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Lawrence, you are going to be part of history.
Bill Veeck

Early Life

Lawrence Eugene Doby was born December 13, 1923, in Camden, South Carolina. His dad played semipro ball, and Doby followed suit. At 17, Doby joined the Newark Eagles, a Negro League team - he played under the name "Larry Walker" to protect his amateur status. Doby wasn't limited to breaking barriers in just one sport - he was also the first black to play in the American Basketball League in 1943. After he led the Eagles to the Negro World Championship, Doby was drafted into the U.S. Navy, spending his military years on the East Coast. When he got out, he went straight back to baseball.

Coming up through the minor leagues, Larry played second base, but he didn't really expect to play in the big leagues. Doby had never even heard of Jackie Robinson when the other star second baseman was signed to play with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Once the barrier was broken, talent became a major factor. And Doby had talent to spare, so much so that he was signed to the Cleveland Indians 11 weeks later in the fall of 1947.

Baseball

Larry Doby had one hell of a tough baseball life. He was ignored by the press, taunted by fans, and shunned by his teammates. Willie Mays once told a reporter, "Jackie had Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca; ole Larry didn't have anybody." Larry had to eat in separate restaurants and sleep in different hotels than his teammates. None of this seemed to bother Larry: he took it all in stride, the quiet determined hero in a sea of troubles. After a poor rookie half-season, Doby rebounded to bat .301 in 1948 and led the Indians to their last World Series. By now he had shifted to centerfield, where he spent the rest of his major league career. In 1949, Doby smacked 24 home runs, good for third and the league and a spot on the All-Star team. For the next 6 years, Doby would make the All-Star Team, including his banner year in 1954, when he led the league in home runs and RBIs and finished second in MVP voting. In the field, Doby was dangerous - though not blessed with tremendous speed, he had an extremely powerful arm, and frequently turned doubles into singles and runs into outs.

In May of 1955, Larry Doby hit a 500 foot home run over the wall's of old Kansas City Stadium! Despite another All-Star seasons, Doby was traded in October to the Chicago White Sox, where he had two more quality seasons before being sent back to the Indians for a brief stint in 1958. By now his knees were going on him, and when he broke his ankle midway through June of 1959 while with the Detroit Tigers, Doby hung up his cleats for good. Or, at least, until another chance to be first came along.

After Baseball

In 1962, he and Don Newcombe, the retired Los Angeles Dodgers ace, were lured to play for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League. Doby agreed and along with Newcombe became the first Major Leaguers to play in Japan. Although Doby struggled and hit only .225, he continued to pave the way for black athletes in professional sports. Continuing this trend, Doby returned to his basketball roots, becoming the community relations director for the New Jersey Nets in 1971. He kept this job for 7 years, until he was offered a chance to skipper his old team, the White Sox. The 1978 White Sox were six below .500 when Doby came in, and he could fare no better, acquiring a 37-50 record to finish the season. He was summarily fired at the end of the season, and returned to the Nets' PR department.

July 3, 1994 marked a very special day for Larry Doby, when his number 14 was retired by the Cleveland Indians, 47 years after he had broken the AL color line. 4 years later, he earned an even greater honor when he was elected into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, passed away June 18, 2003 after a long illness at the age of 79.

Part of history? I had no notions about that. I just wanted to play baseball.

Career Statistics

YEAR   TEAM    G   AB    R    H  2B 3B  HR RBI SB CS  BB   SO   BA
1947 CLE AL   29   32    3    5   1  0   0   2  0  0   1   11 .156
1948 CLE AL  121  439   83  132  23  9  14  66  9  9  54   77 .301
1949 CLE AL  147  547  106  153  25  3  24  85 10  9  91   90 .280
1950 CLE AL  142  503  110  164  25  5  25 102  8  6  98   71 .326
1951 CLE AL  134  447   84  132  27  5  20  69  4  1 101   81 .295
1952 CLE AL  140  519  104  143  26  8  32 104  5  2  90  111 .276
1953 CLE AL  149  513   92  135  18  5  29 102  3  2  96  121 .263
1954 CLE AL  153  577   94  157  18  4  32 126  3  1  85   94 .272
1955 CLE AL  131  491   91  143  17  5  26  75  2  0  61  100 .291
1956 CHW AL  140  504   89  135  22  3  24 102  0  1 102  105 .268
1957 CHW AL  119  416   57  120  27  2  14  79  2  3  56   79 .288
1958 CLE AL   89  247   41   70  10  1  13  45  0  2  26   49 .283
1959 DET AL   18   55    5   12   3  1   0   4  0  0   8    9 .218
     CHW AL   21   58    1   14   1  1   0   9  1  0   2   13 .241
CAREER      1533 5348  960 1515 243 52 253 970 47 36 871 1011 .283
* Bold denotes led league.

Sources

  • http://www.baseball-reference.com/d/dobyla01.shtml
  • http://www.msnbc.com/news/928547.asp?0cm=c20
  • http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/D/Doby_Larry.stm
For further reading, try Joseph Thomas Moore's Pride Against Prejudice: The Biography of Larry Doby.

Hall of Fame Index
Joe DiMaggio | Bobby Doerr

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