Larry Doby, an unshadowed hero, gets hometown tribute in Paterson
PATERSON — He’s not a household name like Jackie Robinson, but 69 years after Larry Doby integrated the American League — becoming the second African American to break professional baseball’s color barrier — Paterson honored one of its own with plaques, tributes and a rundown of his career highlights.
Larry Doby Jr. and other family members were on hand on “Larry Doby Day” Tuesday at the courthouse plaza as county officials recognized the Hall of Famer, who faced much of the same discrimination as Robinson.
And Rep. Bill Pascrell announced he is co-sponsoring a bill to posthumously award Doby the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.
Larry Doby Jr. said when his father shared memories of his athletic career, they were often of his exploits playing football for Eastside High School against Central, Passaic and other high schools.
“This is where he came from,” he said, adding that the city “meant a lot to him for so many reasons.”
Doby, who was born in South Carolina, was playing baseball for Eastside in 1942 at Paterson’s Hinchliffe Stadium when he was scouted for the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. He served in the Navy in World War II, then returned to playing for the Negro League.
The Cleveland Indians bought his contract from the Eagles and he made his Major League Baseball debut on July 5, 1947 — 81 days after Robinson first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year, Doby became the first African American to hit a homerun in the World Series — and the first African American, along with teammate Satchel Paige, to win the title.
Doby faced racism in his career, as Robinson did, being spurned by teammates, enduring hostility from fans and opponents, and having to stay at separate hotels and eat at separate restaurants.
“Like me, Larry Doby started out as a kid on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, but he went on to blossom into a sports legend, a pioneer of American civil rights, and a man of great service to his country,” Pascrell said.
After his 13-year Major League Baseball career, Doby coached, then managed the Chicago White Sox, and served as a director for the former New Jersey Nets pro basketball team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. He lived in Montclair, where he died in 2003.
In Paterson, the Ward Street post office was named after Doby in 1997, in one of Pascrell’s first acts as a congressman. The ballfield at Eastside Park is named the Larry Doby Field, and a statue of Doby in batting stance stands nearby. In Cleveland, the Indians last year unveiled a statue of Doby outside Progressive Field. A street outside the stadium is called Larry Doby Way.
Still, he remains far less known than Robinson, whose life is the subject of many books and the 2013 biopic, “42,” featuring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Douglas Branson, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of “Greatness in the Shadows,” offered answers to why Doby is so little known compared with Robinson: mainly, being second, not first, but also where he played — in Cleveland, not New York. His book also argues that Doby was overshadowed by other players of the time, such as Willie Mays and Paige.
Pascrell is sponsoring the Larry Doby Congressional Gold Medal Act, along with Rep. Jim Renacci, an Ohio Republican. It’s a tall order, Pascrell said, because two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate must co-sponsor a bill to nominate a recipient for the medal before the relevant committees in both chambers consider it. Jackie Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2003.
On hand Tuesday were a host of Passaic County officials, including County Clerk Kristin Corrado; freeholders Theodore “TJ” Best, Pat Lepore and Bruce James; Sheriff Richard Berdnik; Surrogate Bernice Toledo; John Currie, chairman of the state and county Democratic committees; and John Harris, the veterans officer.
Best said Doby would be the first inductee in the Passaic County Hall of Fame, planned for unveiling next year.
“He’s a hometown hero,” Best said. “He’s an American hero.”