July 5 marks yet another milestone for Major League baseball, the American League debut of Hall of Famer Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians. Larry was signed by Hall of Fame owner Bill Veek who made several attempts to integrate baseball including allegedly, a plan to buy the Philadelphia Phillies and stock the team with stars from the Negro League.
A Navy man who also attended college, Larry was a man of quiet grace and strength. Those qualities served him well when confronted with racism in the American League. Unlike the debut of Jackie Robinson, Larry’s had to deal with the insults and slights of American League ballplayers without the benefit of the spotlight that shone on the treatment Jackie received. He and Jackie spoke often of the responsibility they bore: to submerge their competitive nature so that others could follow in their footsteps. Fortunately, Bill Veek was also a supportive owner and did all he could to make Larry’s transition as smooth as possible.
Unfortunately, outside of those in the world of baseball, Larry Doby does not get the respect he deserves. He not only was the second man to enter the playing field, he was also the second African American man to manage a major league team (Chicago White Sox) after Frank Robinson as well as the second professional scout.
The New York Times states “In glorifying those who are first, the second is often forgotten ... Larry Doby integrated all those American League ballparks where Jackie Robinson never appeared. And he did it with class and clout.”
Larry himself said, “Jackie got all the publicity for putting up with it (racial slurs, being spit on by opposing players, death threats). But it was the same thing I had to deal with. He was first, but the crap I took was just as bad. Nobody said, ‘We’re gonna be nice to the second Black.’”
After retirement, Doby was so respected, he slid easily into managerial positions in sports, one of the first men of color to do so.
His son remarks that his parents were reluctant to talk about all they went through. I believe some of those who integrated baseball went through a version of racial PSTD. The Dobys also suffered indignities when they wanted to purchase a home in an all-white area. As a recipient of many microaggressions here in Bucks County, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for anyone to exist among people who were so obvious in their racial venom, but the Dobys were among the most gracious and kind people anyone could ever meet.
I echo the words spoken upon Larry’s death:
- Fay Vincent: “Larry played out his career with dignity and then slid gracefully into various front-office positions in basketball and then later in baseball.”
- President George H.W. Bush: “Larry Doby was a good and honorable man, and a tremendous athlete and manager. He had a profound influence on the game of baseball, and he will be missed. As the first African American player in the American League, he helped lead the Cleveland Indians to their last World Series title in 1948, became a nine-time All-Star and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.”
Bud Selig: “Like Jackie, he endured the pain of being a pioneer with grace, dignity, and determination and eased the way for all who followed.”
So this July 5th, join me in remembering yet another pioneer who endured conditions that would break a lesser man and who in doing so, labored toward making America a place where all men are created equal and are truly treated that way.
Deborah White lives in Doylestown.