Larry Doby (1923-2003)

Larry Doby, ca. 1953
Public Domain Image

Larry Doby was the first African American baseball player to go directly from the Negro Leagues to the major leagues when the Cleveland Indians purchased his contract from the Newark Eagles on July 3, 1947. Two days later, on July 5, 1947, Larry Doby became the first African American to play in the American League, making his debut fewer than three months after the landmark date of April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in the modern history of Major League Baseball.

Lawrence Eugene “Larry” Doby was born on December 13, 1923, in Camden, South Carolina to parents David and Etta Doby. David Doby drowned during a fishing trip when Larry was eight. Four years later, Larry and his mother moved to New Jersey, where Larry developed as a baseball player. He also met Helyn Curly, who would in 1946 become his wife.  The couple had five children.

The 1946 Newark Eagles Including Monte Irvin and Larry Doby
The 1946 Newark Eagles Including Monte Irvin and Larry Doby

Following high school, Doby attended Long Island University and Virginia Union College before being drafted into the Navy in 1943.  In 1946, after leaving the Navy, Doby played for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues and was noticed by the owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Veeck. The following summer, the Indians purchased his contract from the Newark Eagles, advancing Doby to the Major Leagues.

Like Jackie Robinson, Doby endured racism and intolerance in the major leagues. When he first entered the Indians’ clubhouse, his teammates averted their eyes and would not speak to him.  Doby played very little in his debut season with the Indians, but soon blossomed into a perennial All-Star. In 1948, he and Indians’ teammate Satchel Paige became the first African American players to play on a World Series championship team.  Doby also became the first African American to hit a home run in a World Series game.

After his playing career ended, Doby moved on to coaching and, briefly, was the manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1978, thus becoming the second African American manager in major league history, following in the footsteps of Frank Robinson.

In 1997, the Cleveland Indians retired Doby’s number 14 on the 50th anniversary of his debut and one year later he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  By this time in his life, however, Doby battled health problems.  His wife of 55 years, Helyn, died of cancer in 2001. Larry Doby died of cancer two years later in Montclair, New Jersey. He was 80.