Black Major Leaguers, 1947-1959, McFar-land & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1994.
Reichler, Joseph L. and Ken Samelson, The Great All-Time Baseball Record Book, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993.
Riley, James A., The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Knight-Ridder Newspapers, April 16, 1997, p. C3.
New York Times, February 23, 1997, sec. l, p. 1, sec. 8, p. 6; April 27, 1997, sec. 8, p. 7; May 2, 1997, sec. B, p. 9; May 19, 1997, sec. B, p. 4; May 23, 1997, sec. 8, p. 3; June 4, 1997, sec. B, p. 5; June 27, 1997, sec. B, p. 11.
New York Times Biographical Edition, September 30, 1974, p. 1238.
Amore, Don. “Larry Doby: Bearing the burden, too.” Hartford Courant, April 15, 1997, http://news.courant.com/special/jackie/doby.stm (August 18, 1997).
Associated Press, “Doby makes life better for city kids.” Amarillo Globe-News, July 7, 1997, http://www.amarillonet.com/stories/070997/doby.html (August 19, 1997).
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