Honoring Larry Doby

(Fox Sports via Hulton Archive)
The story of the great Larry Doby should be told a lot more than it is....

It's hard to fathom how two-and-a-half months can make such a difference in the collective legacy of two players. One of those players is honored on daily basis, nationally, for what he had to endure. The other, lives in the relative obscurity of the Cleveland Indians baseball history books. The former player is, of course, Jackie Robinson, and the latter is our very own Larry Doby.
It’s time for Major League Baseball to open up their eyes.
At 4:45 on Saturday, July 25th, the Great Larry Doby will be honored with a statue outside the right field gate at Progressive Field. Doby is the third such statue, coming after both Bob Feller (1994) and Jim Thome (2014) for their impact in the culture of what is today, Cleveland Indians baseball. 
Here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, you have to know that what Doby endured goes far beyond Cleveland, and equals the trials and tribulations of Jackie Robinson.
The Indians have long honored their own.
On April 15th, 2007, Major League Baseball honored the great Jackie Robinson on the 60th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier. The "Worldwide leader," ESPN, had a commercial commemorating Jackie Robinson Day during nearly every commercial, in an attempt to both promote one of the most influential moments in the history of baseball, as well as to garner some publicity as well. I'll get to that in a minute.
I'm not faulting ESPN for doing it, it is for a good cause. I'm just noting that Robinson, as the first African American born Major League baseball player, was the primary focus of both baseball, and their TV standard bearer during the early part of that 2007 season. Since then, players from nearly every team were allowed to wear the #42 in his honor on Jackie Robinson Day, even though it had been retired league-wide. The Los Angeles Dodgers ALL wore #42, and all players currently follow suit, if they're playing that day. If they aren't, they can do it the next available day in which the play.
To be clear, Jackie Robinson was a trailblazer.
Unfortunately, he wasn't the only trailblazer during that 1947 season.
For those of you to young to remember, the American League and the National League only played against each other during the All-Star game and the World Series. While interleague play is the norm now, it didn't start until 1997, 50 years after Robinson broke the color barrier in the Majors.
So technically, he only broke the color barrier in the National League. In the American League, it took nearly three more months for the same to occur.
68 years ago, on July 5, 1947, Larry Doby broke the American League color barrier. The problem? Major League baseball doesn't pay it the same credence as they do to the great Robinson.
Again, this isn't to take away anything from the career of #42. He was the first, and handled the weight of that with an incredible demeanor that has been talked about for years. Still, I can't quite figure out why the same honor isn't bestowed upon Doby, who went through the same trials and tribulations as did Robinson.
The Indians took a step to educate the baseball world when they paid tribute to Doby on Friday, August 10, 2007 against the New York Yankees. While the entire league, and nation, honored Jackie Robinson, Doby's special day was only held in one ballpark. Major League Baseball, in typical Bud Selig fashion, took over a month just to okay a proposal by the Indians to allow the entire team to wear his retired #14 during that game.
More than likely, Selig's staff had to look up who Doby actually was.
I want to preface the rest of this by saying that what Jackie Robinson did IS something that should be celebrated, and likely more than just one day. As we've seen from recent headlines across the country, there are still just as many racial barriers that haven't been crossed yet, as there were back then, and perhaps even more veiled today. It puts special meaning to the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Being the first black baseball player in the modern era, combined with the numbers that Robinson put up, certainly make him worthy of the honors bestowed upon him.
I'm just saying that the great Larry Doby deserves the same consideration, and for the same exact reasons. But ask yourself this question? While Robinson received as much press as you could get back during that 1947, what happened to Doby? I think we can accept that with coverage, Robinson's day-to-day life was difficult, to say the least. With cameras on him daily, he was still treated as though he weren't equal.
What would have happened without the cameras?
Ask Larry Doby, who was barely a footnote, even in his home newspapers to some extent.
When Branch Rickey signed Robinson in 1945, then brought him up to the bigs in 1947, he had planned for the event for many years. Rickey had a plan in place to not only make it easier for Robinson to be successful, but easier for him to avoid certain racial issues that could have come before him. No, I’m not saying that the path was easy for Robinson. That’s ridiculous. I am saying that Rickey was shrewd enough, and racially sensitive enough, to make sure that Robinson succeeded not only as a player, but as a person. He also picked the right person.
Doby didn’t have the benefit of that preparation.
Bill Veeck signed him on July 3, 1947, sat him down one day and told him not to react to fans and to umpires. Don’t do anything physical in retaliation unless it involves hitting a baseball. That was it. 
He played two days later.
Jackie Robinson had been hand-picked years before, signing with the Dodgers in October 1945, and played in the Dodgers minor league system OUTSIDE of the United States, in Montreal. After 1947, Robinson received ALL of the media attention, while Doby took the brunt of the same racial attacks, without ANY of the support or media attention that Robinson received. Doby was straight out of the Negro Leagues, and five years younger than the much more refined and prepped Jackie Robinson. 
Two guys seemingly in Doby’s corner were manager Lou Boudreau and second baseman Joe Gordan. From the mouth of Doby himself:
“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.”
Rickey made sure to align Robinson with the rest of the organization. Red Barber, the famed announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was told early on about Robinson, and admitted years later that he nearly quit, until he saw him play. Rickey made sure all the minor league managers and major league coaches saw him play, to see how talented he was. Coaches and managers aren’t stupid. If a kid can play, they aren’t going to care about his color. Robinson was a superstar at UCLA already, and was a world class athlete in several sports. During his days in the minors, Rickey even went so far as to help train Robinson in how to deal with potential racial issues.
Doby had 2 days.
How did Doby respond?
