There is a great deal written on Larry Doby, one of the Cleveland Indians' all time greats, and many testimonials now being reported following his death which we cannot hope to replicate. We are always interested in what makes a great professional, though, so we have spent quite a bit of time researching what people and the statistics say about this man. We have learned there are several requirements to be a real professional: performance, attitude, and sacrifice, sometimes even hardship, even great hardship. Larry Doby was a consummate professional.
June 20, 2003
Larry Doby died on June 18, 2003 after a long battle with cancer. He won the battle and is now in a better place. He was believed to be 79.
Ben Walker, reporting for AP, said Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians American League20baseball team during Doby's days, told Doby this when he signed his first Major League Baseball contract with the Indians in 1947:
- “Lawrence, you are going to be part of history.”
Here's a brief summary of his performance on the ballfield:
- Played for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues. Playing second base, he teamed with Monte Irvin to form one of the most talented double-play combinations in Negro League history. One writer said, "When Doby was in your infield, the only thing that got through was the wind." He batted .341 in 1946, his final season, and led the Eagles to the league championship. That made him the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues straight to the majors, which he did in 1947.
- First black player in the American League, coming on board 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson became the first black player to enter Major League Baseball, in the National League. Sadly, much of the world gave Doby an undeserved back-seat to the more flamboyant and more widely accepted Jackie Robinson.
- Lifetime batting average was .283 with 253 home runs and 969 runs batted in over 13 years.
- Hit at least 20 home runs in eight consecutive seasons. Led the American League in home runs in 1952 and 1954, hitting 32 each season. Doby was the first black to win a home run title in the Majors. In 1954, he also led the league with 126 runs batted in (RBI). That made him the first black to win the RBI title in the American League.
- On October 9, 1948, his 410 foot home run proved the decisive run in World Series game number four agai nst the Boston Braves. The Indians won that one 2-1, which put the Indians in a 3-1 series lead. Doby was the first black player to hit a home run in a World Series.
- Played in six consecutive All-Star games from 1949-1954. In 1949, he, Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe became baseball's first black All-Stars.
- During the period 1947 – 1955, his team won two league pennants and a World Series, finishing second behind the famous New York Yankees four times.
- The Indians retired his number 14 in 1994, to the day 47 years after he signed his first contract with them.
- Elected to the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.
- Voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
- Interrupted his career to serve two years in the Navy.
- Became the second black man, behind Frank Robinson, to manage a major league team, the Chicago White Sox.
- After retiring, Doby coached and was in the front office while with the Indians, White Sox and Montreal. He later worked in the commissioner's office. Doby was director of community relations for the NBA's New Jersey20Nets in the late 1970s.
- There is a Larry Doby Rookie of the Year Award presented each year by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Jennings won it for the 2002 season.
- Received an honorary doctorate from Montclair State College in Montclair, New Jersey.
In his early days with the Indians, Doby had to eat in separate restaurants and sleep in separate hotels from his team mates, and some team mates refused to shake his hand when first introduced to the team.
Jerry Izenberg, writing for The Star Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, quoted Doby once telling him:
- "Now, I couldn't believe how this (cold treatment from the Indians team during his first year) was. I put on my uniform and I went out on the field to warm up, but nobody wanted to warm up with me. I had never been so alone in my life. I stood there alone in front of the dugout for five minutes. Then Joe Gordon, the second baseman who would become my friend, came up to me and asked, 'Hey, rookie, you gonna just stand there or do you want to throw a little?' I will never forget that man."
When Doby hit that game winning World Series homer in 1948, only his second season of play, the Indians were up against the tough Boston Braves ace Johnny Sain. The Indians came out of the chute and scored a run in the first inning. Then in the third Doby lashed a 410 foot homer to make it 2-0. It was not until the seventh inning that Boston's Marv Rickert also hit a homer off Cleveland's Steve Gromek, but it was not enough. Doby's third inning homer won the game and to this day it remains one of Cleveland’s most famous home runs. That home run was decisive and put the Indians in a 3-1 series lead. They ultimately won the series 4-2, their first World Series win since 1920.
Steve Gromek, shown here when he was with the Detroit Tigers, was the winning pitcher for the Indians in that game. He openly and publicly embraced Doby. A picture of Gromek leaping into Doby’s arms made all the front pages. Jerry Izenberg quoted Doby commenting about that event the day before being inducted into the Hall of Fame:
- “It was the first picture of a black and white man embracing at home plate. America needed that picture and I will always be proud that I could help give it to them.”
Getting back to Larry Doby, he was born in Camden, South Carolina, the son of a semi-pro baseball player who died when he was only eight. He then moved to Paterson, New Jersey. Doby was an all-state athlete in football, basketball and baseball at Paterson Eastside High School in New Jersey.
Not to be outdone, in November 2002, Camden honored him with four signs along highway U.S. 521 about 300 yards south of I-20. The first sign declares, "Birthplace of Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Doby."
So what can we conclude about Doby?
Paul Hoynes, writing for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, quoted Detroit’s owner Larry Dolan, who grew up in Cleveland, saying this:
- “His loss will be felt throughout baseball. He was the Jackie Robinson of the American League. Where Jackie broke the color barrier with all sorts of controversy in the National League, Larry did it silently and with dignity. I only met him a couple of times, but even in his mid-70s, he had a graciousness about him."
- “We can see that baseball helped make this a bet ter country. We hope baseball has given (children) some idea of what it is to live together and how you can get along, whether you be black or white..."
At these ceremonies, Larry Doby once again demonstrated what a professional he was. He told the audience:
- "I hope that this city and cities across the country will continue to work together to make this a better place for all of us. I think the most important thing, besides being involved i n your games, is teaching. Teach your friends, teach your fellow man what it is to love one another."
Know your Black history. Know Larry Doby.