The Obit For Larry Doby

The New York Times, Thursday, June 19, 2003 (Page B11)

Posted on Thu, Jun. 19, 2003
Yogi remembers happier times with Doby

New York Daily News

At mid-morning in the mostly empty Yankee clubhouse on Thursday, Yogi Berra was standing alone in the corridor outside Joe Torre's office, seemingly deep in thought.

Some twelve hours earlier, Berra had gotten the news he had been privately dreading for months - that Larry Doby, his longtime friend and Montclair, N.J., neighbor, had lost his long battle with cancer at age 79. Now the Yankees' legend was trying to sort through the flood of memories of the man he had known for more than 50 years.

"I lost my pal," Berra said, his eyes watery. "I knew this was coming, but even so, you're never ready for it. I'd call him and he'd say he didn't feel like talking, so I knew then it was bad."

The last time Berra had seen Doby was last Nov. 25 at a ceremony to unveil a special Negro Leagues exhibit at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in Montclair. At the ceremony, it was announced the museum would be erecting a special Larry Doby gallery as part of its planned expansion.

Although he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1988 - for what his supporters termed "his overall body of work" as the first African-American player in the American League, the second African-American manager, a seven-time All-Star, lifetime .283 hitter with 253 homers, and a premier player in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles - Doby, a four-sport star at Paterson, N.J., Eastside High, was also acknowledged as one of the greatest athletes to come out of New Jersey. For that reason, it seemed appropriate to have his memorabilia and career preserved in Montclair as well.

"We were friends almost from the time he came to the majors," Berra continued. "Even though we were on rival teams, we got to know each other in Jersey and our kids played together. I know (Berra's youngest son) Dale always used to say he considered Larry's wife, Helyn, like a second mother."

Most of Doby's friends agreed, when Helyn died in 2001 - also of cancer, the old slugger pretty much lost his will to live.

"Helyn was everything for him," Reggie Jackson said. "He was devastated when he lost her. Whenever I was around him, he talked about her. He didn't dwell much on the indignities and slights he incurred along with Jackie (Robinson), Hank (Aaron), (Bob) Gibson and the rest of the guys who came before us. I always thought Larry never got the credit for what he did.

"That's why I was glad for his election to the Hall of Fame. Everybody knows I've never been a fan of the Veterans Committee and who they put in, but Larry was the absolute exception."

In the years after his career ended in 1959, Doby, when asked, would willingly recount - with still-lingering pain - the decidedly cool reception he got from his own teammates on July 5, 1947, when he reported to Cleveland after maverick Indians owner Bill Veeck had purchased his contract from the Newark Eagles for $15,000. Manager Lou Boudreau lined them all up to shake his hand. Many of the handshakes were limp at best and three of the Indians players refused altogether. First baseman Eddie Robinson, according to Doby, had to be talked into lending him his glove.

"Other than (Indians second baseman) Joe Gordon, who befriended me right away, I felt very alone," Doby said. "Nobody really talked to me. The guy who probably talked to me most back then was Yogi, every time I'd go to bat against the Yankees. I thought that was real nice, but after awhile I got tired of him asking me how my family was when I was trying to concentrate up there."

"I know at least one time I didn't interrupt his concentration," Berra recalled now with a smile. "The time he hit that homer to center field in the old Yankee Stadium. He was the first guy to ever hit one there."

Actually, according to research, the homer Doby hit over the 430-foot sign in the old Yankee Stadium off the Yankees' Bob Porterfield in May of 1949 was the second recorded to have hit that spot. Lou Gehrig also hit one there off Grover Cleveland Alexander in the 1928 World Series.

"All I know," said Berra, "is that I called the pitch and it was the wrong one."

It was one of those things the two of them laughed about through the years, with each retelling it. Only this time, it was not the pitch Yogi said he wished he could have back, but his friend who hit it.


Hall of Famer Larry Doby Remembered

.c The Associated Press

06/23/03 20:07 EDT

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) - Friends, family and fellow Hall of Famers gathered Monday to remember Larry Doby, 56 years after he became the American League's first black player.

Doby died last Wednesday at his home in Montclair after a long illness. He broke the AL's color barrier when he joined the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947, 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.

Doby, who played 13 seasons in the major leagues and was selected for seven All-Star games, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

During an afternoon memorial service at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montclair, Doby was remembered as a man of quiet dignity who never said an unkind word, even about those hostile to his joining the Indians.

Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and Joe Morgan, as well as Gov. James E. McGreevey, U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg and Rep. William J. Pascrell Jr., were among more than 300 mourners at the service.

Rizzuto, who played for the AL rival New York Yankees, said after the service that Doby had ``nerves of steel,'' and noted that he was never envious of the much greater attention Robinson received.

Morgan, a two-time National League MVP with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s, met Doby in 1976, and the two became golf buddies.

``I'm a frat brother of Larry's in the greatest fraternity on earth, the Hall of Fame,'' Morgan said during the ceremony. ``He never, ever told me who would not shake his hand, because some of those folks were in the Hall of Fame.''

Lawrence Eugene Doby Sr. was born Dec. 13, 1923, in Camden, S.C., but he grew up in Paterson, N.J., then moved to Montclair 40 years ago, and has been adopted by New Jersey officials and institutions as one of their own. Lautenberg and Pascrell proudly pointed out they were once Paterson neighbors of Doby's. McGreevey said Doby possessed ``an understanding that the promise of America is also the promise of every child.''

``When we celebrate Larry, we celebrate what it means to be an American,'' the governor said.

The service at the small stucco church was punctuated by readings from scripture and the singing of hymns, including ``Amazing Grace.'' The Rev. A. Craig Dunn said Doby ``didn't allow race stop him from running the race.''

Larry Doby Jr., one of Doby's five children, read his father's obituary, noting he attended Long Island University and Virginia Union University before being drafted by the Navy in 1943.

Doby sat on the board of a Newark-based scholarship fund, Project Pride, run by sports writer Jerry Izenberg, a longtime friend and confidante, who told mourners of Doby's persistent optimism.

``There were so many nights when we talked about all the things that were wrong, but none of those conversations ended without Larry thinking they could be right,'' said Izenberg, who acknowledged the presence of Michael Veeck, son of the late Bill Veeck, the Indians owner who signed Doby. ``Mike said, `I sure hope that there's an afterlife, because if there is, I know my dad and Larry are there together.'''

In addition to Larry Jr., Doby's surviving children are Leslie Feggan, Kimberly Martin, Susan Robinson and Christina Fearrington.

``We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day, and all my daddy's friends were there from all over,'' Fearrington, 53, of Edison, N.J., said later.

Asked what was the most valuable lesson her father had imparted to her, Fearrington replied, ``Just to treat everyone as a person, that's how we grew up - everybody was equal.''