When I came to the United States in 1949 as a 13-year-old Czech refugee, I had never heard of the game of baseball. Less than a year after arriving, as I was learning the game, I came across the story of a young man whose story reminded me of my own. Larry Doby, a wonderful athlete from nearby Paterson, New Jersey, was a great hitter who was barred from the major leagues for one reason–he was Black. His story of being the subject of deprivation, disrespect, insults, and rejection resonated with me. Just as he suffered from American segregationists and their laws, I had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Larry Doby became my idol–my hero. I wore his number 14 in high school, college, and even on a sports car I raced later in life.
Jackie Robinson and the 1947 Dodgers have been celebrated and written about thousands of times. Unfortunately, the story of the second man to break through the barrier of major-league segregation, and the first in the American League, is not well known. As a friend of mine once asked: “Does anyone remember the name of the second person to fly across the Atlantic?”
I’ve read a number of books and stories about the desegregation of the Cleveland Indians by owner Bill Veeck, but no one tells it better than Luke Epplin, the author of OUR TEAM. The book’s tag line reads: “The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series that Changed Baseball.” The four men are: Larry Doby and Satchel Paige–two Black men who were instrumental in bringing a World Series championship to Cleveland–and Bill Veeck and Bob Feller. Feller was, arguably, the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, but at the end of his career by the time Doby and Paige arrived. Bill Veeck was known as a great promoter. However, what stands out in Epplin’s book is the fact that he was also a great humanitarian, one who nurtured Doby through difficult times and one who remained Larry’s friend for life.
I write about my own respect for, and eventual encounter with, Larry Doby in my memoir, NAME-DROPPINGS: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH THE FAMOUS AND NEAR FAMOUS. Epplin brings all the drama and strife of Doby’s life and career to the pages of his wonderful book, OUR TEAM. I recommend it highly, even if you may not be a baseball fan.