COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson was the first African-American baseball player in the modern era. Another Hall of Fame player, Frank Robinson, was the first black manager.
And in both cases, the man who followed these trailblazers was Larry Doby – himself a pioneer on both the field and in the dugout.
On June 30, 1978 -- 32 years ago this week -- Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, the former president of the Indians who signed Doby as the American League’s first black player, promoted Doby from hitting coach to manager to replace Bob Lemon.
Despite leading the South Siders to a 90-72 record in 1977, Lemon, who made the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, had Chicago struggling through the first three months of the ’78 season at 34-40. At the time of the managerial change, the team had won just three of its previous 11 games.
Doby made his debut on July 1, and the White Sox were beaten 10-0 by the Minnesota Twins before they won the next night 8-5 to secure Doby’s first victory.
Milestones aside, Chicago continued to struggle in 1978. The team went 7-18 in Doby’s first 25 games and 37-50 overall in his tenure to finish the season 71-90. Don Kessinger was hired to replace Doby before the 1979 season.
Doby was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1998 after finishing his 13-year major league playing career with a .283 batting average, 253 home runs and 970 RBI. The left-handed hitting center fielder was selected to play in seven All-Star Games, twice led the American League in home runs and guided Cleveland to its last World Series title in 1948.
Prior to breaking the American League’s color barrier, Doby played for the Newark Eagles for four seasons, earning two All-Star selections and leading them to the championship in 1946.
His 36 years in the game also included coaching stops with the Montreal Expos, Cleveland Indians and White Sox before becoming their manager.
Chris Blake is the 2010 publications intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum