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Negro Leagues
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Negro Leagues Legacy

Stars of the Negro Leagues

Living to tell about it
Larry Doby recounts his time in the Negro Leagues
By Justice B. Hill/

Larry Doby became the first African-American to play in the American League.
Born: Dec. 31, 1923, Camden, S.C.
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Hall of Fame induction: 1998

Larry Doby audio

Larry Doby didn't grow up with dreams of starring in the Negro Leagues. He had other dreams he'd wanted to pursue.

Influenced by three coaches in high school, Doby said he wanted to go to college, get a bachelor's degree, return to Paterson, N.J., and find a job as a physical-education teacher and a coach.

But that career path took a sharp detour, thanks to a little help from somebody from the 'hood.

"There was a gentleman where I lived, in New Jersey, that was a Negro Leagues umpire," Doby said. "He suggested to (Newark Eagles owner) Effa Manley to give me a tryout when I graduated in '42. They gave me a tryout, and I made the team."

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That was no big surprise, considering the reputation Doby had earned as a high-school athlete -- staring in football, basketball and baseball. He might have made a handsome living in football and basketball had the proper opportunity come his way then.

Professional baseball and the Negro Leagues, however, had first dibs on Doby's talent. And what talent did he have. He could hit, and he had power. And he could field anything within his reach. When Doby was in your infield, the only thing that got through it was the wind.

He teamed with shortstop Monte Irvin to form one of the most talented double-play combination in Negro League history.

The Negro Leagues were filled with great ballplayers. Doby played with and against men such as Irvin, Roy Campanella, Leon Day, Don Newcombe, Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson, Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Biz Mackey, Willie Wells and Cool Papa Bell. And many in the Negro Leagues thought either Doby or Irvin, not Jackie Robinson, would be the first black ballplayer to break the color barrier.

Doby never dared think so grand a thought.

"I never dreamed that far ahead," he said. "Growing up in a segregated society, you couldn't have thought that that was the way it was gonna be. There was no bright spot as far as looking at baseball until Mr. Robinson got the opportunity to play in Montreal in '46."

For Doby, 1946 had its own special meaning. It would be his finest season in the Negro Leagues. He batted .341 and led the Eagles to the league championship. His performance that season caught the attention of Major League scouts.

A year later, Doby was a center field for the Cleveland Indians, who bought his rights from the Eagles for $10,000. He'd followed Robinson to the Majors by 11 weeks, becoming just the second black ballplayer in the 1900s and the first in the American League.

"I don't think Larry ever got the credit he deserved for going through what he did," said Todd Bolton, an authority on the Negro Leagues and a researcher for the Society for American Baseball Research. "He's been on the backburner."

Doby didn't look at his place in baseball history as being a lesser one than Robinson's. Nor did Doby believe that the world had somehow dismantled desegregation overnight. The same clubs, restaurants and hotels that were closed to Robinson were closed to Larry Doby, too.

"I think anybody in his right senses -- particularly if they grew up in that time -- would know that there was no difference as far as the treatment was concerned," Doby said.

While he's mindful of the firsts that Robinson achieved, Doby is also aware of his own firsts, which were many:
* First player to go from the Negro Leagues straight to the Majors.
* First black to hit a home run in the World Series.
* First player to win championships in the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues.
* First black to win a home run title in the Majors.
* And first black to win an RBI title in the American League.

Even today, 50-plus years after he broke into the Majors, Doby hasn't let the euphoria of that historic event chill the warm feelings he had for his Negro League experience.

"I played against great talent in the Major Leagues and I played against great talent in the Negro Leagues," said Doby, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. "I didn't see a lot of difference."

The difference he cited was a minor one: Versatility. The lack of depth in the Negro Leagues, he said, forced ballplayers to show more versatility.

"We had a pitcher by the name of Leon Day who'd pitch one game and play outfield the next," Doby said. "Then you look at it and say: 'That's great talent if you can do that.'"

Baseball history backs up that point. Just as it also shows that Larry Doby, now 78, had earned his place alongside those Negro League stars that he was so quick to praise.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs