On July 5, 1947, Larry Doby stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter for the Cleveland Indians. The result of the seventh-inning at-bat against the Chicago White Sox, a strikeout, was unspectacular, yet Doby’s mere presence on the field helped change the sport forever.
Less than three months after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line with the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers, Doby became the first Black player in the American League. Doby went on to become a two-time World Series champion, a nine-time All-Star and a Hall of Famer. Doby, who died in 2003 at age 79, was also MLB’s second Black manager.
Perhaps none of Doby’s achievements would have happened had he not moved from Camden, South Carolina to Paterson, New Jersey at age 8.
“He got his start here in Paterson,” Doby’s son, Larry Jr., said Tuesday. “Without the teachers and the coaches to encourage him and help out, we wouldn’t be here.”
On Tuesday, “here” was Larry Doby Field at Paterson’s Eastside Park. There, a gathering of kids, politicians and local officials celebrated Larry Doby Day 75 years after he integrated the American League. Following weekend events in Cleveland that highlighted the same anniversary, a handful of speeches were delivered just a few minutes away from where Doby starred at Eastside High School and Hinchliffe Stadium. Festivities, including a DJ, food and ballgames, followed.
“He was a great human being who respected everyone,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell. “He believed that everybody was born equal. That’s the test, not anything else.”
Paterson’s mayor, Andre Sayegh, added that Doby was a “Paterson pioneer” and “probably the most successful athlete ever to come out of” the city.
Doby, who also served in World War II, played four sports at Eastside High before eventually sticking with baseball and shining with the Negro League Newark Eagles. In 1947, Cleveland owner Bill Veeck took notice of and signed Doby, who made his historic debut without ever appearing in a minor league game. By 1948, Doby established himself as an integral part of Cleveland’s ballclub. A year later, he was an All-Star.
Doby also spent time with the White Sox and Tigers toward the end of his playing career.
In the decades since, Doby’s story has taken a backseat to Robinson’s, but those in attendance on Tuesday have been working to change that. Pascrell was a proponent of Doby’s Congressional Gold Medal, and others are pushing for several initiatives related to MLB. These include an annual, league-wide Larry Doby Day on which current players wear Doby’s No. 14—similar to Jackie Robinson Day—and efforts to host an MLB game at Hinchliffe Stadium once the previously ruinous landmark is fully renovated.
“He is more than just a local hero,” said Brian LoPinto, president of Friends of Hinchliffe Stadium, a group that advocates for the site. “He’s someone that embodies a great spirit of sportsmanship, as well as the great history that he brings about integrating baseball in the American League.”
While those at Tuesday’s ceremony would love to see Doby honored more in the future, there was no shortage of celebrating where he grew up. That would have meant the world to one of baseball’s first trailblazers.
“Paterson has always been important to our family, and it’s always been a special place,” Doby Jr. said. “It just means a lot that they didn’t forget him. He didn’t forget Paterson.”