In August 1947, four months after Jackie Robinson had broken the National League‘s color line, Larry Doby was signed for the Indians by Bill Veeck (whom he affectionately called his “godfather”) and was the first black ballplayer in the American League. “The only difference [was] that Jackie Robinson got all of the publicity,” Doby later recalled. “You didn’t hear much about what I was going through because the media didn’t want to repeat the same story.” On the field, Doby noted, “I couldn’t react to (prejudicial) situations from a physical standpoint. My reaction was to hit the ball as far as I could.” Born in South Carolina, Doby grew up in New Jersey. He attended Long Island University and played in the Negro National League.
In 1948, his first full season, Doby hit 16 HR and contributed a .301 batting average to Cleveland’s successful World Championship drive. He batted a team-leading .318 in the 1948 World Series, winning the fourth game with a 400-foot home run off Braves star Johnny Sain. Although he led league outfielders with 14 errors in 1948, he became a good enough fielder to be named by TSN as the top centerfielder in the majors in 1950, ahead of Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider. In 1952 the lefthanded hitter led the AL with 32 HR, 104 runs, and a .541 slugging percentage. Doby topped AL batters in strikeouts two years running (111 in 1952 and 121 in ’53).
He played in every All-Star Game from 1949 through 1954, hitting a key homer as a pinch-hitter in his last All-Star at-bat. In the Indians’ 1954 record-setting 111-win season, his 32 HR and 126 RBI paced the league.
After his ML playing career, he played in Japan and coached for the Expos, Indians, and White Sox. He managed the White Sox for most of 1978; one of his catchers was his namesake, Cleveland native Larry Doby Johnson.