He would’ve been 99 years young!
Larry Doby was born Lawrence Eugene Doby on December 13, 1923 in Camden, South Carolina, Ohio History Central reports. He eventually moved to Paterson, New Jersey where he was raised, finding his passion in sports at an early age. He shined in a number of sports, including football, baseball, and basketball, eventually attending Long Island University as a college athlete.
Upon graduation, Doby began his baseball career as an infielder for the Newark Eagles, a team in the Negro National League, the National Baseball Hall of Fame reports. At the time, baseball was still segregated, and Black players were still unable to play on white teams. Dobby played for the Eagles from 1942 to 1943 before pausing his career to serve in the United States Navy during World War II in 1944. There, he encountered segregation and racism as well, eventually returning to the Negro Leagues where he led the Eagles to a championship in 1946.
Dobby then made history as the first African-American to play professional basketball in the ABL, a league that preceded the NBA. In 1947, just a couple months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians, hired Doby, the SC native making history as the first Black person to play in the American League and the second to play in the National League. While Veeck and Doby formed a special relationship, the same kindness was not necessarily extended to Doby by his peers. He suffered a lot of the same ills as Robinson, being subjected to the overt racism of the time, segregation laws, and regular death threats.
“It may have [bothered Doby], but he never complained to the players; when he joined, naturally it was a tough time. But after he was with us a while, he got along pretty good,” former teammate Mel Harder once said.
“Larry proved to them that he was a major leaguer in handling himself in more ways than one – on the field and off the field,” his former manager Lou Boudreau added.
In 1948, Doby made history again as the first African-American to hit a home run in the World Series. In 1952, he became the first Black player to lead the American or National League in home runs. Dobby played thirteen seasons in the major leagues, was named an All Star seven times over the course of his career and landed five-100 RBI and eight-20 home run seasons. Dobby led the Cleveland Indians to win the American League pennant in both 1948 and 1954, and the team won the World Series in 1948. He went on to play for both the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers and played overseas in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons.
After retirement, Dobby became the second African-American to manage a major league baseball team, working with the Chicago White Sox, Montreal Expos and Cleveland Indians. In the 1970s, he served as Director of Community Relations for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Dobby passed away on June 18, 2003 at the age of 79.
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While his contributions didn’t receive as much notoriety as many of his fellow peers, Dobby’s legacy cannot be understated. He was a part of the fabric of major league baseball, and he had a lasting impact on the game on and off the field. May his legacy never be forgotten. Because of Larry Doby, we can.
Here’s everything you never learned about Larry Doby, the first Black baseball player in the American League. Photo Courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Library