Larry Doby: The American League’s Jackie Robinson

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James Kay, Sports Editor

Many of us know the story of Jackie Robinson and how he was able to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Few know of the other African-American player who was playing at the same time as Robinson. His name was Larry Doby.

Doby began his career in the Negro Leagues at the age of 17 and thrived despite being one of the youngest players in the league. He helped lead his team, the Newark Eagles, to the championship in 1946. This caught the eye of Cleveland Indians owner, Bill Veeck, who signed Doby for $15,000 in 1947. He was the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues to the Majors.

Unfortunately, Doby wasn’t able to enjoy all the perks of being a professional ballplayer. Segregation was still tolerated at this time, which forced Doby to sleep at different hotels and eat at other restaurants than his teammates. Even in the ballpark he was chastised. Fans would yell racial slurs at him when he was hitting while also throwing broken bottles at him when he was playing center field. Despite all of the distractions on and off the field, Doby was able to tune out the bigoted audience and play his game.

In 1948, the Cleveland Indians won the World Series thanks to Doby’s efforts. He compiled at .318 batting average while also hitting a two-run homerun in game four to put the Indians ahead in the series. He was the first African-American to hit a homerun in the World Series and the first to a win a title.

His career didn’t stop there. Doby would go on to be a 7-time all-star, lead the league in homers twice and finish in the top fifteen for the MVP award three times. According to Doby had five different seasons where he drove in 100 runs to go along with his eight seasons of hitting 20 or more homeruns. He retired with a .283 batting average while hitting 253 homeruns in his 13-year stint in the majors.

So why was Doby not in the same spotlight Jackie Robinson was in at this time? Statistically, yes, Robinson was a better player and his accomplishments speak for themselves but Doby was also tearing up the league during the same period as Robinson. They both withstood the pressures of being professional African-American athletes in a white dominated world but for some reason Robinson takes all the glory. To put Doby’s lack recognition into perspective here is a fun fact: Jackie Robinson was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1962. Doby on the other hand was elected into the hall in 1998. Robinson entered the league 11 weeks before Doby signed with the Indians. This is not a significant difference in time. Maybe if Doby had followed Robinson’s lead a couple years after Robinson had already debuted with the Dodgers we could make the argument that Doby wasn’t a pioneer. To leave him out of the Hall of Fame for 34 years after he retired is crime since he had fought the same battle Robinson did years prior.

Don’t get me wrong, Robinson was a more electrifying player to watch. He stole bases, played three different positions and won the World Series in a time where New York was still the powerhouse of the baseball world. But being a civil rights figure in history isn’t all about how athletic you are or what great teams you played for. It’s about perseverance and the mental mindset of being bigger than the ones who want to take away an entire race’s inherit worth and dignity. Larry Doby deserves just as much credit as Jackie Robinson gets from the entire baseball world and the rest of us who reflect on our heroes during Black History Month.