Friday, July 06, 2007

"America Needed That Picture," and Larry Doby Provided It

Sixty years ago yesterday, Larry Doby made his debut with the Cleveland Indians, the first African-American in the American League. Here's a great piece by Jerry Izenberg, an old-time sportswriter and a long-time friend of Doby, about his struggles for acceptance, which were in some ways worse than what Jackie Robinson had to endure.

Unlike Robinson, Doby felt rejected by many of his own teammates and even his manager Lou Boudreau. For example, when he was sent to play first base one day--never having played at that position a day in his life--no one on the Indians would lend him a first baseman's mitt; the club's traveling secretary had to go to the opposition dugout to beg for the loan of a glove.

Ultimately, of course, Doby's talent broke down the resistance. When he hit the home run that provided the winning margin in game four of the 1948 World Series (the last series won by Cleveland to this day), he and winning pitcher Steve Gromek spontaneously embraced. The resulting photo delighted some Americans and shocked others. Years later, Doby recalled:
"That picture ran in every paper in the country--a guy who happened to be white and a guy who happened to be black embracing. It ran on front pages all over the country. America needed that picture and I'm so glad I could play a part in giving it to her."
Having played second fiddle to Jackie Robinson in the tale of baseball's integration, Larry Doby later became the second black manager in the major leagues when he was named to lead the Chicago White Sox in 1978. (Frank Robinson had managed the Indians in 1975.) Doby was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee in 1998, just five years before his death at the age of 79, an often-overlooked American hero.

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