By Frederic J. Frommer
Larry Doby, who debuted as the first Black player in American League history 75 years ago Tuesday, could have wound up in D.C. if Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith hadn’t whiffed on an opportunity to land him.
In October 1945, Doby was serving with Senators star Mickey Vernon in the Navy on a small island near Guam when they heard on the radio that the Brooklyn Dodgers had signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract.
“I was very surprised, like a lot of people,” Doby recalled in 1997. “… Mickey said to me, ‘There’s your opportunity,’ and he wrote a letter to Clark Griffith recommending me. They weren’t ready to integrate, though.”
Vernon returned to the Senators in 1946 after a two-year military hiatus and didn’t miss a beat, leading the American League with a .353 batting average and 51 doubles. Doby rejoined the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League, where he put up similar numbers, hitting .365 with a league-high 10 triples in 59 games.
The Cleveland Indians signed Doby to a major league contract in the first week of July 1947, a move that player-manager Lou Boudreau called “a routine baseball purchase — in my mind. Creed, race or color are not factors in baseball success.”
Indians owner Bill Veeck said Robinson had proved to be a legitimate major leaguer. “So I wanted to get the best of the available Negro boys while the grabbing was good,” he said. “Why wait? Within 10 years Negro players will be in regular service with big league teams, for there are many colored players with sufficient capabilities to make the majors.”
Doby, then 23, played in his first game July 5, 1947 — becoming the second Black player in modern baseball history, less than three months after Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Griffith, meanwhile, dug in for years after other teams integrated.
“I will not sign a Negro for the Washington club merely to satisfy subversive persons,” he said in a 1952 Sporting News retrospective piece at 82. “I would welcome a Negro on the Senators if he rated the distinction, if he belonged among major league players.”