Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League. He played his first game in the Major Leagues on July 5, 1947 for the Cleveland Indians. Doby has unfortunately not received nearly enough attention for his accomplishments. He faced just as much abuse and hatred as Jackie Robinson, and yet he is often not mentioned with Robinson in helping to permanently integrate Major League Baseball.
Doby, unlike Robinson, was a veteran of professional baseball before playing in Major League Baseball. He played 5 seasons with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League (1942-1947). He missed all of the 1945 season while serving in the Navy during World War II. Like nearly every player from the Negro Leagues, Doby’s statistics are incomplete. The numbers were do have are impressive. In his time with the Eagles, we know he had 351 PA, 329 AB, 100 hits, 62 runs, 12 doubles, 9 triples, 8 home runs, 60 RBI, 8 stolen bases, 19 walks, .304 BA, .342 OBP, .468 SLG, .810 OPS. Excellent numbers, even if they are only a glimpse into the type of player Doby was in his late teens and early twenties.
Less than two years after becoming the principal owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Veeck followed through with his proposal from 1942 to integrate baseball. Veeck signed Doby after paying $15,000 to Newark Eagles Business Manager and co-owner Effa Manley. Unlike Branch Rickey, Veeck felt the Negro League should be compensated for their players. The Indians signed Doby on July 3, 1947 and two day later on July 5, 1947 be played in his first Major League game.
Fittingly, the Indians were in Chicago to play the White Sox. Nearly 60 years after Cap Anson all but pushed all African-American players, including Moses Fleetwood Walker, out of baseball, Larry Doby integrated the American League against Anson’s old team. Doby appeared as a pinch hitter in the 7th inning for pitcher Bryan Stephens, striking out against Earl Harrist.
Larry Doby played 13 seasons in Major League Baseball, 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, before playing with the Chicago White Sox, and the Detroit Tigers. He was a 7-time all-star (1949-1955). He played in 1,533 games, 6,299 PA, 5,348 AB, 1,515 hits, 960 runs scored, 243 doubles, 52 triples, 253 homeruns, 970 RBI, 47 stolen bases, 871 walks, 1011 strikeouts, .283 BA, .386 OBP, .490 SLG, .876 OPS. Defensively, Doby was primarily and outfielder, but he did play eight games in around the infield. He played 1,448 games in the field, 12,395 innings, 3,797 chances, 3,640 putouts, 93 assists, 64 errors, .983 fielding percentage. Doby’s individual success also helped the Indians to find success. Cleveland reached two World Series, 1948 and 1954. The Indians won the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves 4 games to 2. Doby played all 6 games, had 22 AB, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 double, 1 home run, 2 RBI, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, had .318 BA, .375 OBP, .500 SLG, .875 OPS, and 11 total bases. The Indians returned to the World Series in 1954, but were swept by the New York Giants 4 games to 0. Doby did not have the same success as in 1948. He played in all 4 games, had 16 AB, 2 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts, had a .125 BA, .222 OBP, .125 SLG, .347 OPS, and 2 total bases. Doby would play another five years, last playing in the Majors in 1959.
After his playing career ended, Doby bounced around through various baseball jobs before returning to the diamond as a member of the Chunichi Dragons. His return to playing baseball lasted only one season, 1962. He played 72 games, 268 PA, 240 AB, 54 hits, 27 runs, 9 doubles, 1 triple, 10 home runs, 35 RBI, 25 walks, 73 strikeouts, .225 BA, .302 OBP, .396 SLG, .698 OPS. He played alongside former Newark Eagle and Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodger great Don Newcombe. Doby and Newcombe were the only non-Japanese players on the roster.
Retiring for good from playing, Doby returned to the United States and began coaching baseball. In 1978, Larry Doby was named the Manager of the White Sox on June 29th after owner Bill Veeck, the same as in Cleveland, fired Doby’s old teammate Bob Lemon; the team was off to a 34-40 start. Larry Doby was the second African-American Manager in Major League history; Frank Robinson was the first, having been named the player-manager of the Indians in 1975. The White Sox went 37-50 under Doby to finished 71-90 and 5th in American League West. The White Sox replaced Doby with player-manager Don Kessinger in 1979.
Larry Doby’s contributions to baseball on the diamond as a player, coach, manager, and man were critical to the successful integration of baseball and the decline of racism and intolerance in baseball and in the United States. His contributions to the game and society far exceed what ant statistics can tell. The Veteran’s Committee elected Doby to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1998. While his career as a player and manager may not place him among the greatest that have ever played the game, Doby’s contributions to the game put him in rarefied air. Jackie Robinson was the first to integrate baseball in 1947, but Doby was not far behind. He faced the same abuse from other players and fans as Robinson did, and like Robinson his ability to not lash out at the abusers was as critical as his play, if not more so, to be successful. Larry Doby and the other players who followed quickly behind Jackie Robinson often do not receive the same admiration, but they are as deserving. If not for their success, the turning of the tide against segregation and racism could have been delayed. Ignorance would have continued to drag baseball and society down for decades to come. Baseball played a critical role in ending the legalized discrimination against African-Americans in the United States. Men such as Larry Doby, Hank Thompson, Monte Irvin, and Roy Campanella helped secure the path that Jackie Robinson blazed.