MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

Doby has been underappreciated as pioneer

Moore: Doby underappreciated as pioneer

Doby has been underappreciated as pioneer
They just named a street after Larry Doby next to the home ballpark of the Cleveland Indians. Not only that, the U.S. Postal Service is dedicating a stamp in his honor. There also is a local Cleveland newspaper columnist asking for the erection of a statue in his likeness. Plus, two years ago, Doby was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

Nice, really nice.

It's just not enough, and it's also such a shame.

Doby isn't around to enjoy any of what should have happened decades ago, because he died in 2003. That was five years after he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As a result, he was alive long enough to see that he wasn't totally forgotten for posterity.

The bottom line hasn't changed, though. Nobody remembers that Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon after Neil Armstrong. And only a few could tell you that six weeks after Jackie Robinson did his wonderful thing 65 years ago for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Doby became the second black person to play in the Major Leagues, for the Indians.

This amnesia regarding Doby is partly due to the selfless ways of the man himself.

"My dad was perfectly happy with his place in history," Larry Doby Jr., 54, told Indians television announcers on the air last week, when he visited the broadcast booth at Progressive Field on the day that nearby Eagle Avenue was switched to Larry Doby Way.

"Somebody had to be No. 2."

Yes, that's true, and don't get me wrong: The person ranked No. 1 in this case was destined for eternal glory.

Baseball history? That's too limiting for Robinson. You have to expand his significance to sports history. In fact, few individuals surpass this accomplished man of character, dignity and courage when it comes to American history, or even to that of the world.

What Robinson did on April 15, 1947, by taking the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers went further than breaking baseball's color barrier. It signaled to everybody around the universe forever that all things are possible for those of any color, creed or religion.

It showed the power of the human spirit.

Mostly, it gave the United States the foundation for a house of justice that would include building blocks such as Rosa Parks, freedom riders, Martin Luther King Jr., sit-ins and a couple of massive congressional acts during the mid-1960s on civil rights and voting.

That said, all forms of history shouldn't ignore the contributions of the other guy, but so much for reality.

With Robinson in the National League, Doby was the first black player in the American League, which meant everything Robinson faced -- regarding the hatefulness of fans, teammates and others in the NL, while trying to hit a baseball with effectiveness -- Doby also faced in the AL.

"History is definite. Then again, history is not so definite. You have to go through life now to straighten out some of the things you thought were definite," said Jim "Mudcat" Grant, a former Doby teammate, when he spoke last week to those gathered at the Cleveland Baseball Heritage Museum to commemorate Doby's debut with the Indians.

Added Grant, "I am not disappointed with the fact that -- in baseball -- when it comes to African-American history, everyone knows about Jackie Robinson. Very few of these people know about Larry Doby. Even now, it's almost like [only] Jackie went through this.

"When I talk now, it's not that I'm angry or disappointed, except that I want people to know [Doby], for a little part of history that they don't know. Doby went through the same thing that Jackie went through. Larry went through the same thing. We had to go through the same thing. In Jackie's case, he had protection."

Grant's point was that, even back then, Cleveland wasn't exactly New York when it came to the public's consciousness. So while Robinson always had a slew of cameras and notebooks in his vicinity to intimidate at least some of his detractors, Doby had to survive his detractors without the spotlight of the national media as a safety net.

Doby prospered regardless.

During his first full season in the Major Leagues in 1948, Doby helped the Indians win their latest World Series championship as a smooth-fielding center fielder and the owner of a .301 average. Six year later, when the Indians sprinted to an American League pennant with 111 victories, he led the AL in home runs for first of two occasions in his career.

There were the eight consecutive seasons through 1956 in which he slammed 20 or more homers.

There were his seven trips to the All-Star Game.

"He wasn't one to talk about that stuff with me," said Larry Doby Jr. during the Cleveland television interview. "He was more about the present and the future. Once he got older, his tongue got a little more looser, and I got a few stories out of him. But most of my stuff was history books or being lucky enough to meet his teammates."

Teammates such as Bob Lemon, who was among the four Hall of Fame pitchers on the Indians' 1954 squad. "First thing I would say, 'Mr. Lemon, was my father any good?' " added Doby Jr., chuckling. "He'd say, 'Yeah. He was really good,' like I wouldn't believe him and stuff."

Ater Doby Sr. retired following the 1959 season, he stayed in baseball as a coach and scout. Then he became Buzz Aldrin again. It was another time featuring a Robinson as his Armstrong.

This time, it was Frank instead of Jackie.

Three years after Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the Major Leagues in 1975 with the Indians, Doby became the manager of the Chicago White Sox.

Not coincidentally, the same Bill Veeck who owned the Indians when Doby made AL history as a player was running those White Sox.

A pioneer. Twice.

Both times in the shadows.

"When Mr. [Branch] Rickey signed Mr. [Jackie] Robinson, all those guys in the Negro Leagues thought that maybe we'd get a chance, and [Larry Doby Sr.] was one of those for Mr. Veeck, and [Larry Doby Sr.] was able to be successful," Larry Doby Jr. continued on the broadcast. "And because of their [Larry Sr. and Jackie Robinson] success, the doors were opened, and people came after them, and I think that's what [Larry Doby Sr.] was pretty proud of."

In other words, Larry Doby was classy, just like the guy who was No. 1.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.