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To this day, Larry Doby does not get the credit that he deserves for the doors that he helped open in Major League Baseball, professional sports as a whole, or for the American society over the course of his baseball career with the Cleveland Indians and others.
The Indians honored his efforts on the field by retiring his number 14 on July 3, 1994, making him the fifth player (Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Earl Averill, Mel Harder) recognized by the club in such a manner. The ceremony came almost 47 years to the date of his first game in a Cleveland Indians uniform.
On April 15th of every year, Major League Baseball takes pause to recognize the contributions of Jackie Robinson to the advancement of African-Americans (and minorities as a whole) in professional sports and, in a much larger construct, society.
Robinson had been playing for the Kansas City Monarchs when he was signed by Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers in August of 1945. He played minor league ball in Montreal with the Royals in 1946 preceding his Major League debut on April 15, 1947. In a hitless 0-for-3 at the plate, Robinson shook the world as it was known and doors began to open, including one less than three months later in Cleveland when owner Bill Veeck acquired Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles in a cash exchange. The legacies of Robinson and Doby would forever be entwined when Doby put on an Indians uniform and took the field for the first time on July 5, 1947.
Robinson was 28 when he reached the biggest stage of all and played first base, not the second base for which he was much better known. He hit .297, had an on-base percentage of .383, and led the league with 29 stolen bases and the MLB with 28 sacrifices and earned the Rookie of the Year award after appearing in 151 games for the Dodgers.
Larry Doby settled into the outfield in Cleveland Stadium and was called the best center fielder in the game by the Sporting News in 1950. Doby led the American League with 32 home runs and 126 RBI as the Indians won the pennant in 1954.
He was traded to Chicago after the 1955 season, and spent two years at Comiskey before coming back to Cleveland. The Indians traded him to Detroit in 1959 for Tito Francona. Doby was the first black player for the Tigers. Bill Veeck traded midseason for him to play for the White Sox that year as well.
Doby, the second black player in the majors, also became the second black manager. Doby was a coach for the Indians when he was bypassed for Frank Robinson, the first black manager, and went to Chicago, where he was reunited once again with Veeck. He became the Pale Hose manager in 1978 after Veeck fired Bob Lemon, and resigned after the 1979 season.
October 12, 1948
This morning the Cleveland Indians arrived home from Boston, victors of the 1948 World Series, and received a heroes’ parade upon their arrival.
A dozen slow moving vehicles carrying Indians players and personnel traveled from the Cleveland Terminal to University Circle. It was estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 fans turned out to honor the first baseball championship in Cleveland in 28 years. Fans lined both sides of the street and threw paper and held signs from building windows.
While it seems reasonable that future pennants will be won and future players will become stars, this championship and squad seems special in that regardless of nationality or background, Clevelanders had a player on the team that embodied their morals and beliefs.