Doby made history with Indians

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Andrew Kivette

Jackie Robinson’s story of breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball is widely recognized, thanks in large part to stories and movies.

But in the same year – 1947 – another African-American baseball player braved a tough environment full of unknowns and became the second player to pierce the color barrier that surrounded America’s Pastime.

On July 2, 1947, the Negro National League’s Newark Eagles agreed to the sale of Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians of the American League.

Just 11 weeks after Robinson’s first appearance, the 23-year old Doby made his American League debut on July 5, 1947 three days after the sale, and became the first Black player to compete for an American League team.

On that day, Doby pinch-hit for Indians pitcher Bryan Stephens in the seventh inning – and he struck out.

Many obstacles stood in Doby’s way after his first game in the American League, but the center fielder who batted left handed and threw right met them with unmatched courage and bravery. At the very minimum, he faced harassment by fans and players alike, while also dealing with pitchers that threw at him. While traveling with the team, he had to stay in separate hotels away from the Indians and eat at separate restaurants as well.

“(Integration) was a part of history,” Doby recounted years after. “If you’re not strong enough to deal with these things, then you don’t accept it.”

Born in Camden, S.C., in 1923, Lawrence Eugene Doby started his career in sports with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League in 1942. He also played basketball, and was the first African American to play professionally in the American Basketball League (ABL), a professional basketball league founded in 1925 and a precursor to the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Doby went on to have a memorable career as a player. He was a major contributor on the 1948 Indians team that defeated the Boston Braves in six games to claim the World Series. In the ’48 Fall Classic, he became the first African American to hit a home run in a World Series game. Overall, Doby tallied a .318 clip, with seven hits in 22 at-bats in the six-game series.

He played 13 years – all for American League teams – finishing his career with a .283 average, while belting 253 home runs. In 13 years, Doby was selected to seven All-Star teams and finished runner-up to Yogi Berra in 1954 for American League MVP honors. The power-hitting center fielder was a two-time AL home run king (1952 and 1954) and led the American League in 1954 in runs batted in and homers.

After his playing days ended, Doby became the second Black manager in the American League with the Chicago White Sox in 1978.

He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

“He was such a classy guy and a remarkable human being,” former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said of Doby. “I don’t think he’s ever gotten his just due for what he endured and what he accomplished.”

Andrew Kivette was a public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series