In remembrance of the anniversary of the passing of Larry Doby, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look back on one of the better overall games that the Hall of Famer played while wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform. Doby died June 18, 2003, at the age of 79.
Larry Doby accomplished far more on the baseball diamond than he gets credit for. He does not receive enough recognition for being the first player to break the color barrier in the American League, doing so just months after Jackie Robinson became the first in Major League Baseball when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Doby’s numbers on the field were not appreciated by Hall voters initially, as his path to Cooperstown required additional consideration well after his playing days were over. Even Doby’s managerial stint was short-lived and overshadowed as Cleveland’s Frank Robinson beat him to the title of first African-American manager in MLB history by three and a half years.
Doby ultimately found his name among the baseball immortals residing in Cooperstown when he was selected by the Veteran’s Committee for inclusion with the Hall of Fame Class of 1998, correcting the wrongs committed in the late 1960s when the 13-year vet fell off of the ballot after just two years of eligibility. The Indians recognized Doby’s efforts during the 1997 season when they retired his number 14 and he was an honorary captain for the American League All-Star Game in the exhibition played at Jacobs Field that season. His election, in the first vote following the 50th anniversary of his first game with Cleveland on July 5, 1947, allowed him to join the Baseball Writers Association of America’s selection of pitcher Don Sutton, and the Veteran’s Committee picks of executives Lee MacPhail, former Cleveland Spiders utility man George Davis, and Negro Leagues legend Bullet Rogan.
Doby was on the ballot, conducted March 3 of that year, with former teammate Joe Gordon and other legends of the game including Clete Boyer, Orlando Cepeda, Dom DiMaggio, Gil Hodges, and Bill Mazeroski. The Committee could pick no more than one of the players for induction and Doby got the edge for both his accomplishments in the Majors and during his time before that in the Negro Leagues. The 15-man panel included just 13 that year, as Monte Irvin (retirement) and Pee Wee Reese (knee issues) were unable to participate in the voting process. (Gordon’s career accomplishments were finally recognized by the Veteran’s Committee in 2009)
The timing of Doby’s induction was perfect – the Indians spent 1998 honoring their last championship earned in 1948, which was Doby’s second season in the pro game.
During his career, Doby was named to seven consecutive All-Star teams from 1949 to 1955. He hit .326 during the 1950 season, slugged an MLB-best .541 in 1952, and twice led the league in homers with 32 in 1952 and 1954. He was a key component of both of the Indians’ American League pennant winning clubs in 1948 and 1954, and in the latter season, he finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting in a ballot dominated by Indians representatives during a franchise-best 111-win season. But one of his other personal accomplishments came on June 4, 1952, when he became just the fourth Indians player to hit for the cycle.
Midway through his sixth big league season, Doby was off to an impressive start in what would amount to his best statistical season of the 13 he had on the Major League diamond. While his season started off a little slow (he missed more than a dozen games over the first month of the season), he perked up strong halfway through May, moving his batting average from .219 on May 11 to .297 at month’s end.
After opening June and a four-city road trip with an 0-fer against the New York Yankees, Doby reached base safely three times in the Tribe’s series opener in Boston against the Red Sox, recording a single and two walks in five trips to the plate. In the middle game of the series, Doby did his best to carry his club to a win, but despite his incredible heroics, the team went back to the hotel that evening with a tough defeat.
In a slugfest between two evenly matched clubs atop the American League standings, the Indians (26-18) sent Bob Feller to the mound while the Red Sox (24-18) countered with Mel Parnell. Neither pitcher would factor in the decision, despite both being shelled early and often.
Cleveland took the lead in the first. After a strikeout by Bobby Avila, Ray Boone worked a walk. Al Rosen lined out to third to bring up the cleanup man Doby, who did just that by clouting a two-run homer an estimated 450 feet to the Fenway Park bleachers in center field to give the Indians a 2-0 lead. The blast was his seventh homer of the campaign.
Feller was not sharp as the Red Sox jumped all over him in the home half of the first. The first two reached on singles and the third hitter reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases for Vern Stephens, who plated a pair to tie the game with a double to center. Hoot Evers gave the Red Sox the lead with a sacrifice fly. Eight stepped to the plate against Feller that inning.
Parnell retired the Indians in order in the second and started another Red Sox rally in the home half as he led off the inning with a single off of Feller. A double by Dom DiMaggio and a single by Billy Goodman made it a 4-2 Boston lead. Cleveland manager Al Lopez replaced Feller with the second-year Sam Jones, but “Toothpick Sam” made things worse by throwing a wild pitch to Kell that allowed DiMaggio to score ahead of an RBI-double that drove in Goodman to make it a 6-2 game. Evers added a two-run homer to tag Feller with seven earned in an inning-plus of work.
