Tributes pour in about Larry Doby and his achievements
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
Larry Doby left many in baseball with fond memories after his passing on Wednesday. (AP)
Larry Doby was a pioneer. No one can question that fact. But Doby was also a gentleman, a friend and an ambassador for a sport that had once barred him from playing.
His death Wednesday night served as a reminder of how much Doby, the second player to integrate the Major Leagues, meant to the sport.
"Larry has been an important part of the Major League Baseball family, having worked for the American League and Major League Baseball Properties," Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
"Larry was a good friend and an adviser. I will miss him. And, on behalf of everyone in the game, I send my condolences to his family and friends."
Everywhere baseball fans turn today they can see and hear others echo Selig’s words. Doby, who was 79, meant more to the sport than history is often willing to acknowledge.
Doby in Other People's Words
"He was a class act. I thought a great deal of him. Larry doesn't get as much recognition as Jackie Robinson, but they were both very important people." -- Yankees manager Joe Torre
"He was a better all-round player than Jackie Robinson." -- Former Indians teammate Bob Feller
"I could never relate to what he went through. I wish I could have had an opportunity to talk to him and hear some of his stories." -- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter
"What he meant to this game can never be forgotten. His contributions are sometimes underappreciated." -- Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young
"Larry Doby was a legend, a Hall of Famer. He was an outstanding man, a good married man. Boy, could he play baseball." -- Former Negro League star Buck O'Neil
"Larry endured many of the same indignities and had the same courage in the American League that Jackie (Robinson) demonstrated in the National League. Although Larry, having been second is often not acknowledged in the same breath as Jackie, it is clear that the breaking of the color barrier in 1947 in both the American and National Leagues, as Commissioner Selig has often said, was the most significant event in the history of Major League Baseball." -- MLB President/CEO Robert DuPuy
"He was a nice guy, and he was a good player for me. I was there when he came up as a player. He reported to the Indians in Chicago for a doubleheader. In his first game he played first base and then became a very good outfielder. He fit in really well with the Indians." -- Former Indians manager Al Lopez
"Most of the world knew Larry Doby as a Hall of Fame baseball player, but to those fortunate to know him personally, he was even more than that - he was a great man. Larry treated everyone with respect, and he was respected by everyone. " -- Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
"His style was different. He was a quiet activist. He was more modest in his playing skills, but he was just as great as Jackie was and, in some respects, even better. Few people realized that until recently, and that's why he went into the Hall of Fame in 1998." -- Larry Lester, author and Negro League historian
"I think his role has been underplayed and undervalued, and then he came along as the second black manager as well. So he was really pioneering in both these areas -- as a player and as a manager." -- James Riley, author and Negro League historian
"I can't imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. Doby bears a lot of similarities to Robinson in that he's somebody who's a multi-talented athlete." -- Robert Ruck, professor at Pitt and an expert on Negro League history
"He was a good ballplayer -- one of the best who ever lived. I know, because I pitched against him." -- Negro League pitcher Wilmer Fields
"I suspect, in general, it’s much easier to derail a bold, positive initiative in society; it’s easier to sabotage a peace accord than to bring it about," said Robert Ruck, a professor at Pitt and an expert on the Negro Leagues. "Larry Doby danced through landmines.
"He avoided all the tripwires, and if he had just screwed up one time –- one fight, one public incident –- he would have had pretty bad repercussions."
But Doby had no public incidents. He endured the same slights and the racial hatred that had hounded Robinson, who reached the big leagues 11 weeks before Doby did.
"He did have some trouble," said Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Feller, a teammate of Doby’s. "In Spring Training one year, we were traveling in the South, and he and Luke Easter had to stay in a boarding house."
Those early days of integrated baseball separated Doby from his teammates, baseball historians have said. He blazed the same trails in the American League that Robinson had in the National League.
But Doby’s story didn’t get the public attention that Robinson’s did. Doby almost seemed an afterthought as baseball people and historians talk about the integration of the game and the role of the black player.
"I wouldn’t go so far as to say Doby’s contribution was insignificant," said Raymond Doswell, curator of the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. "At the time it went down, there was just so much more interest in Robinson and breaking the color barrier."
In the museum, Doswell said the Robinson exhibit is more extensive than Doby’s. But the difference, he said, is because the documentation on Robinson dwarfs what has been available on Doby.
But Doswell said the museum has been committed to shoring up the Doby exhibit. It wanted to make certain, he said, that Doby’s role in baseball isn’t overlooked. His role as the second pioneer ranks right next to Robinson’s in its historical importance.
Other historians agree.
"When you look at what he did and what Jackie did, Doby had a longer career," said James Riley, the author of several books on the Negro Leagues. "Yet, because Jackie was the first, he’s the one who got the lion’s share of the attention and recognition. But Doby deserves just as much as Jackie."
Black men inside the sport today also share Riley’s view. They know Doby’s hardships benefited them. His failure would have ruined the noble experiment that integrated the sport.
"His contributions were the stuff that legends are made of," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, one of the legion of black ballplayers who were able to carve out Major League careers because of Doby and Robinson. "Sometimes, in the process of things, I think he probably gets overlooked a little bit. He was certainly one of the pioneers of the game."
Smart but introverted, Doby wrestled with the bigotry more than Robinson did. He let it bother him, people said, that teammates wouldn’t sit next to him on the bench; he let it bother him that teammates wouldn’t play catch with him.
Riley said that Ray Dandridge, a Negro League legend and a Hall of Famer, once told him about a conversation Doby had with him. Doby came to Dandridge’s house in Newark, N.J., to talk about his frustrations in the Majors.
"Ray said he told him, 'You’re worried too much about what other people are doing; you need to just go out and play ball and they’ll come around,'" Riley said. "That’s what Doby did. He just concentrated on his ball-playing, and things did work out."
Doby set about playing the game –- no question there. He had a career that looked good by anybody’s measurements; .283 average, 253 homers and 970 RBIs. He never dwelled on what that career might have looked like had life in the Majors been easier. Or, if he did, he never shared those thoughts publicly.
He simply loved the game, and his love of it kept Doby involved in baseball. He became the second black manager in the game when he took over the White Sox in 1978. He followed another Robinson in this milestone –- Frank Robinson.
Few people seem to remember that achievement either. That fact never weighed on Doby, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
"It’s really great to see nice things happen to nice people," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "And of all the times I talked to him, I never felt he had any bitterness despite what he endured to play the game -- and he was a hell of a player, too."
People forgot that fact as much as they forget Doby’s contributions to the baseball landscape. Yes, Larry Doby could play, and maybe how well he played will be examined in the wake of his death. Maybe then, Doby won’t be the forgotten man for his role in integrating the game.
Those who have followed Larry Doby hope not.
"Jackie was first, but (Doby) had some very tough times with American League teams," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "They were basically a lot tougher, I think as a whole, on the black players in the towns that they had, Boston -- Cleveland was pretty liberal.
"Yankee Stadium I heard -- people talked about how the different towns were different. You rarely hear about Larry Doby; you hear about Jackie Robinson."
History has proved Baker right, but none of that lessens what Doby had done –- not then and not today.
For as Doby once put it: "I knew being accepted was going to be hard, but I knew I was involved in a situation that was going to bring opportunities to other blacks."
And he did.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.