Monday, April 15, 2013

FACE TIME: 1958 TOPPS LARRY DOBY





Larry Doby doesn't have a day in his honor, a motion picture coming out about his life nor is his No. 14 retired by Major League Baseball. Nevertheless, he should be remembered equally with Jackie Robinson. As the American League's first black player, Doby experienced the same racism but persevered during a 13-year Hall of Fame career. 

So on Jackie Robinson Day, pause to remember Larry Doby, too. They both made powerful statements in 1947: Integration was good for baseball. 

When this card came out, Doby was at the tail end of his career and with the Indians for a second time. Jackie retired at the end of the '56 season and Doby would last until '59. I like this portrait of an aging Doby, especially the fold in the front panel of his well-worn cap.

I don't know if the photographer asked Doby to turn his head slightly to his left, but by doing so, he produced a flattering shot of the seven-time All-Star.

This is the face of the first black player to homer in the World Series ('48) and All-Star Game ('54) and who went directly from the Negro Leagues to the majors. Robinson was sent to Dodger minor-league affiliate Montreal before Brooklyn.

Indians owner Bill Veeck wanted to integrate baseball in '41 but was rebuffed by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. After finding Doby, who was playing for the Newark Eagles, Veeck had him in an Indians uniform two days after the signing. He debuted in the first game of a doubleheader on July 4, 1947, three months after Robinson. Like with Robinson, Doby's temperament was a key factor because Veeck knew Doby would be taunted. 

Doby rose to the challenge. He hit 253 homers, drove in 970 runs and hit .283. He lost a close MVP vote to Yogi Berra in 1954, when he tied a career-high 32 homers and drove in a career- and league-high 126 runs. He was inducted into Cooperstown in '98.

While Doby's story won't get a glitzy Hollywood re-telling, it's a tale every bit as important.

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