- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

Charlie Brown, addressing his hapless “Peanuts” baseball team: “You’ve got to come in first. Nobody ever remembers who comes in second.”

Linus: “I do, Charlie Brown. In 1928, the Giants finished second. In 1929, it was the Pirates. In 1930 …”

Charlie Brown: “Good grief.”

Maybe that was Larry Doby’s problem from a recognition standpoint — he was the second black man to play major league baseball during the 20th century, though just 11 weeks after the first. While Jackie Robinson got all the historical acclaim, Doby has pretty much been forgotten more than a half-century later. And that’s a shame.

Doby, who died Wednesday night in his New Jersey home at 79, showed just as much courage and fortitude as Robinson in an almost inconceivably different social era. Besides that, he was just as talented a player, one who played three seasons longer than Robinson and batted .283 lifetime with 253 home runs and 969 RBI. His election to the Hall of Fame in 1998 was entirely appropriate and long overdue.

Yet there should be lingering regret when we do think of Doby because he never seemed to get proper respect for his painful role as a pioneer. In 1947, there was white America and black America, and seldom did they meet. When they did, courtesy and goodwill frequently took a back seat in the bleachers of human relations.

Doby was a reserved man who didn’t often speak out on his trials and tribulations. After Robinson’s first three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie became a leader in the fight against prejudice in America and continued as such until his death at the age of 53 in 1972. Doby, by contrast, let his bat and glove do the talking. A solid outfielder and powerful hitter, Larry didn’t steal bases and headlines the way Robinson did. Mostly he just played the game and tried to ignore the insults.

“You didn’t hear much about what I was going through because the media didn’t want to repeat the same story,” he once said. “I couldn’t react to [prejudicial] situations from a physical standpoint. My reaction was to hit the ball as far as I could.”

The 1948 season, Doby’s second, was magical for most of the Indians. Shortstop/manager Lou Boudreau hit .355, Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden won 20 games each and Doby batted .301 in 121 games as Cleveland grabbed its first pennant in 28 years and then the World Series. But it’s doubtful that Larry enjoyed himself as much as his teammates. He might not have enjoyed himself at all those first several seasons.

“Just remember that they play with a little white ball and a stick of wood up here just like they did in your [Negro] league,” Indians owner Bill Veeck told Doby before Larry’s first major league game on July3, 1947, but that might have been a case of oversimplification.

At an event honoring the 50th anniversary of baseball integration, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, told Doby, “You know what hardships there were, Larry. You know that it was endured for the greater good.”

Later Doby told the Houston Chronicle, “My parents used to tell me … that names will never hurt me, but the things I was called did hurt me. The things [players] did — spitting tobacco juice on me, throwing at my head — did hurt. I was always taught to treat people the way you want to be treated. I was raised to respect people. I found out that not all people are raised that way.”

And not all the players who disliked him were on other teams. At first, many of Doby’s teammates refused to talk with him or shake his hand. Often, he had to stay in different hotels and eat in different restaurants. In 1948, aged Negro League legend Satchel Paige joined the Indians, but it seems unlikely that the flamboyant pitcher and the quiet 24-year-old outfielder had much in common.

At first, Doby had no white teammate to ease his path, as Pee Wee Reese did for Robinson with the Dodgers. But when Doby won the fourth game of the ‘48 World Series with a mammoth home run off Boston Braves ace Johnny Sain, he got a big hug from winning pitcher Steve Gromek in the locker room — a signal moment captured by cameras for posterity. After that, perhaps things were a bit easier for Doby.

“After you look back at the progress that’s been made, you can’t think about all the bad things that happened [because] it was all worth it,” Doby told the Houston newspaper in ‘97. “If I had something to do with it, I’m proud. My only hope is that this whole world would have come as far as baseball.”

Doby did have something to do with social enlightenment in America, and for that he deserves our respect and thanks. When it came to making baseball truly our national pastime, he was second to none.

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