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Sports Heroes Who Served: Baseball Legend Larry Doby Served in the Navy During WWII

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 April 13, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Lawrence “Larry” Eugene Doby was the second Black baseball player to break the color barrier when he signed with the Cleveland Indians in July 1947, three months after Jackie Robinson made history by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A baseball player is at bat.

Doby made history as the first baseball player to go from the Negro Leagues directly into Major League Baseball.

From 1942 to 1943, Doby played for the all-Black Newark Eagles. At the time, no Black players were selected for Major League Baseball teams.

A baseball team poses for a photo.

From 1943 through 1946, Doby served in the Navy. He was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training School in Illinois, then Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco Bay, California. He also was assigned to Navy units in Ogden, Utah, and San Diego.

In 1945, he was stationed on Ulithi, a volcanic atoll in the Caroline Islands between Guam and the Philippines. The island served as a major staging area for the Navy that year during its final push to secure the Philippines and begin the invasion of Japan.

Two baseball players pose for a photo.

Serving in the military had been somewhat of a family tradition, since Doby’s father served in World War I.

In 1946, Doby briefly played for the San Juan Senators in Puerto Rico before rejoining the Eagles that year.

On July 5, 1947, Doby began playing for the MLB’s Cleveland Indians. Some of his new teammates refused to shake his hand when he was introduced, but second baseman Joe Gordon befriended Doby. 

A baseball player poses for a photo.

Initially, Doby had police protection to shield him from fans who were angry that a Black player was on the team.

Indians owner Bill Veeck, who signed Doby, had originally proposed integrating baseball in 1942, but he was rebuffed by MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. 

Doby, a center fielder, continued playing for the Indians until 1955. From 1956 to 1957, he signed with the Chicago White Sox, but he returned to the Indians in 1958. The following year, he joined the Detroit Tigers; later that year he rejoined the White Sox.

A baseball player poses for a photo at the edge of the dugout.

Despite moving around a lot, Doby amassed an enviable record: seven-time All-Star from 1949 to 1955; World Series champion in 1948; two-time American League home run leader in 1952 and 1954; and the American League’s runs batted in leader in 1954.

Following his career as a baseball player in the U.S., Doby played professional baseball in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons team in 1962. 

In 1978, he became the manager of the White Sox for one season. 

Doby was named director of communications for the National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets from 1980 to 1989.

In 1998, Doby was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 2003 at the age of 79.


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