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Published: 6/20/2003

Indians' Doby played well, but paid heavy toll

Flash back to 1947, when Larry Doby became the first African-American to play in the American League.

The integration of major league baseball as we know it today came at a terrible price for those who fought in the trenches, years before Brown vs. Board of Education and, later, the Civil Rights movement.

Try to imagine, then, the circumstances under which Doby, who died Wednesday night following a long illness, first played for the Cleveland Indians, 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Brooklyn.

The object of hate and venom at nearly every ballpark, Doby, like Robinson a true pioneer to the cause of integration, looked the other way. They were both selected as “firsts” because the owners of their teams believed they wouldn't crack under the strain of upholding an entire race in the face of unbelievable opposition.

Curiously, Doby was always the “other guy,” yet he experienced everything that Robinson did, maybe to a larger degree. Robinson and Doby weren't welcome at certain hotels, they couldn't eat at certain restaurants. They took their chances on the streets in some cities.

Remember, these were the late 1940s. African-Americans had come home from World War II and found a country where an anti-lynching bill couldn't pass through Congress.

Robinson, at least, while he wasn't welcomed with open arms by all of his Dodgers teammates, had the support of many of them, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca in particular.

Doby joined a team whose manager, Lou Boudreau, and many teammates didn't want him.

Doby was comforted by second baseman Joe Gordon, who was the first teammate to welcome him following an icy greeting from Boudreau and most of the Indians, Doby once told the Newark Star-Ledger.

“I put on my uniform and I went out on the field to warm up, but nobody wanted to warm up with me. I had never been so alone in my life,” Doby recalled. “I stood there in front of the dugout for five minutes. Then Joe Gordon, the second baseman who would become my friend, came up to me and asked, `Hey rookie, you gonna just stand there or do you want to throw a little?' I will never forget that man.”

Doby's friendship with Gordon - an African-American man and a white man facing the storm together during a time when the races rarely mixed - helped considerably. But it couldn't erase the sting of the indignities he faced regularly.

Doby was barred from the front entrance to stadiums in St. Louis and Washington. He was a constant target of bean balls. An infielder once spit tobacco juice in his face.

An outfielder, Doby batted .283 in 13 seasons with Cleveland, Detroit and the Chicago White Sox. There were 253 home runs, 1,515 hits and seven All-Star game appearances.

He became the second African-American manager in history when Veeck put him in charge of the White Sox in 1978. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1988.

Baseball is a better game because Doby was willing to sacrifice himself for future generations of ballplayers



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