Baseball’s Invisible Man

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: July 2, 2005

CALIFORNIA — The American League had their Jackie Robinson too, but few ever took notice of one of baseball’s greatest player, Lawrence Eugene Doby — The invisible man.

Doby was much bigger (6-foot-1, 182 pounds) than Jackie (5-foot-11, 204) in size and strength, but Robinson got all the media attention. The simple reason Robinson received most of the glory, was that Jackie played in the big city

Jackie played in Brooklyn for the Dodgers, while Larry played for Cleveland.

In the 1940’s Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis were considered west. Just like San Francisco, Los Angeles. Oakland, San Diego, and Seattle are in the Western divisions now.

Doby was born in December 1923 the middle of winter. Camden, South Carolina would be home for this young budding super star. The family moved to Paterson, New Jersey in 1934 his high school years; he became an All-State athlete in almost every sport.

He played basketball, baseball, and football at Paterson’s Eastside High School. He graduated with honors and received praise from most of his teachers. Doby went to school in the racially integrated northeast, which did not prepare him for the treatment he would receive later in the Navy and his professional baseball career.

He went to college in New York City at Long Island University, but his heart was into baseball. World War II interrupted this man’s goal to play on the baseball diamond.

This would be where his first brush with American racism. He served his country in the segregated Navy. Doby could never understand this and it troubled him the rest of his life. But this experience would train him for the city of Cleveland.

He played for my second favorite Negro Baseball League team, The Newark (N.J.) Eagles. He played for the Eagles from 1942-43 and then again in ’46-47. Serving his country in the fall of ’43 until 1945.

He played center field for the Eagles and was their power hitter most of the time in New Jersey. The Newark Eagles won the League Championship in 1946 right after he returned from war.

A year after Jackie Robinson went to Brooklyn, rebel owner Bill Veeck began scouting the Negro Baseball Leagues. Veeck wanted Doby to join his Cleveland Indians.

Thus, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and Veeck broke baseball’s unwritten law of not signing players of color to the majors.

Doby had it much tougher then Robinson. His own teammates would not shake Larry’s hand the first game he played for the Indians. Most of the players turned their back on him and went into the dugout.

Even the player-manager Lou Boudreau acted like he was not even in the stadium. Jackie only had this kind of problem with opposing teams. Doby’s great play in the outfield and at bat would change many of his teammates attitudes, the Indians winning two straight pennants helped.

Many of his Cleveland teammates would later call him a “gentle giant” because of his behavior on the baseball field. In 1959, the American League seemed to drag it feet when it came to having players of color on their teams.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were the last two holdouts in the majors, both signing black catchers. It just seems fitting that these two teams have been fighting for the AL East the last ten years with many players of color.

In 1959 a very young Senator from the state of Massachusetts John F. Kennedy ran for the White House. Doby would say many years later that Robinson got all the attention and the press did not want to repeat the same story with me in the American League.

Doby’s debut was only a few months behind Jackie Robinson.

He stated “I could not react to (prejudice) situations from a physical standpoint. My reaction was just to hit the ball as far as I could.”

Doby would go on and be an All-Star six times. He would lead the American League in home runs twice, and RBIs in 1954. Later in the 1970’s he would be second to another Robinson, this one named Frank who would be the first African American Manager in baseball working for the Cleveland Indians.

Doby would be the second African American managing the Chicago White Sox in 1978. He would coach his Indians and Detroit Tigers. Before his sports career ended coaching with the Montreal Expos

The Veterans Committee finally elected him to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. This was an induction that was long overdue. Larry Doby does have a first in his resume. He was the first American to ever play in Japan.

The Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League hired him to play first base in 1962. The Cleveland Indians finally retired his famous number 14 on July 3, 1994, 40 years after he broke AL’s color line.

In every major league baseball stadium Jackie Robinson’s blue and white Dodger number 42 hangs on the walls. When will Major League Baseball honor Larry Doby with his red, white, and blue Cleveland Indian number 14?

Lawrence Eugene Doby passed away June 18, 2003 in my home state of New Jersey.