Everyone knows Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball. But lesser known is Larry Doby, the second Black player in MLB and the first in the American League. Along with teammate Satchel Paige, he became the first Black player to win a World Series in 1948 as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Doby made his debut with the Indians in 1947, just a few months after Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers. After his playing days ended in 1959, Doby became the second Black team manager in MLB history (after Frank Robinson).
Doby spent the majority of his career with the Indians, but he also played for the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, as well as the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Larry Doby’s Early Life
Lawrence Doby was born in 1923 in Camden, South Carolina. Doby’s grandmother, aunt and uncle primarily raised him. His father, a semi pro ballplayer, died in a boating accident when Doby was eight. Four years later, he and his mother moved to Paterson, New Jersey. In New Jersey, Doby began to follow in his father’s footsteps and get into baseball, as well as other sports such as football and basketball, at his high school.
Doby intended to go to college at Long Island University, but as World War II began Doby decided to attend Virginia Union College and join the ROTC program there. However, the Navy drafted him before he could act on his plans.
During his time in the Navy, he got his first real experience of racial intolerance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last he would see of it. Also during his time in the military, Doby met future star player Mickey Vernon. The two became lifelong friends.
Larry Doby’s Early Baseball Career
Doby started his career playing for the Newark Eagles, a Negro League team, before he even graduated high school. Originally, he planned to play baseball on the side and primarily focus on becoming a coach. But when Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, Doby realized he might have a chance of getting to play in MLB. So, he decided to focus on baseball. He resumed playing for the Eagles after being honorably discharged from the Navy.
In 1946, the Eagles won the Negro Leagues World Series against the Kansas City Monarchs (who had Satchel Paige at the time). Doby’s performance in these games caught the attention of Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, who wished to promote integration in the MLB and actively scouted for Black players to hire. The Indians quietly bought Doby’s contract and he made his debut with the team in 1947.
Major League Career
Unfortunately, many did not greet Doby’s MLB debut with a welcoming attitude. Doby suffered many of the same ordeals his predecessor Robinson did, although Doby’s were not nearly as heavily reported on. While Veeck thoroughly supported Doby, many of his other teammates did not, and some refused to shake his hand when they met him.
Many times while on the road, local racial segregation laws forced Doby to eat at separate restaurants and stay at separate hotels from the white players. He also received multiple death threats throughout the early years of his career.
Despite the stressful situation, Dobby thrived in the major leagues. A seven-time All-Star, Dobby consistently scored at least 50 runs and hit 14 homers for 10 consecutive seasons (1948-1957). His best year came in 1952, when he scored 104 runs and hit 32 homers.
He also played on the Indians team that beat the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. Dobby hit .318 in the series in 22 at-bats. It’s the last time the Indians won the World Series.
Injuries plagued Doby’s later career. After a wrist injury in 1955, he transferred to the Chicago White Sox. However, his glory years weren’t over – he had a nine-game streak in 1956 where he hit five home runs.
He eventually returned to Cleveland, but only as a part-time player because of injuries. He joined the Tigers and then the White Sox in 1959, but played in only 39 games that season. He played his last MLB game on July 26, 1959.
After the MLB
Doby’s final season playing baseball was in 1962, when he played for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. After this, he quit playing, but baseball remained an important part of his life. Doby became the second Black team manager, taking over as White Sox manager for 87 games in 1978. The White Sox did not bring him back as a manager in 1979, and Doby later said he never got the chance to show his managerial skills. He believed that given the chance, he could have led the team to success in the long run.
In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Doby’s major league debut, the Indians retired his number, 14, from their roster. In 1998, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Doby. He died of cancer in 2003 at the age of 79.