On Tuesday April 15th, Major League Baseball celebrated the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.
Every player, manager, and umpire wore Robinson’s #42 to honor the pioneer. Back in 1997 the league retired Robinson’s number so no player could wear it again, with exception of a grandfather clause allowing major leaguers who were already wearing #42 to continue until the end of their career.
Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear 42 on a regular basis. MLB does all this to honor a wonderful man, but what about Larry Doby?
Doby was the second man to break baseball’s color barrier and the first to do it in the American League with the Cleveland Indians. Doby made his debut on July 5th of 1947, the same year as Robinson, in a double header against the Chicago White Sox. But second is often forgotten in the history books. Doby shared the same experiences as Robinson did, but there is no league wide celebration of Doby’s accomplishments.
Doby doesn’t have his number retired across the league, although the Indians did retire Doby’s number #14 in 1994. Doby was the first player to play in both the Negro League World Series and MLB World Series, one of four players to do so (Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, and Satchel Paige were the others) but was the last of those players to be inducted into the baseball Hall-of-Fame.
While it is great to see Robinson honored, let us not forget that Doby endured the same hardships, with a lot less press coverage. Just because it wasn’t in the media does not mean it is any less important. Even though he wasn’t the first African American to play, Doby is just as important a historical figure. Without the success of Doby and Robinson, professional sports would not be the same.
Teammate and hall-of-fame pitcher Bob Feller said this about Doby: “He was kind of like Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, because he was African American player in the majors behind Jackie Robinson. He was just as good of a ballplayer, an exciting player, and a very good teammate. He helped us win the World Series in 1948.”
The difference between Robinson and Doby was that Robinson was hand picked by Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey to be the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. Doby’s contract with the Newark Eagles was bought out just a few days before his major league debut. Both Robinson and Doby went on to have Hall-of-Fame careers. Robinson had a ten year MLB career with a .311 batting average, a .409 on base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage, 137 home runs and 734 RBI’s with 197 stolen bases in his career. Doby was much more of the power hitter over his 13-year MLB career, hitting for a .283 batting average a .386 on base percentage, and a .490 slugging percentage while hitting 253 home runs and driving in 970 RBI’s with just 47 stolen bases.
Many other players from the Negro Leagues came over within the next few years. Stars such as Satchel Paige, who was well into his 40s when he made his Major League debut for the Indians in 1948. The Dodgers signed Don Newcombe in 1951.
It was Robinson’s and Doby’s courage and success that paved the way for stars like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ken Griffey Jr.
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