ATI

All-Time Indians: Larry Doby

Name: Lawrence Eugene Doby Position: Center Field
Tribe Time: 1947-1955, 1958 Number: 14
Accolades: Hall of Fame (1998), Retired #14 DOB: 12/13/1923
Accolades: 7 Time All-Star (1949-55), Top 5 MVP (1954), Top 15 MVP (1950, 1952)
Stats G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG AVG OPS
Best Season (1950) 142 503 110 164 25 5 25 102 98 71 8 6 .442 .545 .326 .987
Indians Career 1235 4315 808 1234 190 45 215 776 703 805 44 32 .389 .500 .286 .889
Post Season Career 10 38 1 9 1 0 1 2 2 4 0 0 .310 .342 .237 .652

Not recognized nationally until very recently, Larry Doby was a huge part of both the 1948 Cleveland Indians championship team, their return to the World Series in 1954 and all the years in between. While the team has had many incredible center fielders, Doby should be considered one of the best ever along with Tris Speaker, Kenny Lofton and Earl Averill.

Doby began his career as a second baseman with a different name in a different league as he debuted for the Negro League Neward Eagles as an 18 year old. He was still attending Long Island University, so he played professionally as Larry Walker so he could continue being an amateur as his give name. After two years in the Negro Leagues (the second under his real name), Doby spent 1944 and 1945 with the Navy in World War II. Returning in 1946, Doby batted .341, came in third in home runs, made the All-Star team and won the Negro League World Series with the Eagles. This would be his final full season in the Negro Leagues as part way through the 1947 season he was signed by the Cleveland Indians, making him Major League debut on July 5th as the first black American League player.

He played just 29 games for the Indians that season, mostly as a middle infielder, but it wouldn’t take long for him to find a home in the outfield and take over the starting center fielder spot. In 1948, he batted just over .300 and finished 29th in MVP voting at the end of the year thanks to 14 home runs and 23 doubles in 114 games (teammate Boudreau actually won the award and eight total Indians received MVP votes). The Indians had both a brilliant pitching staff and a fantastic top of the order as Doby was joined by fellow Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and player manager Lou Boudreau. Thanks equally to Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden, the Indians reached the World Series for the first time since 1920, advancing to face the Boston Braves.

As a 24 year old rookie in the World Series, Doby batted .318 with a home run and double as the Tribe took the series in six games. His solo home run in the third inning in game four would ultimately be the deciding run of that game, allowing Steve Gromek to earn the win and helping to keep the series from going to seven games. In winning the series, Doby became one of just four players (along with his teammate Satchel Paige, former Eagles teammate Monte Irvin and Willie Mays to win both a Negro League and MLB World Series).

Now a star in Cleveland, Doby continued onto his prime in 1949 as he crushed 24 home runs, his first of eight consecutive 20 home run seasons and made the All-Star game, his first of seven straight. While across the board he was better in every statistic, he didn’t receive an MVP vote. That would change in 1950 as he finished 8th behind fellow Indian Bob Lemon at fifth and Phil Rizzuto who won the award for the Yankees.

It was largely those Yankees who kept Doby and the Indians from returning to the World Series after 1948 as the team won at least 89 every year through 1955 including 92 in 1950 when Doby had his best career season, batting a career best .326 with 110 runs scored (career best), 25 home runs and more than 100 RBI for the first time in his career. In addition, he lead the AL in OBP and OPS after walking 98 times in addition to the rest of his accomplishments.

The next season, 1951, wasn’t quite as dominant for Doby as his production numbers fell some, but he still had 52 extra base hits, a career best 101 walks and another All-Star appearance. The hot streak of his prime would run from 1952 through 1955 and each year he scored at least 90 runs (his 104 in 1952 lead the league), hit at least 26 home runs (his 32 in both ’52 and ’54 lead the league) and slugged above .480 (leading the league with .541 in 1952). In addition, he knocked in 100 or more in the first three of those seasons, leading the league with his career best 126 in 1954.

Despite all his success in 1952, he finished 12th in the AL MVP voting and sixth among Indians alone behind Early Wynn, Lemon, Mike Garcia and Al Rosen, just ahead of Luke Easter. Two other Indians, Dale Mitchell and Bobby Avila received votes as well, but with a 7.1 WAR, Doby arguably was the second best player in the AL and was by far the best on the team. There are some who now argue after the fact that it was racism that kept Doby from ever winning an MVP and while he may have lost a few votes that way, it isn’t likely that was the only reason as Jackie Robinson was able to take home the Rookie of the Year in 1947 and the NL MVP just two years later.

In another year that could have been considered his greatest, Doby came in second in the MVP voting in 1954, a year after another Indian, Rosen, had won the award. He lost to Yogi Berra, who had a terrific and very similar season to Doby’s, but he beat out a large group of his teammates again, this time including Avila, Lemon, Wynn, Rosen, Garcia and Jim Hegan. That highly successful group went up against the National League MVP, Willie Mays and the Giants after winning the AL with a MLB record 111 wins (.721 winning percent).

This would be the most disappointing of Tribe series as the team went down in just four games, beginning a stretch that continues to this day without a World Series. The super star in center, Doby played extremely poorly in the four game series, batting just .125 with no extra base hits, runs or RBI.

Coming back in ’55, Doby again had a solid year for the Tribe. He batted .291 with another 26 home runs, 75 RBI and 91 runs scored, earning his final All-Star appearance at the age of 31. While he was still producing at a high level, GM Hank Greenburg made the unfortunate move of trading Doby to the White Sox for Chico Carrasquel and Jim Busby. While both played more than 100 games with the Indians at a decent level, this wasn’t a deal for youth or to improve the team immediately. The Indians had the opportunity to keep another one of their star players around for their entire career as they did with Feller, Lemon and Mel Harder, but instead he was moved for two players below his own value.

After two solid years in Chicago, the Indians realized their mistake and brought back Doby for 1958, coming from the Orioles (where he had been traded earlier in the off-season in a seven man deal including future Indian Tito Francona) in exchange for Bud Daley, Dick Williams and Gene Woodling. This was another poor deal as each of the three had above average seasons for three years after the trade while Doby would play just 89 games. He did hit 14 more home runs that year to bring his team total to 214, at the time the third most in Indians history and currently sixth.

Doby was traded one more time, this time again for Francona to Detroit prior to the 1959 season. This was a great deal for the Tribe as Francona went on to be a solid hitter for years while Doby’s career was at an end. After 39 games between the Tigers and later the White Sox (he also played with San Diego in the PCL that year), Doby left professional American baseball. In 1960 Doby tried to get back into the game, but injuries stopped him and he did play again in 1962 in Japan for the Nagoya Dragons.

After his playing career, Doby coached for the Expos, Indians and White Sox including a short managerial stint in Chicago in 1978. For his incredible accomplishments with the Indians, including top ten records in career runs, home runs and RBI and all the single season marks already mentioned, Doby had his number 14 retired in 1997 and was elected to the Hall of Fame the following year by the Veteran’s Committee, more than 30 years after Robinson was elected for his similar accomplishments.

Larry Doby died just a few years later in 2003 at the age of 79. He has since been immortalized with a statue outside of Progressive Field, one of just three Indians players (the others being Feller and Jim Thome) to be so honored.

Larry  Doby

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB

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