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Sports


Indians Hall of Famer Larry Doby's little-known legacy
Doby was the first player to break the color barrier in the American League but few people know about it
by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ
and KELLI FITZPATRICK


Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
 
Cleveland Indian Larry Doby was the first African-American player in the American League in 1947.
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This past week, the Cleveland Indians named a street near Progressive Field in honor of the late Hall of Famer Larry Doby. It was to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Doby breaking the American League’s color barrier. Doby has long-lived in the shadow of Jackie Robinson, who beat him 11 weeks earlier to the Major Leagues by joining the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers. 

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks to Amanda Rabinowitz about Doby's place in baseball history. and why his route to the big leages was much tougher than Robinson's.

Terry Pluto on Larry Doby's legacy

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Pluto assesses the Indians' first half of 2012

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In Robinson's shadow
Larry Doby broke the American League’s color barrier by joining the Cleveland Indians in 1947. But he’s long-lived in the shadow of Jackie Robinson, who beat him 11 weeks earlier to the Major Leagues by joining the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers.

Doby's route much different
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says the two men had dramatically different introductions to the Major Leagues. The Dodgers planned Robinson’s breakout like someone building a house with matchsticks—each step was carefully planned and executed, Pluto says; Doby’s experience was the opposite.

Where Robinson was signed before the 1946 season and gained Minor League experience and exposure with the other players, Indians owner Bill Veeck signed Doby in the middle of the 1947 season, when Pluto notes that the Indians weren’t “going anywhere.”

Age also made a difference, Pluto says. Doby was 23 at signing, five years younger than Robinson.

Treated differently, played little
Pluto says all of combined to make Doby’s first season rough.

“He comes in, he’s scared to death, just frightened,” he says. “There were two players who wouldn’t even shake hands with him. That first season, Doby played very little—he just sat there. It was a mess.”

Doby's mentor
The team brought back former player and manager Tris Speaker, as a consultant to teach Doby how to play center field. Speaker was reputed to have been a Ku Klux Klan member, but became Doby’s advocate in the league.

And Doby went on to become an “outstanding player,” Pluto says, leading the league in home runs twice and making seven All-Star teams. Doby played for the Indians for 10 years.

A street and maybe more
Pluto says renaming a street near Progressive Field after Larry Doby is not enough to recognize the significance of his career.

“When you talk about who mattered most … (who) has probably ever worn a Cleveland uniform, I think first you have Bob Feller and next you have Larry Doby,” he says.


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