Larry Doby Again Follows Jackie Robinson

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Larry Doby will again follow Jackie Robinson.

In 1947, Doby became the second African American in major league baseball months after Jackie Robinson had broken the barrier in the modern era.

Now, nearly 72 years later, Doby is set to follow Robinson as the second black baseball player to be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal— one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States. The U.S. Senate recently passed legislation to posthumously honor Doby, who died in 2003.

Like Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby had to deal with a lot of racist hatred in his career, especially at the beginning. Most of it came from opponents. “I guess Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington were the worst,” Doby told the Washington Post in 1987.

“I’d get the usual — ‘nigger,’ ‘coon,’ ‘shoeshine boy.’ I could understand from some fan or some jerk sitting on the bench. But I’d get it from managers, too. Like Casey {Stengel}. He’d call me a jigaboo.

“All game, he’d be yelling, ‘Hey, jigaboo.’ But you’d mention this to the writers and they’d say, ‘No, not Casey.’ “

Doby might have also got it bad from his own teammates if not for Cleveland owner Bill Veeck. Before Doby signed with Cleveland, Veeck stood up for Doby when he heard about certain Indians who resisted accepting him as a teammate.

Bill Veeck, right before Doby signed: “I understand that some of you players said that “if a nigger joins the club you’re leaving. Well, you can leave right now because this guy [Doby] is going to be a bigger star than any guy in the room.”

Veeck, it turned out, was spot on: Doby played 10 seasons and two World Series for the Cleveland Indians while hitting 215 homers.

He led Cleveland to a 111-game win season, an American League record, to end the five-year pennant reign of Casey Stengel’s Yankees team.

After each season in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Doby and Robinson would barnstorm together for about 30 games after each season in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “We never got to the point where he discussed the bigotry or the segregation, you know, because you get enough of that,” Doby said.

The only thing we talked about was some of the people on other teams who were kind of nasty… At the time there were a lot of people called ‘bench jockeys.’ They didn’t play much, but they ran their mouth and that kind of stuff.

I never felt I needed to discuss any of those type of things with him, because we’re going through the same situation. I didn’t want to hear it and I know he didn’t want to hear it.

When the season is over and you’re happy to get home and enjoy your family and your neighborhood and just have a relaxing good time — without thinking of all the negatives that happened or are gonna happen.

Larry Doby shared these thoughts with an audience in 2001. The setting was a conference on “The Integration of Baseball” with Slick Surratt, Joe Black and Commissioner Fay Vincent.

It was there that he learned that Bill Veeck, who had passed in 1986, was a Kenyon alumnus. Learning that made Doby smile and share more about Veeck:

There was a restaurant in Miami that didn’t allow African Americans. We were down there with my wife and oldest daughter. He was there. He said we’ll go into this restaurant, and we had no idea it didn’t allow African Americans.

So we get out the car and my daughter’s six or seven years old. And he puts her on his shoulders and walks right into the restaurant. We went to a table in the corner, sat, ate and had a good time.

The next day he told me “You know what? You were the first blacks to eat in that restaurant.” I said ‘What? What are you trying to do, get me killed?”

In later years, Doby kept making history.

He and Don Newcombe played the part of a season in Japan, becoming the first former major-leaguers to play there (and the first blacks, too). In 1978, Doby became baseball’s second black manager when he took over the White Sox for half a season.

Olive & Ollie

Olive & Ollie