Larry Doby: The Second Player Across Baseball’s Color Line

By Michael LeCompte

A sometimes unfortunate aspect of history is that the second person to do something is often forgotten. Eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League baseball, Larry Doby joined the Cleveland Indians.

Although largely overlooked in 1947 as the national media followed the trials and feats of Robinson with the Dodgers in the National League, Doby was the first black player in the American League.

Larry Doby was born in Camden, South Carolina in 1923 and grew up in New Jersey. Like Robinson, Doby was also a three sport star in high school. According to teammates and coaches he had professional level talent in football and baseball.

However, Doby initially harbored professional aspirations of a different kind. Hoping to follow the example of an influential high school coach, he planned to go to college, with the ultimate goal of becoming a P.E. teacher.

His prowess on the baseball diamond, though, got him noticed by a gentleman in his neighborhood who happened to serve as a Negro League umpire. In 1942 the umpire managed to get him a tryout with the Newark Eagles. Doby made the team and played in Newark for four seasons, winning one Negro League Championship.

In 1947 Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians and originator of the outlandish sports promotion, signed Doby. The signing was no joke, though, and coming eleven weeks after Robinson’s debut, showed the league that the color barrier was indeed broken forever.

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Over a thirteen year Major League career Doby hit .283 with 253 homers. In 1,553 games he had 1,515 hits. He was a  seven time all-star and the first man to play in both the Negro League Championship and the World Series (where he became the first black player to homer in a World Series game).

Although he endured many of the same racial slurs and slants as Robinson and despite a Hall of Fame career, Doby was often overlooked. As his Indians teammate Bob Feller once remarked, “he was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was the second African-American in the majors behind Jackie Robinson.”

In 1978 Doby became just the second black manager in Major League history when Bill Veeck, the man who had brought him into the league as a player, hired him to manage the Chicago White Sox.

Unfortunately Veeck would end up firing him before the end of his first full season as manager and Doby never got another opportunity to coach at the big league level. Doby served in various executive and ambassador positions in baseball until his death in 2003.

Larry Doby, the second African-American in the Major Leagues and a first rate talent.

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