Every year baseball remembers Jackie Robinson and his herculean task of breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nothing can sufficiently repay Robinson for the abuse he endured. While he was the focal point of baseball’s integration he was not alone, other trail blazers followed him to integrate every team. Collectively they changed baseball and America forever. They shouldered the weight of integration with some help along the way.
Branch Rickey believed Jackie Robinson could handle the abuse the first African American player would face. Robinson endured abuse from fans and opposing players. Even the Dodger locker room was not a safe haven. When he arrived in Brooklyn several players began a petition stating their desire to be traded rather than play with Robinson. The petition sought to force Branch Rickey to end his attempt to integrate baseball. Several players signed the petition, but it was critical that the de facto team captain sign to show a united front against Robinson. There was little doubt he would sign, having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, surely a southern man would refuse to play alongside Robinson.
Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese was a southern man, but he held no animosity towards anyone based upon their skin color. When approached by his teammates Reese refused to sign, killing the petition. The other Dodgers may not have liked Robinson, but the locker room was now free from the abuse raining down on the field.
Pee Wee Reese was a Hall of Fame Shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers and friend to Jackie Robinson. (National Baseball Library and Archives, Cooperstown, NY)
Reese was called up to Brooklyn in 1940 and remained with the Dodgers for his entire career, retiring after the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles in 1958. He served in the Navy during World War II, missing three seasons from 1943 to 1945. Upon returning from the Navy, Reese began his career in earnest. His greatest season was 1949. In 155 Games, Reese led the National League with 132 Runs scored, collected 172 Hits including 27 Doubles, 3 Triples, and 16 Home Runs. He had 73 RBI and stole 26 Bases. Reese walked 116 times with just 59 Strikeouts. He hit .279, with an .396 OBP, .410 SLG, .806 OPS, and an 113 OPS+. Reese was named team captain before the following season.
Reese played 2,166 Games. He scored 1,338 Runs, collected 2,170 Hits including 330 Doubles, 80 Triples, and 126 Home Runs with 885 RBI. He stole 232 Bases, drew 1,210 Walks with 890 Strikeouts. He hit .269, with an .366 OBP, .377 SLG, .743 OPS, and an 99 OPS+. Shortstops were supposed to focus their attention on defense, but Reese was an elite offensive Shortstop.
Reese played more than 2,000 games at Shortstop. He led National League Shortstops in Putouts in four seasons. Over 60 years after his retirement, Reese still has the 12th most Putous and 13th most Double Plays for Shortstops. He was a solid defender even using modern metrics having led all National League players in dWAR in 1942, 1947, 1948, and 1949. His 25.6 career dWAR is the 17th highest of all time, regardless of position.
Pee Wee Reese was selected to 10 All Star Games and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting eight times. He led the Dodgers to seven World Series, all against the Yankees. Reese has the most World Series appearances with one team for a non-Yankee. Despite their success the Dodgers won only one World Series. Brooklyn lost in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, and 1956. Reese and Elston Howard have the most World Series defeats, six. Brooklyn won their lone World Series in 1955. Failure was not Reese’s fault. In 44 World Series Games, he scored 20 Runs, collected 46 Hits including 4 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 2 Home Runs with 16 RBI. He Stole 5 Bases, drew 18 Walks with 17 Strikeouts. He hit .272, with an .346 OBP, .349 SLG, and an .695 OPS.
In 1984, the Veteran’s Committee selected Reese for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The committee referenced his play and support of Jackie Robinson in their reasoning for his selection. No moment better underscores the support Reese gave Robinson than at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1947. Amid a deluge of abuse Reese put his arm around Robinson. The show of support told the crowd and opposing players that Reese supported his teammate and would defend his friend against the abuse. Some claim the event occurred in Boston against the Braves at Braves Field in 1948. Regardless where and when it occurred Reese helped ease the chaos surrounding baseball’s integration.
Pee Wee Reese showing his support for Jackie Robinson was critical in helping Robinson and other African American players successfully integrate baseball. (Ron Cervenka)
Reese standing with his arm around Robinson is immortalized in bronze and granite outside MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. Reese could not deflect all the abuse directed at Robinson, but he could support him in public and private. A white player standing with Jackie Robinson was critical. The support coming from a southern man was monumental. Reese did not care what color Robinson was, they were teammates. Reese was asked if he was worried about losing his job prior to Robinson joining the Dodgers, “If he’s man enough to take my job, I’m not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it.” Instead of replacing him, Robinson and Reese formed a dynamic Double Play combination. Reese joked with Robinson to ease some of the tension, he cared about Robinson the man beyond baseball. Their friendship lasted a lifetime, as Reese was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral.
