June 18, 1948
After starting 27 of his first 29 games played this season, Cleveland outfielder Larry Doby has suddenly disappeared.
The 24-year-old Doby had started the season for manager Lou Boudreau’s Indians after winning the job out of spring training. After making five errors early in May while still adjusting to his new position, the former second baseman had just one more error in the next 20 games.
Coincidentally, Doby’s playing time has disappeared after the acquisition of outfielder Bob Kennedy from the Chicago White Sox in a trade two weeks ago. He had appeared in just one inning defensively since, concluding the Indians’ 5-0 win over the Washington Senators on June 4, until starting in center field against Boston on Thursday.
He also had pinch hitting appearances in three separate games, scoring after a double on June 10, but remaining hitless in his latter two opportunities.
Have Doby’s efforts on the diamond deserved a two-week absence from the lineup?
At the time of his disappearance, Doby’s batting average had fallen to .248 on the season. He had two doubles, two triples, six home runs and drove in 19 runs. The outfielder was without a stolen base, getting caught in all four attempts this season.
Over the last three weeks, Doby has drawn some walks, but the batting average in that span is just .204.
Could it be that with the slight slump that Boudreau has elected to go with a hotter hand in the corner outfield slot in the lineup?
It is not due to Kennedy.
Kennedy came to Cleveland batting just .248 when he began to cut into Doby’s time in right field. In his time with the Tribe, Kennedy has made four starts in right and is batting just .120 with three hits in 25 at bats. He has three walks, two singles, and a triple to his name and has yet to drive in a run. He has been a non-threat on the base paths as well, scoring just once and not attempting a steal.
Platoon outfielder Allie Clark has not taken any playing time away from Doby. Since Doby was sent to the pine, Clark has made four starts, all in left field, and seven appearances overall. He is batting just .150 in those games, with three hits in 20 at bats.
The real culprit in Doby’s lack of playing time might be Hank Edwards. Edwards has played well and might have earned himself more playing time with his strong start in limited action through the first six weeks of the season. Edwards had made just one start in right field in 11 games, but was batting .333 in those opportunities.
Since Boudreau benched Doby and acquired Kennedy, Edwards has started nine games in right field and is batting .316. He hit his first double, triple, and home run of the season in that span and has driven in seven runs.
Edwards had been putting in work at first base at the beginning of the month under the suggestion of Hank Greenberg, who believed that Edwards should give the position a try.
Boudreau, rather than being disappointed with Doby’s early season efforts, is more likely riding the hotter bat at the plate in determining playing time.
Creating more difficulty for Doby to crack the lineup is the return of center fielder Thurman Tucker. Tucker has been limited to a handful of pinch running chances while he continues to heal from a fractured index finger that has been splinted, preventing him from playing defense and hitting.
Wally Judnich has filled in for Tucker, making every start in his absence, but while he has solved the problem in the field, he has created a different problem at the plate. The lack of production has been noticeable, as the reserve outfielder is batting .188 so far in June and just .226 since taking over in center for Tucker.
Boudreau has used six of his eight outfielders regularly over the last couple of weeks. Dale Mitchell, with Judnich and Edwards, have been the starters against right-handed pitching, while Clark, Judnich, and Kennedy have made the starts against left-handers. Doby and Kennedy have replaced Mitchell as defensive replacements late in games when the team has had the lead.
What will Doby’s role be with the Indians going forward? Will he be able to regain his old starting spot in the field at some point, or has the skipper soured on his project in right?
Only Boudreau knows for sure, and on that topic, he has not spoken.
Photo: Associated Press