COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Larry Doby’s route to the major leagues had been mapped by Jackie Robinson three months prior to Doby’s July 5, 1947 debut with the Cleveland Indians.But that didn’t make Doby’s journey any easier – or less important.
Doby was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame 12 years ago this week: March 3, 1998. The Veterans Committee also chose Lee MacPhail, Bullet Joe Rogan and George Davis – and all would be enshrined that summer along with Baseball Writers’ Association of America electee Don Sutton.Doby, the first African American player to participate in an American League game, humbly accepted the honor.“I knew being accepted (into the major leagues) was going to be hard,” Doby said. “But I knew I was involved in a situation that was going to bring opportunities to other blacks.”But Doby was much more than just a social pioneer. The powerful outfielder proved to be one of the American League’s most consistent players of the immediate post-World War II era.In 1947, Doby appeared in 29 games – recording just five hits in 32 at-bats. But the next season, Doby won the Indians’ starting center fielder job, hitting .301 with 83 runs scored, 14 homers and 66 RBIs while leading the Tribe to the American League pennant. In the World Series, Doby hit .318 to help Cleveland defeat the Boston Braves in six games.Doby was named to his first of seven straight All-Star Games in 1949. He led the AL in home runs in both 1952 and 1954 – hitting 32 each season – and finished second in the AL MVP vote in 1954.Doby retired after the 1959 season. His final career totals: 253 home runs, 970 RBIs and a .283 batting average in 13 big league seasons. He remained active in baseball following his retirement, and in 1978 Doby became the second African-American big league manager when he was hired by the Chicago White Sox.Doby passed away on June 18, 2003.Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum