Nearly 70 years ago, Larry Doby became the first African-American player to hit a World Series HR
We all know the story of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947. It was a heroic moment for baseball, for sports and for our country as a whole. And then, just a few months later on July 5, outfielder Larry Doby became the second African-American player -- and first American Leaguer -- to ever debut in MLB.
Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck pledged to acquire Doby in '47, as the 23-year-old was coming off a 1946 Negro World Series with the Newark Eagles and had put up a stellar three seasons before that. But instead of signing Doby a full year before and having him come up through the Minors -- as Branch Rickey did with Robinson -- Veeck had Doby on a big league diamond days after the deal was announced in early July. He figured Doby talented enough to handle the quick transition.
Understandably, Doby struggled in just 29 games for the Indians during his first season. He had only five hits in 32 at-bats. Critics wondered if he was good enough to play in the Majors and, like Robinson, he was the subject of much racial taunting from fans and players. The two trailblazers talked to each other frequently about their experiences: "Jackie and I talked often," Doby said. "Maybe we kept each other from giving up."
After a very strong spring in 1948, Doby and a star-studded pitching staff that included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Negro Leagues legend Satchel Paige, won Cleveland its second-ever AL pennant. Doby received MVP votes -- hitting .301/.384/.490 with 14 homers and 66 RBIs. And in Game 4 of the World Series against the Boston Braves, Doby became the first African-American player to homer in a World Series.
Doby hit .318 with a homer and two RBIs in the Series. His Indians topped the Braves, 4-2, in the Fall Classic -- the last they've won in nearly 70 years. While the home run was big, it was a famous Cleveland Plain Dealer photo with teammate Steven Gromek after the game that really touched Doby:
"The picture was more rewarding and happy for me than actually hitting the home run," Doby said. "It was such a scuffle for me, after being involved in all that segregation, going through all I had to go through, until that picture. The picture finally showed a moment of a man showing his feelings for me."
Doby, who would've celebrated his 94th birthday today, went on to have a fantastic baseball career. He made seven straight All-Star Games from 1949-55, led the league in home runs twice and hit some of the more prodigous long balls ever seen. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1998. Listen to his speech below: