I am willing to guess that at least 90% of the readers of this blog have no idea who the man is (pronounced "dough - be"). On the other hand, I am also willing to bet that at least 90% of the readers of this blog know the name Jackie Robinson.
I first became aware of Larry Doby about 24 years ago while attending a dinner held in his honor in New York City. You might ask why I would attend the dinner of a person I hadn't known prior to the invitation - but that will become evident as I write. Once I learned about the man and what he had accomplished, I was more than a bit perplexed that I did not know of him - and I guess there is a lesson in that.
In life, Larry Doby was the second African-American to play Major League baseball. The first, of course, was Jackie Robinson. Mr. Doby followed Jackie Robinson by only 10 weeks, debuting with the Cleveland Indians on July 5th, 1947.
While all due credit is given to Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier in American sports, Larry Doby never seems to be mentioned in this regard, yet we know he suffered with and endured the same trials as Mr. Robinson. Had Mr. Doby a short-lived career, or one that was unremarkable, the lack of recognition might be understandable. However, Larry Doby went on to have a career that spanned 13-years and included seven All Star appearances (Jackie Robinson was an All Star six times).
In fact, the careers of the two men were very similar. While Jackie Robinson had a higher career batting average (.311 versus .283) and was a better base runner, Larry Doby had more home runs (253 to 137), RBI's (970 to 734) and a higher slugging percentage (.490 to .474).
Jackie Robinson was deservedly elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers of America in 1962. He was named on over 77% of their ballots. Larry Doby, however, failed to be elected by the BBWAA, never appearing on more than 3.4% of their ballots. Two men, playing the same game at the same time, both achieving success, but with two different legacies.
Now, let me ask you a second question - and I bet a few more people can guess the answer to this one. Who was the second African American to coach in the Majors? The answer, dear friends, is the same as to my first question, Larry Doby (baseball fans will know that Frank Robinson was the first).
So, being second in America is sometimes almost the same as never having been there. With our incessant focus on the headlines, the details often get overlooked. While we love to celebrate our heroes, we often neglect to celebrate men and women who are equally "heroic".
So whether it is Monday's Martin Luther King Jr holiday, or tonight's release of the movie "American Sniper" (which celebrates the heroics of US Navy Seal Chris Kyle), let us also consider those whose names we don't know -- because like Larry Doby, they too are heroes and truly deserve our respect.
Larry Doby did have a few firsts. He was the FIRST African American to hit a home run in the World Series, and along with Satchel Page, the first African American to win a World Series championship.
And finally, in 1998, Mr. Doby received deserved recognition when the Veterans committee voted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.