ANAHEIM -- It wasn't that long ago that Larry Doby's name didn't even strike a chord of recognition with C.C. Sabathia. "I didn't really know anything about him," Sabathia said, "until I got [to the Indians]." Sadly, Sabathia was not alone. Though he broke the American League color barrier in 1947, Doby's significance to the game often gets lost in the large shadow cast by Jackie Robinson, who became baseball's first black player three months earlier.
The Indians, though, don't want Doby to be forgotten. And so it is that on Friday, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Doby's first appearance with the club, the Tribe will be calling out Doby's number. Major League Baseball has given the Indians permission to bring Doby's No. 14 out of retirement for Friday's game against the Yankees. All members of the team will wear the number. When MLB invited teams to wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson on April 15, the Indians inquired about the possibility of paying a similar tribute to Doby. Sabathia, for one, thinks the tip of the cap and the donning of the jersey is necessary. "We need to let everybody know he was the first black player in the American League," Sabathia said. "Not taking anything away from Jackie Robinson, because he changed the world. But Larry Doby deserves recognition, too." The actual anniversary of Doby's first game is July 5, but the Indians had a day game in Detroit that day and they wanted their tribute to get more exposure. Hence, the homage will now take place during the Tribe's Hall of Fame/Heritage Weekend, during which Andre Thornton, Charles Nagy, Jim Bagby Sr. and Mike Garcia will all be enshrined in Heritage Park. Before Friday's game, which is sold out, Larry Doby Jr. will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. And each jersey worn by Indians players and coaches that night will be signed and auctioned off by Cleveland Indians Charities to benefit the Larry Doby RBI Program and the Larry Doby Cleveland State University Baseball Scholarship Fund. Both programs were established in 1994, when the Indians retired Doby's number. Doby, who passed away at age 79 in 2003, had been a prominent player for the Newark Eagles in the Negro League when then-Indians owner Bill Veeck signed him to a contract on July 3, 1947. He made his big-league debut two days later in Chicago and went on to be a key member of the Tribe's 1948 World Series-winning team. Though he was one of the better center fielders of his generation, leading the AL in home runs in 1952 and 1954 with identical 32-home-run seasons, Doby's accomplishments often get overlooked, simply because he wasn't baseball's first black player. Indians second baseman Josh Barfield doesn't believe that should be the case. "He was in the same boat," Barfield said of Doby. "He had to go through all the things Jackie Robinson had to go through. It's a shame he doesn't get the same recognition. The average fan hasn't heard of him before." Manager Eric Wedge is happy the Indians are making an effort to ensure current fans know exactly who Doby was and what he meant to the game. "He meant a great deal to Major League Baseball and a great deal to the Indians' organization," Wedge said. "It's historic, in terms of what he means to baseball. I think there can only be one first. But Larry had another first because it was the American League. As years have gone by, I think Larry's been recognized more and more, and that's the way it should be."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.