Larry Doby to Finally Receive Statue at Progressive Field Saturday Night

Tonight, Progressive Field gets what it has been long missing – a statue and commemoration to one of the team’s most noteworthy players, and an American League pioneer. Larry Doby will join the figures of Bob Feller and Jim Thome at the ballpark, greeting fans as they enter for the game.

That Doby has not yet been rewarded with a statue has been a travesty for many fans, as the American League’s first African American player is an accomplishment that many felt should have been awarded before the club’s home run leader, Jim Thome, was recognized.

In 2012, the Indians named Eagle Avenue, which runs behind Progressive Field, Larry Doby Way in honor of the player. They have handed out Doby replica jerseys, retired his number, 14, in July 3, 1994, exactly 47 years after he made his Major League debut, and he was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame in 1966. Yet, it still took almost 50 years for his statue to be built at Progressive Field.

Doby was born in 1923 in Camden, South Carolina. He began his baseball career with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League and, after taking time off to serve in the Navy during World War II, Doby returned to the Eagles and helped lead them to the 1946 Negro league championship.

Along the way, Doby caught the eye of Major League Baseball and Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians. In 1947, Doby became the second African-American to play Major League Baseball, making his debut just a few months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the game.

Despite being the second African-American player in the major leagues, Doby endured just as much racism and intolerance as Robinson. He was denied the same travel as his teammates, the same accommodations, the same restaurant and meal locations. It would take years for that sort of prejudice to be eradicated from the game. Even with the racism present, though, Doby was able to prove that he was more than just a figurehead for integration – he was a vital and important part of the Indians roster.

Doby was named to the All-Star team for seven straight seasons from 1949 – 1955. He spent 10 total years in an Indians uniform, collecting a .286 average with the Tribe and .889 OPS. He hit 215 home runs, 45 triples, 190 doubles, and 1234 hits. He knocked in 776 runs for the Tribe during his tenure in Cleveland.

Along with the Indians, Doby also spent time in a White Sox and a Detroit Tigers uniform. He spent three years in Chicago and one in Detroit, making Cleveland far and away his baseball home. He was the first African-American player to hit a home run in the World Series, first to win a home run title in the Major Leagues, first to win an RBI title in the American League, first to win championships in both the Negro and Major Leagues, and was the first player to go straight from the Negro Leagues to playing in the Majors.

Doby’s playing career ended in 1959, and he left the game with a career .283 average. In 1978, Doby again found himself working with Veeck when he was hired to manage the Chicago White Sox. Once again, Doby came close to being the individual to break a barrier and, once again, he found himself as the second man. In 1975, Frank Robinson became the first African-American manager of a professional baseball team, the team, of course, being the Cleveland Indians.

Doby was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. He passed away at the age of 79 in 2003, leaving an important legacy with the Indians organization, and with baseball as a whole.

Tonight, the Indians will recognize Doby in one of the most permanent ways they can. Yes, it may be a little late, but in this case, better late than never is undoubtedly the right tagline.

Photo: File

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