Doby had some more two-out magic up his sleeves for his second at bat of the day. Avila singled with one out and Boone followed with a walk before Parnell struck out Rosen. Doby doubled the Tribe’s scoring (all to his doing at this point) with a two-run double to left to make it an 8-4 game.
A two-out error in the bottom of the third aided the Red Sox in adding to their lead as an RBI-single from Stephens made it a 9-4 contest. Parnell protected his lead in a scoreless fourth, but he quickly ran into trouble in the fifth as the Indians made it a ball game again. Walks to pitcher Steve Gromek and Avila to start the inning set the stage for Boone, who delivered a two-run double to center to bring former Indians star Lou Boudreau out from his perch in the Boston dugout to hook Parnell from the game. New Sox pitcher Dizzy Trout came on in relief, but Rosen reached on an error in right to put two in scoring position for the RBI-machine Doby. He cashed in once again with a shot to center that fell for a triple, giving him his third straight two-RBI hit in his first three at bats of the day. Doby scored one out later on a ground-rule double into the Boston bullpen by Harry Simpson to tie the game at 9-9.
Three batters into the bottom half of the fifth, the Red Sox were back on top. Goodman singled and Kell hit one out for a two-run homer off of Gromek to give Boston an 11-9 edge.
Doby stepped back into the box for a second look at Trout in the top of the sixth, this time with a runner on first and with Doby serving as the potential tying run while just a single short of hitting for the cycle two-thirds of the way through the contest. Instead, for the first time on the day, the Red Sox quieted him. He flied to short for the second out before Dale Mitchell grounded into a force at second.
Goodman’s overlooked day at the plate continued as he drove in two very key runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to push Boston’s advantage back out to four runs with a two-out, two-run base knock off of Gromek. In five trips to the box through six innings, Goodman was 5-for-5 with five singles and three runs batted in.
The offensive explosion and constant base traffic that was the tale of much of the game changed in the contest’s final third. Both Trout and Gromek fired perfect innings in the seventh (the first such inning for the Indians on the day). Trout walked the leadoff man in the eighth before getting the next three, while reliever Mickey Harris sat down the side in order in his half of the inning for the Tribe.
Doby was set to lead off the ninth and got to stare back at Trout for the third time since the fifth inning. He completed his four-hit game with a single the opposite way to left to start the Indians’ last ditch efforts to steal away a victory. He moved to third on a double by Mitchell and scored on a grounder to second by Luke Easter for the first out. Simpson made it a 13-11 game with a grounder of his own to second to score Mitchell as the Red Sox swapped runs for outs again, but Jim Hegan kept the game alive with a single to left. The pitcher’s spot was due and Pete Reiser grabbed a bat for Lopez as the possible tying run, but he lined a Trout offering to left to end a wild and eventful 13-11 ball game.
The loss for the Tribe ended a brief stint in first place that had not lasted a full 24 hours and came largely due to a contingent of former Detroit Tigers – Evers, Kell, and Trout – making their debuts on the Red Sox roster. All three were acquired the previous day as part of a nine-player swap between the two clubs. Kell drove in three and scored three times in a two-hit day. Evers homered and drove in three. Trout, who allowed six runs, held on for dear life at the very end. Boston also had big contributions from Stephens, who drove in three, and an eye-popping five-hit day from Goodman, who also drove in three.
Doby did his part, going 4-for-5 on the day with three runs scored and six runs batted in to give him a league-high 30. The outburst also did his batting average plenty of good as it jumped 23 points from .287 to .310. The hot play for the center fielder continued over the course of the season, leading to a trip to the All-Star Game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park on July 8, 1952, with six of his teammates, including Avila, Hegan, Mitchell, Rosen, Mike Garcia, and Bob Lemon. Doby entered the rain-shortened contest as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the fifth inning (the final frame completed) without an opportunity to pick up a bat in the exhibition. Despite cooling off in the final month of the season, Doby still finished the year with a career-high 32 homers and 104 RBI while leading the Majors in slugging with a .541 mark aided by 26 doubles and eight triples legged out. His 104 runs scored were tops in the American League.
Prior to Doby in a Cleveland uniform, Bill Bradley completed the cycle for the Naps in 1903. Earl Averill accomplished the only home cycle in franchise history in 1933. Odell Hale added the last one nearly 14 years ahead of Doby in 1938. Incidentally enough, Doby’s cycle was the first in the AL since Evers recorded one with Detroit in 1950.
The Indians’ cycle drought, now broken after 14 years, started anew and carried on for another 18 years until Tony Horton claimed his share of history in 1970 with the fifth of nine total cycles recorded in the history of the Cleveland franchise.
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