Remembering Larry Doby
Thursday, July 5, 2012 • 12:00am
Eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball a young African-American ball player from Paterson, New Jersey stepped into the history books by becoming the second African American to enter the major leagues (he was first in the American League). Larry Doby was just 23 years old.
He was born in Camden, South Carolina and came to Paterson as a young boy to live with his grandmother. At Eastside High School Doby excelled in football, basketball, track and field, and of course baseball. When he was 18 years old he began his baseball career with the Negro League’s “Newark Eagles” and because of his outstanding athletic abilities he came to the attention of Major League Baseball. It was on July 5, 1947, 65 years ago, that Paterson’s “favorite son” Larry Doby made all Patersonians proud when he stepped onto the Cleveland Stadium field of the Cleveland Indians.
Larry Doby’s professional baseball career lasted 13 years and his accomplishments were impressive. He became a seven-time All Star that led the league twice in homers; he hit 20 home runs in eight straight years; he played in six straight All Star Games, and, he became baseball’s second black manager. Famed Yankee catcher Yogi Berra said “Larry Doby could do everything - hit, run, field and throw.”
But it took a long time for baseball to recognize the achievements of Larry Doby. In 1994, 35 years after his last game, the Cleveland Indians retired his number 14. In 1997 the All Star Game in Cleveland was dedicated to Larry Doby and he threw out the first pitch. And finally in 1998 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
His plaque reads: "Exceptional athletic prowess and a staunch constitution led to a successful playing career after integrating the American League in 1947. A seven-time All-Star who batted .283 with 253 home runs and 970 RBI in 13 major league seasons. The power-hitting center fielder paced the A.L. in home runs twice and collected 100 RBI’s five times, while leading the Indians to pennants in 1948 and 1954. Appointed manager of the White Sox in 1978, the second African-American to lead a major league club. Played four seasons with Newark in the Negro National League. Following player career worked as a scout and major league baseball executive."
Success in Baseball is measured in statistics but success in life is measured by character and for all his accomplishments in baseball I believe Larry Doby’s greatest achievement is that he never forgot where he came from. So much of his character was built here in Paterson and he gave so much of himself to Paterson that I hope Patersonians will never forget this unassuming yet inspiring man who overcame obstacles few of us understand today.
Larry Doby was a man whose personal sacrifices changed our country for the better. I read recently some words Doby spoke to a reporter shortly before he died in 2003. He said: "If we all look back, we can see that baseball helped make this a better country for us all, a more comfortable country for us all, especially for those of us who have grand-kids and great-grand-kids. Kids are our future and we hope baseball has given them some idea of what it is to live together and how we can get along, whether you’re black or white."
In the years baseball “forgot” Larry Doby Patersonians remembered. Kids here play baseball on Larry Doby Field - not far from the statue erected in his honor. Our own Paterson Museum has a great display on Larry Doby and in 1997 Rep. Bill Pascrell sponsored legislation designating the post office on Ward Street as the “Larry Doby Post Office.”
In the few times I met Mr. Doby I recognized a quiet pride and great dignity. When he died in 2003 President Bush said Larry Doby “had a profound influence on the game of baseball.” And here in his adopted hometown of Paterson he had, and still has, a profound influence on all Patersonians.
Jose "joey" Torres
Former Mayor of Paterson