Year Inducted: 1998 (Veterans Committee)
Those that are the second to do something tend to get lost in the annals of time. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, but not many people would remember Buzz Aldrin as the second man. The first man to develop an electric current was Thomas Edison, but few remember Nikola Tesla as the man who developed a competing type of current. Many people know that Babe Ruth was the first to hit (honestly any number could go here) 50 home runs in a season, but few know that Hack Wilson was actually the second person to achieve the feat. Likewise, Jackie Robinson is famous for being the first African American player to play in baseball after the game was (technically informally) segregated since near its inception. The second man to do so, who may have been lost to history had it not been for his induction, was Larry Doby.
Doby was a good player, hitting .283/.386/.490 in his career for a wRC+ of 137. Doby would smash 253 home runs and 243 doubles as part of his career 1515 hits. Doby was a well above average hitter, but plagued by leg injuries in his career limiting how much he could play, which of course limits his counting stats. That’s why, despite a great batting line, he didn’t drive in or score over 1000 runs-he only scored 960 and drove in 970. Both of those number are solid, but many players in the Hall of Fame have more.
Defensively, Doby is rated as a solid, above average center fielder. Fangraphs has his fielding pegged at +20 runs, which is not bad for a player that only played in about 13 seasons. In the Negro Leagues he mostly played in the middle infield. He had to move when he came up in 1947 because his manager at the time, Lou Boudreau, was the everyday shortstop and Joe Gordon was the everyday second baseman. This makes his solid fielding score a little more impressive since he had to learn outfield play quickly. According to his biography, Doby spent the winter of 1947 and Spring Training of 1948 reading books about how to play the outfield, and studied with Indians coaches Bill McKechnie and Tris Speaker in order to improve in the outfield. Both moves seemed to work well. Doby also would hire Olympic Trainers to help him in the offseason and before games to stretch out his legs in order to limit the effects of his injuries on his play. Unfortunately, his leg injuries would hamper him throughout most of his career, which was effectively ended when he broke his ankle in 1959.
Doby was a very good player that definitely deserves induction due to, not just his play, but what he means to the culture of the game. Why isn’t he as remembered as well as Robinson, though? Part of that is what was mentioned earlier, the second person to do something tends to be less remembered than the first. It isn’t like he didn’t face a lot of trouble like Robinson. The media was tough on him, calling him surly and morose upon his departure from Cleveland following the 1955 season. He, like a lot of African American players, had to stay in other hotels during Spring Training and the regular season. And, like Robinson, got taunted and threatened by fans. Another part is that he was probably not as good as Robinson was in their careers. Robinson—despite not having the power of Doby—played in 3 fewer seasons, had a similar wRC+, was a better defender and better baserunner than Doby. Another possibility is the cities that they played in. Robinson broke into the league playing for Brooklyn where the media pressure was intense and he was a part of several pennant winning teams. Doby mostly played for Cleveland and played for only 2 pennant winners in his time there.
Whatever the reason, it matters not. It took the Veterans Committee a long time to finally induct Doby (in the interim inducting players like Chick Hafey, Hack Wilson, Ross Youngs, etc.) but finally did in 1998, when Doby was 74 years old and more than 30 years after Robinson got inducted. Doby’s place in history should never be forgotten.
Stay tuned for the next update, featuring the first pitcher from the second generation of starting pitchers.
On deck 7/19/16 the primary spitballer in baseball history.