While he only played in 29 games that 1947 season, and was clearly a method to draw fans to the ballpark for famed owner Bill Veeck, both Doby's demeanor and performance in the following years provided an American League parallel to the much more renowned Robinson.
Doby became the first black ballplayer (along with Satchell Paige) to become a world champion, one year after becoming a pro, and in his first full Major League season. He hit a key home run that gave the Indians a 2-1 victory in Game 4 of that 1948 World Series, and a 3-1 series lead, becoming the first black player to hit a home run in a World Series game. He went to the All-Star game seven straight seasons, starting in 1949, joining Robinson and Don Newcombe as the first black ballplayers in a Major League All-Star game. He led the league in home runs twice, with 32 in 1952 (first time a black player led the Majors in that category) and again in 1954. In 1952, Doby led the league in runs scored with 104, and during the 1954 season he led the league with 126 RBI (also the first time a black player led the AL in RBI). In 1950, he led the league in OBP, and in 1952, he led the league in slugging.
Much like Robinson, the New York Yankees blocked the Indians from World Series acclaim, finishing second to the Yankees four times.
Off-the-field, things weren't easy for Doby. Veeck had hired an African American man (Louis Jones) to shadow Doby during the 1947 season, but according to Doby himself, "I would often return to my room by myself." Jones spent much of his time away from Doby, who was essentially isolated during that year by pure racist players, and other players who were afraid to piss of the racist players.
In 1948, his first season in Tuscon with the team during Spring Training, he wasn't permitted to stay with the team. He instead stayed in the home of the person who supplied the Indians hotel with towels.
Like Robinson, this drove Doby to be the best player on the field, at all times, and this included moving from second base to the outfield.  Veeck had also hired former Indians legend, Tris Speaker, to work with the outfielders, and surprisingly enough, Doby became his primary focus.
If you know anything of Speaker's past, it involved much more than just being the last player-manager (at the time) to win a World Championship in Cleveland, and a hall of fame career. It was rumored that Speaker was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and while I don't think that it's ever been proven, you'd think there'd be issues between the two men.
That wasn't further from the truth. Speaker spent arduous hours that spring honing Doby's craft, and while I don't think anyone will ever say that Doby was the best center fielder in the history of Cleveland, he was certainly really good.
Like Robinson, he was followed by racist chants and behavior, but perhaps my favorite story came during that spring of 1948. The Indians headed to Houston for a spring training game, and was met with voracious racist cat calls, and mind you, was still battling for a job. According to newspapers, "Doby hit the longest blast in the history of the stadium, landing some 500 feet from home plate." The fans that were jeering him, gave him a standing ovation, as did his teammates.
According to Doby, "I resented their cheers."
It drove him to a Hall of Fame career.
Doby retired in 1959, and he should have been a first ballot Hall of Famer, but wasn't. To go along with his seven all-star game appearances, he also received MVP votes three times, and finished second in 1954.
Irony would continue for Doby in 1978, when he became the second black manager for the Chicago White Sox. The first, of course, was Jackie Robinson, who managed the Indians in 1975. Who was the White Sox owner in 1978?
Bill Veeck.
The Indians have continued to honor the Doby over the years, including changing the name of Eagle Way next to Progressive Field to Larry Doby Way, in a ceremony in 2012. His number was retired by the Indians in 1994, and unbelievably, he wasn't elected to Cooperstown until 1998, almost 40-years after he retired himself. Just take a moment to let that sink in for a moment. Doby wasn't on the ballot for the first time until 1966, and was off the ballot after the 1967 season.
Robinson was elected in his first season of eligibility.
No, Larry Doby wasn’t Jackie Robinson, and while all the acclaim that went to Robinson is certainly deserved, being Larry Doby should be given it’s due, and not just in Cleveland.
It’s time for Major League Baseball to recognize BOTH Robinson and Doby.
Instead, as I peruse the front page of 'The Worldwide Leader,' there isn't a mention of Larry Doby's statue presentation, which will take place prior to today game. Doby's first team, the Indians, play against his second team, the Chicago White Sox, but that clearly isn't newsworthy enough for the most viewed sports channel to make it a primary focus. Instead, ESPN has chosen to give headlines to Colin Cowherd, who was dismissed from his job on July 24th after twice discussing how baseball players from the Dominican Republic aren't very smart overall.
He even brought stats.
There is also yet another headline, in which ESPN shares that Hulk Hogan, a pretend wrestler, has been fired from his job for a racist laden tirade on a sex tape.
You can't make this stuff up.
But props ESPN. If you click the MLB page and scroll down just past the halfway point, you can find a fantastic 200-or-so-word piece on Doby's statue unveiling. It just goes to show you that when you call yourself the worldwide leader, it doesn't always make it so.\
But we, in Cleveland, can appreciate the irony.
While Doby remains an afterthought to much of the professional baseball world, in Cleveland, he remains a hero. Yes, Jim Thome received a statue before Doby, but the outcry after was enough to let Indians fans and brass know the importance that Doby has played in not only the history of the game and the Indians, but in the city as well.
Doby is revered, not only for being an amazing player (and he really was), but for being an amazing man.
Today, the Cleveland Indians honor Doby with more immortality. His statue will pave the way for travelers into Progressive Field for years to come, and it's long overdue.
Now it's time for Major League baseball to honor Doby in the same manner. Retire #14, and on July 5th, give the second African American, and FIRST in the American League his yearly day in the sun as well.
Until then, Doby will remain a Cleveland treasure, hopefully honored by all of those that pass through the gates and past his statue. And while the universal legacy of being the first will always go to Jackie Robinson, in Cleveland, we know that second, isn't always last.
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