Larry Doby (1923-2003) was the first black player to play in the American League (in 1947), eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke into the National League. Doby was also the second African American major-league-baseball manager (White Sox, 1978, after being passed over by the Cleveland Indians in favor of Frank Robinson) and the third American to play professional baseball in Japan.
Bud Greenspan’s excellent 2007 Showtime documentary about Doby, “Pride Against Prejudice: The Larry Doby Story” (based on the authorized biography of the same name by Joseph Thomas Moore) leaves no doubt that Doby had to put up with the same indignities that Robinson did (including not being able to stay in the same hotel as the rest of the team during Spring Training and on road games in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, being shunned by some team-mates, pitched at, and vociferously heckled) without the mobilization of support Robinson enjoyed playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Both Robinson and Doby had been stars in the Negro League before and after WWII military service. (Doby, who grew up in Patterson, NJ, led the Newark Eagles to a championship in 1946). Robinson had a year in the Dodgers’ Montreal farm club to adjust to being the only black player on a white team before beginning his illustrious career in Brooklyn. Doby was thrust directly into the major leagues.
Both had to suffer much in silence, but Robinson was more outgoing than Doby, as well as being more-publicized, playing in NYC. Doby was a star of the World Series-winning Cleveland team of 1948 and of the Indians team that won 111(/152) games in 1954 before losing the World Series.
Doby hit at least 20 homers each season from 1949-56, leading the league in 1952 and 1954. A second-baseman for Newark, he was thrown in at first base (having to borrow a glove from the opponents, since his team-mate refused to let him use his), and became a seven-time All-Star center fielder, setting a Major-League record of 164 errorless games (1954-55) that stood for 17 year.
The documentary’s highlight is Doby’s belated (1998) entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He made a stirring speech, including paying tribute to Bill Veeck (“rhymes with ‘wreck'”) who did much more than sign him (three different times). His son, Larry, Jr., is very articulate about both his parents. Bill Veeck Jr., Hall-of-Famers Monte Irvin, Bob Feller and Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Ralph Kiner (each of whom overlapped Doby’s Indian years) also have insights to share.
I found very interesting but thatthe team-mate who went out of his way to treat Doby as a team-mate when he arrived was the one with the most reason to feel threatened: second-baseman Joe Gordon, and that Irvin and Doby had been the shortstop-second-baseman combo for Newark; both were sent to the outfield in the major leagues (similarly, black backs were played in receiving positions or put into the defensive backfield in the NFL before the 1990s).
There is some footage of Doby (and of later Cleveland roommate Satchel Paige*) from both Negro League and American League, and some newsreel coverage of Doby and Robinson. There are no scandals, other than the belatedness of recognition of what Doby went through to juice things up.
Greenspan has directed many other sports documentaries, including “Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin” (another sports story that is much more than a story about sporting events). This documentary is based on a biography of Doby with the same name that was written by Joseph Thomas Moore, who was involved with the production.
*Doby said that he shared a room with Satchel Paige’s luggage (1948-49), since Paige had a woman in every port (city) the team visited. The family-man Doby had little in common with Paige other than baseball talent and skin color. The anecdote made me curious about who roomed with Doby before Paige arrived – in the hotels that were not segregated in the other 5 cities in which the Indians played. Anyone?
Frustratingly, this fine documentary does not seem to be available on DVD.