June 19, 2003June 19, 2003Larry Doby, first black in AL, dies at 79
NEW YORK - Hall of Fame player Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, died last night (June 18, 2003) after a long illness.
Doby, believed to be 79, died at his home in Montclair, N.J., said his son, Larry Doby Jr.
Doby was a seven-time all-star in a 13-year career, most of it in the outfield for the Cleveland Indians.
He helped lead the Indians to their last World Series title in 1948.
On July 5, 1947, 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, Doby joined the Indians.
Though he would go on to hit .283 with 253 home runs and 969 RBIs in a big-league career that lasted through 1959, his locker room reception that first day was chilly. Some teammates would not even shake his hand.
"Very tough," Doby once recalled. "I'd never faced any circumstances like that.
"Teammates were lined up and some would greet you and some wouldn't. You could deal with it, but it was hard."
He was voted into the Hall of Fame by its Veterans Committee in 1998.
Doby served a short stint as manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1978, becoming only the second African American manager in the major leagues, after Frank Robinson.
There are discrepancies over Doby's age, and even friends weren't sure of the exact date of his birth. Total Baseball, which has done extensive research on numbers, listed him at 79 while the Baseball Encyclopedia had him at 78.
"Larry and I were very good friends," Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, Doby's teammate in Cleveland from 1947-56, said last night.
"It was tough on him," Feller said. "Larry was very sensitive, more so than [Jackie] Robinson or Satchel Paige or Luke Easter or some of the other players who came over from the Negro Leagues."
While Robinson's rise to the majors was widely recognized, Doby received scant attention.
"Don't forget Larry Doby," Willie Mays once told The New York Times. Referring to white players who had helped Robinson, he added, "From what I hear, Jackie had Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca, but Larry didn't have anybody."
In his first decade with the Indians, Doby was kept apart from his teammates - eating in separate restaurants, sleeping in separate hotels - even during spring training. From players and fans, he was the frequent target of racial taunts.
Doby was born in Camden, S.C., the son of a semipro baseball player who died when Doby was 8. He moved with his family to Paterson in his teens.
Doby was a 22-year-old second baseman when the Indians signed him. Two seasons later, as the team's starting centerfielder, he helped Cleveland win the World Series, hitting a home run in Game 4.
Doby hit at least 20 home runs in eight straight years - in an era where home runs were not as common as they are now. He led the AL in homers in 1952 and 1954 - hitting 32 each season - and led the league in 1954 with 126 RBIs.
Doby played in six straight All-Star games. In 1949, he, Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe became baseball's first black all-stars.
In 1943, Doby recorded another first - he became the first black to play in the American Basketball League, a forerunner of the NBA, as a member of the Paterson (N.J.) Panthers.
Doby ended his major league career in 1959 with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.
Doby and his wife, Helyn, had five children. She died of cancer in 2001.