October 1997

Larry Doby

Baseball Star

Larry Doby

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 1947, Doby was also the first black to play in the American Basketball League. Born in July 1924, Dolby was the 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. 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. 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 hometown 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. 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, he joined the Montreal baseball organization in Canada. 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 and 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. 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.