In the history of baseball, Jackie Robinson is recognized as the first African American to play in the major leagues when he debuted on April 15, 1947. His #42 is retired across all 30 Major League Baseball franchises and MLB recognizes him every April 15 when every player wears the #42 on that days’ set of games.
One man that doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for being the first African American player in the American League was former Indians great and Hall of Farmer Larry Doby.
Doby made his major league debut on July 5, 1947, almost three months after Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and was the first player to go straight to the majors after spending five seasons with the Newark Eagles in the Negro League and also spending two years as a member of the United States Navy in World War II.
His rookie season was a tough one as he hit just .156 in 29 games. The following season began a nine-year stretch of his best baseball. He hit .301 with 14 home runs and 66 runs batted in for the 1948 Cleveland Indians.
In the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves, Doby hit .318 and helped the Indians win their first World Series championship since 1920 and it would also be their last championship to date. By winning the World Series, Doby and his teammate Satchel Paige became the first African American players to win a World Series championship.
Doby went to seven straight All-Star games from 1949 to 1955, hitting at least 20 home runs in each of those seasons and hit .290 or higher in three of those seasons. His best season came in 1954 when he lead the American League in both home runs (32) and runs batted in (126) leading the Indians to a record 111 wins which was a major league record at the time.
Cleveland traded him following the 1955 season and injuries started to take their toll on Doby in the final years of his career. Doby returned to Cleveland for one more season in 1958 but was once again traded before the 1959 season. After his final major league season with Detroit and Chicago, Doby retired due his injuries.
Following his playing career, Doby was a scout for the Montreal Expos and then became an assistant coach during the early 1970s. He returned to Cleveland once again in 1974 as a first base coach before returning to Montreal the following season.
Doby became the Chicago White Sox manager in 1978 after replacing his former teammate Bob Lemon who was the manager at the time and Doby was the team’s batting coach. Doby went 37-50 in his only time as a major league manager.
Larry Doby passed away after a battle with cancer in 2003. Fortunately, he was able to see his career recognized when the Indians retired his #14 in 1994 and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame via the Veterans Committee in 1998. The Indians dedicated a statue which sits outside of Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland.
While Jackie Robinson is the most recognized baseball player to break the color barrier and deservingly so, Major League Baseball should honor Doby more than they do because of his contributions to the game and to the color barrier.