Doby, Paige highlight special 1948 World Series

Indians became first championship club to feature African-American players

October 22nd, 2016

CLEVELAND -- In 1947, Jackie Robinson and Dan Bankhead became the first African-American players to appear in the World Series as members of the National League-champion Brooklyn Dodgers, who lost an epic seven-game series against the crosstown-rival Yankees.

The importance of Robinson, in particular, appearing on that Series stage in the same season in which he changed baseball forever isn't diminished by the fact that he happened to be on the losing end.

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But there are other thresholds worth celebrating nonetheless, and it was the 1948 Indians that became the first World Series-winning ballclub to feature African-American players, in Larry Doby and Satchel Paige.

It is, admittedly, as Major League Baseball's official historian John Thorn put it, "less historically significant than trivia oddity."

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But the contributions of Doby and Paige to the last Tribe team to go the distance are worthy of recognition.

Doby broke the American League color barrier a few months after Jackie arrived, but he played only sparingly, and not particularly well in that 1947 season. While Robinson had a full season in the International League to assist his acclimation before his big league arrival, Doby went from the Negro League Newark Eagles to the Indians virtually overnight. Though signed as a second baseman, he was told at the end of '47 that his only chance of sticking in the bigs would be to shift to center field.

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So in 1948, that's just what Doby did. He found an unlikely ally in Tris Speaker, the once-great player turned coach, whose reportedly bigoted views on race in his younger days were softened by World War II, when black soldiers went all over the world to fight for their country. Speaker helped Doby become a better defender, and Doby flourished at the plate, batting .301 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, nine triples and 66 RBIs in 121 games for the AL champs.

Paige, meanwhile, went from sheer curiosity to pivotal performer. Though Paige's actual age has been a matter of much scrutiny by scholars, Baseball Reference lists 1948 as his age-41 season. That's not an age at which you'd expect a 2.48 ERA in 21 appearances, including seven starts.

"Everyone knew Paige was the greatest player in the Negro Leagues of the prior two decades," Thorn said. "[Because of Paige's age] that was a bold move, and [Indians owner] Bill Veeck got more out of Paige than he could have imagined."

Paige wound up pitching just two-thirds of an inning in the six-game World Series win over the Boston Braves, but Doby went 7-for-22 with a homer and two RBIs. The homer came in a 2-1 victory in Game 4 that gave the Tribe a 3-1 lead.

Doby also played on the 1954 Indians, who won 111 games in the 154-game schedule, but famously fell flat against Willie Mays' New York Giants in the World Series. Thus began a pattern of postseason disappointment that Cleveland hopes will end in the coming days when the Indians take on the Cubs in the Fall Classic.

So Doby and Paige were not just Hall of Famers and important figures in the integration effort, but they are also answers to a trivia question. Maybe that question isn't historically significant, but in this town and with this team, anything associated with a championship is welcome.