Friday, July 06, 2007

Let's hear it for Larry

Yesterday, I was thinking that I ought to blog on Larry Doby who was the second black player to cross major league baseball's color line in the late '40s. Doby debuted for the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports page beat me to it, giving Doby some much deserved love this morning. But I still think that it merits mention.

We make a big deal of Jackie Robinson and we should. Being the first black player in the major league baseball following its segregation at the end of the 19th century (there were a handful of black ballplayers before 1900) was both a tremendous personal achievement and a huge landmark in American history. With some great developments, the one who was first past the post becomes a symbol of the thing.

But let's not forget that the integration of baseball was not a one man job. If the black players who followed Robinson had been unable to meet the athletic and human challenges then the march of history would have been that much more difficult.

Doby must have faced all the garbage that Robinson did. He must have felt that he carried the future of other black ball players on his back. He had to have been aware of the significance that he was going to have for the aspirations of blacks in general.

So let's not forget the guy. Doby did not have much of a year in '47. He played in 29 games, hit .156 and was sent back to the minors. (In fairness, he was five years younger than Robinson and probably at an earlier stage of his development as a player.) But he came back the next year and had a pretty decent career.

If Robinson stands for the integration of baseball because he was the first guy to hit the beach, then let's honor Doby as representative of the troops who were right behind him.

Ironically, Doby was an integral part of the Indians '54 pennant winner - a team that won 111 games only to be swept by the New York Giants. He led the AL in homers that year. In the series, he was upstaged by Willie Mays who established himself as baseball's first African-American superstar with his spectacular catch of a shot by Vic Wertz. Doby went 2 for 16.

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