People are rarely successful on their own, they receive support along the way. Jackie Robinson faced unfathomable abuse as he integrated baseball. No one could shield him from the onslaught. However, people like Pee Wee Reese helped lighten the burden. On this Jackie Robinson Day let us remember Robinson’s great courage and sacrifice to improve baseball and America. Let us also not forget those who helped him achieve success, including his teammate and friend Pee Wee Reese. Small gestures can change history.
Cooperstown is the desired destination for players. Most will not openly discuss their desire to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, however human nature all but dictates that highly driven people strive to become the best at their chosen profession. The process to reach Cooperstown for a player is typically through the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) election process, which announces its results each January. However, there is another way into the Hall of Fame.
Previously known as the Veterans Committee, the Era Committees were formed to reexamine players who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA voting. The committees also examine the contributions of managers, umpires, and executives to determine if they warrant enshrinement. Currently, there are four committees: Early Baseball (pre 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-2016). Each committee considers 10 candidates, with each committee member allowed to vote for a maximum of four candidates. A candidate needs at least 75% of the votes to be elected.
The Today’s Game Committee has 16 voting members. The members include members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. This year the committee considered the candidacy of Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Lou Piniella, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and George Steinbrenner.
Harold Baines and Lee Smith, the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (John Locker/ AP)
After much examination by the Today’s Game Committee, Cooperstown will welcome two new members to the Hall of Fame this summer. Lee Smith and Harold Baines will forever be enshrined along side the greatest players, managers, umpires, and executives in baseball history. Smith appeared on all 16 ballots, while Baines appeared on 12 ballots. Lou Piniella missed his place in Cooperstown by a single vote, appearing on 11 ballots. The remaining seven candidates each received fewer than five votes.
The journey to Cooperstown was longer than Smith or Baines preferred. However, receiving the highest honor in baseball was worth the wait. The Today’s Game Committee, as well as the other committees, are vital to the thorough examination of baseball. The committees give those deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame the recognition they deserve, no matter how long the wait.
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.
Born on December 11, 1854 in Rochester, New York Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn would become one of the most dominant pitchers of the last 1800’s. During his 11 year career he pitched for the Buffalo Bisons, Providence Grays, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Reds, and the Cincinnati Reds. Radbourn collected 309 wins against 194 loses, with a 2.68 era; he currently ranks 19th in most wins all time behind Cy Young’s 511 wins. Pitching for the Providence Grays in 1884 season was Radbourn’s best season, and arguably one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. Radbourn started 73 games out of a possible 112, throwing a complete game in all 73, winning 59 against 12 loses, a .831 winning percentage, and posted a 1.38 ERA. His 59 wins remain the most in a season will most likely never be broken. Only Will White threw more complete games in a season than Radbourn did in 1884. White had 75 complete games out of 80 games for the 1879 Cincinnati Reds, although he finished the season with 43 wins, 31 losses, and a 1.99 ERA. Both men posted excellent seasons but Radbourn led his team to the World Series, while White and the Reds finished fifth in the National League in 1879. Radbourn struck out 441 batters, walking only 98 in 678 2/3 innings during his magical 1884 season. This brilliant season of pitching won Radbourn the Pitching Triple Crown (most wins, most strikeouts, and lowest ERA); he was just the third pitcher to ever achieve this feat. The Pitching Triple Crown has been accomplished 38 times since 1877, with Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw both achieving the Triple Crown in the respective leagues in 2011. Radbourn and the Providence Grays faced the New York Metropolitans in the 1884 World Series, at this time the series was more of an exhibition than a championship. The Grays swept the Metropolitans in the best of five, three games to zero. Radbourn won all three games allowing only three runs, all unearned, in 22 innings. Two of the three victories were against Tim Keefe. Keefe would go on to win the Pitching Triple Crown in 1888, and be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1964 by the Veterans Committee. Radbourn was a good player beyond his pitching brilliance in 1884, with a career batting average of .235, including 108 hits in the 1883 season. In 1939, Charles Radbourn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee 42 years after his death.
Born December 6, 1903 in San Francisco, California Tony Lazzeri would become a key member of the New York Yankees during the Murderers’ Row years. Lazzeri played in six World Series, winning four of them. He was a solid hitter with a career batting average of .292. He hit almost twice as many double (334) as home runs (178), while also collecting 115 triples during his 14 year career. Primarily playing second base during his career, Lazzeri was a serviceable fielder. His career Fielding Percentage of .965 is understandable due to seven seasons of at least 20 errors committed, including 31 in his rookie year. Lazzeri was a forerunner to the offensive minded middle infielders of today. The Veterans Committee elected Lazzeri to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.