50 YEARS AGO, HE BROKE A COLOR BARRIER - THE AL'S.
Larry Doby remembers clearly his first day in the major leagues, that day 50 years ago when he broke the color barrier in the American League.
It was 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson had played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League. Doby remembers the excitement of that day when he became only the second black player in the major leagues - he had hardly slept in four nights leading up to it - and he remembers the dismay.
Saturday, July 5, 1947, a sunny morning in Chicago: Lou Boudreau, the manager of the Cleveland Indians, took the 22-year-old second baseman into the visiting team's locker room in Comiskey Park and introduced him to the players. Each of Doby's new teammates stood at his locker and looked over the young black man who had just been purchased by the Indians' owner, Bill Veeck, from the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. Doby and the manager went from player to player.
``Some of the players shook my hand,'' Doby recalled recently, ``but most of them didn't. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.''
When the 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound newcomer, born in South Carolina but raised in Paterson, N.J., stepped onto the field before the game with the White Sox, he stood on the sideline in Cleveland uniform No. 14, glove in hand, for what he recalled as five or ten minutes. ``No one offered to play catch,'' he said. Then he heard Joe ``Flash'' Gordon, the All-Star second baseman, call to him: `` `Hey, kid, let's go.' '' And they warmed up.
Doby, a left-handed batter, was called in to pinch-hit in the seventh inning and after ``hitting a scorching drive foul,'' he, according to a wire-service report, struck out.
But he was officially a big-leaguer, one who the following year would help the Indians win the pennant and the World Series. He became the first black player to hit a home run in a World Series, made six straight American League All-Star teams and, at one time or another over a 13-year big-league career, led the American League in homers, runs batted in, runs scored and slugging average, as well as strike outs. When he retired in 1959, he did so with a .283 career average and 253 home runs.
As major league baseball and the nation prepare for a season of homage to the breaking of the color barrier in the big leagues, virtually all of the attention is centered on Jackie Robinson, which is understandable, since he was the first. The Jackie Robinson commemorative coins, the Jackie Robinson commemorative video, the Jackie Robinson seminar.
``And that's the way it should be,'' said Doby. ``But Jack and I had very similar experiences. And I wouldn't be human if I didn't want people to remember my participation.''
Doby went through much the same kind of discrimination and abuse that Robinson suffered - not being allowed to stay in the same hotels and eat in the same restaurants as the white players, hearing the racial insults of fans and opposing bench jockeys, experiencing the reprehension of some teammates. But while Doby will be honored at the All-Star Game - which, coincidentally, will be played in Cleveland on July 8 - he in some ways seems the forgotten man.
``Jackie Robinson of course deserves all the credit he gets,'' Boudreau said last week. ``But I really don't think that Larry gets the credit he deserves for being the pioneer in the situation he was in.''
About Robinson, Doby said: ``I had the greatest respect for Jack. He was tough and smart and brave. I once told him, `If not for you, then probably not for me.' ''
Lou Brissie, who pitched for the Philadelphia A's beginning in 1947, recalled: ``I was on the bench and heard some of my teammates shouting things at Larry, like, `Porter, carry my bags,' or `Shoe-shine boy, shine my shoes,' and, well, the N-word, too. It was terrible.''
Brissie, who was from South Carolina, had been shot and left for dead in Italy during World War II. He pitched with a large steel brace on his left leg and instinctively felt an identity with the young black player. ``He was a kind of underdog, like me,'' Brissie said.
Doby has not forgotten the abuse: the ``N-word'' being used every day, the calls of ``coon'' and ``jigaboo,'' the times when he slid into second base and the opposing infielder spit in his face.