Sunday, February 17, 2008


This informational Budd Greenspan 2007 documentary should be on the C-B-S network, not just the Y-E-S cable channel under the “Yogi and a Movie” banner. The story of the second black player (and first in the American League) in the modern era of major league baseball, Larry Doby is not a household name, but then again in Internet time kids today think LeBron invented the dunk. Twinned in history, Doby is inevitably compared to outspoken Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers and comes up very well.

Interviews with former teammates such as Al Rosen and Bob Feller are mixed with comments by contemporaries Ralph Kiner, Don Newcombe, and friends and family of this quiet Cleveland Indian who made the move from the Negro Leagues to the American League and became an All-Star Hall of Famer. Doby himself appears in a few segments.

The humiliation of not being able to get a cab and having to walk in uniform to the whites only clubhouse in segregated Washington, DC is just one of the many injustices that you can’t be reminded of enough times. It reminded me of my father’s story of riding the bus in DC in the ’50s and laughing that all the white folk stood in the front while there were plenty of empty seats in the back. Local black families took in the ballplayers who were not allowed to stay in the hotel with the rest of the team.

A great moment in the film is when the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Braves to take a 3-1 lead in the 1948 World Series. Steve Gromek pitched and got the win backed by a Larry Doby home run. The picture of a black man and a white man (see top of post) hugging was revolutionary in 1948 and Gromek took heat from it from his friends. Gromek's voice is heard commenting that it was nothing, just something that teammates do when they win.

One flaw in this film is showing that Doby retires in 1959 but then skips 10 years to Bowie Kuhn as the commissioner of baseball looking to advance blacks to the commisssioner’s office and to team management. What did Doby do from 1959-69? The “Yogi and a Movie” bumpers had additional info about Doby, such as Doby playing in Japan in the early '60s after his MLB days, and I would have liked to heard more about this episode in Doby’s life.

The first half of the movie is a social history of the era hanging its hat on Doby as one of many brave men who fought for the U.S in WW II but were denied basic rights after the war. There’s a great poster showing a man in military uniform in position to go into battle juxtaposed with the same man in the same position in a baseball uniform.

One fact I learned or forgot that I knew is why the Dixiecrats and Strom Thurmond left the Democratic party in '48. I only recalled that they did it, not precisely why they did it. Truman and the party had an extensive plank on civil rights presented at the '48 convention. For some reason, all I could recall was that the Dixiecrats hated Truman for one reason or another. There's a good audio of a speech by Mayor Hubert Humphrey of Minneapolis at the convention.

Ira Berkow’s NY Times 1997 column on Doby was key to getting people to remember Doby and why he should be in the Hall of Fame, not only for his skills but for what he had to overcome. When he was elected in 1998 it was long overdue, like civil rights itself.

The number of African-Americans in baseball has declined dramatically for many reasons. Baseball has suffered from foreign players taking American jobs but no one likes to talk about it. Hard for a kid to want to emulate someone who doesn't live here or speak the language. I guess it's like comic books; the world of sports isn't for kids any more. I’m old enough to have seen the first blacks who played for teams (Elston Howard--Yanks, Pumpsie Green--Red Sox, Ernie Banks--Cubs) in the later part of their careers and the way it's going, 2008's class could be the last. We could use a couple dozen Jackie Robinsons and Larry Dobys to take away the odor of the steroid cheaters, but heroes like this only come along once in a generation, if at all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure we can blame them if foreigners like baseball more than American kids.

Football is more exciting on TV and basketball is easier to get a game together. -- Jeff