During my tweener years in northwestern Ohio, when it came to baseball, we kids were either fans of the Cleveland Indians or the Detroit Tigers. Detroit was closer so we saw more of their games, which were telecast from Toledo; but (after all) the Indians were in the Buckeye state, which was the trump card for most of us. In addition, Tiger announcer, Van Patrick, was an over-the-top hometown cheerleader who could be both annoying and unintentionally funny at the same time. One time when the Tigers scored seven in bottom of the first against the Yankees, Patrick unabashedly whooped it up non-stop until the seventh when New York started to peck away and eventually won the game in regulation. I can still hear Patrick saying, “Heh-heh, not to worry the Tigers still have a four-run lead.” Then, “We’re still up by two and are about to close this one out.” Finally in unfiltered loud disgust as he blurted angrily, “Well, The Tigers lose another one!” We considered Indian announcer, Jimmy Dudley, clearly superior. To Van Patrick the best things on the planet were first baseman Walt Dropo and Goebel “22”, main sponsor of the Tigers. The beer company was later purchased by Stroh Brewery Company who continued with Tiger sponsorship. Freddy Hutchinson was the Detroit manager, and he’d pitch relief occasionally. |
Interestingly the starting pitcher for the Tigers that fateful day was Ralph Branca, the Dodger who gave up Bobby Thompson’s shot heard-around-the-world. He was seldom used after that and became despised in two communities. Poor guy. There wasn’t much ethnic diversity in MLB then, but being kids, we didn’t notice. We grew up watching and identifying with athletes regardless of ethnic background, which didn’t seem relevant because we were colorblind, I suppose, because we were brought up that way or hadn’t been “taught” otherwise. We didn’t perceive (or care) that Don Newcomb, Harry “Suitcase” Simpson, Luke Easter, Monte Irvin, Marion Motley, Mel Triplet, Johnny Bright, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson were black. We thought of them as top-notch players; that and nothing more. There were also players from Cuba—white and black—like Minnie Minoso, Pedro Ramos, and Camilo Pascual. Pascual became (and remains) my favorite pitcher of all-time. The guy had the wickedest curveball ever (Ted Williams said so) and a blazing fastball. It was like he threw shutouts every turn on the hill for the hapless Washington Senators most noted for their traditional fight for last place with the St. Louis Browns. The man was a warrior. For Pascual to be my favorite was really something since the Indians featured 20-game winners like Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, and Bob Feller. Come to think of it they had a Mexican second baseman who won the league batting crown one year. I won’t swear to it, but I think Bobby Avila led the AL with .341 in 1954. He also may have received mention for MVP several times. Al Lopez (El Senor) was the manager, and typically the first four batters were Al Smith (African-American), Avila (Mexican), Larry Doby (African-American), and hitting clean-up Al Rosen (Jewish).
The reason I reminisce about all of this is that I recently saw a movie about Jackie Robinson entitled, “42”. It was a feel-good movie about a talented, educated, commissioned WWII officer-and-veteran overcoming incredible societal stupidity and bigotry to become a trailblazer for not only all sports, but society as well. I understand what the focus of the film had to be, but was hoping his exploits as a UCLA halfback would be included. It would show the west coast wasn’t caught up in as much horse manure as the rest of the country, and to be fair the film did briefly allude to that during scenes of his home life in Pasadena. It was reported that the Dodger’s GM, Branch Rickey, considered another player, but opted for Robinson because of his college and military background.
Mention that “other” player to baseball fans today and you’ll receive blank stares along with a “Who?” on their screwed-up faces. To me, as an Indians fan, it seems like Larry Doby, the first black player in the AL is a forgotten man. The man is still getting hosed by being virtually ignored by media and public. He deserves better. Doby joined the Indians in 1947 courtesy of Bill Veeck (as in wreck) who provided none of the orchestrations and preparations Branch Rickey did for Robinson and we all know that situation was difficult enough. Doby was thrown to the wolves in American League stadiums that hadn’t seen Robinson, and received zero benefit from Robinson’s trials. When called to play first base against the White Sox that first year, none of his teammates would loan him a first baseman’s “trapper” glove. He had to borrow one from the White Sox. In 1948 Doby was largely responsible for the Indians winning the pennant, and became the first black to homer in a World Series game when the Indians defeated the Braves in six games; and he was also the first black to knock one out of the park in the annual MLB All-Star game. I mean, c’mon, shouldn’t somebody in baseball be making some kind of big deal out of those events. As it is, it’s like they never happened. Shameful.
Of course, as kids we had no idea what Larry Doby faced. All we knew was he was an important part of “our” team; and as such, gave “us” a chance to unseat the hated NY Yankees. Some of those pin-strippers still haunt me today, and it’s not the big-boppers; it’s the pesky set up men that either started rallies or confused Tribe hitters. The names are Phil Rizzuto, Dr. Bobby Brown, Gil McDougald, Eddie Lopat, and Allie Reynolds. Lopat was especially annoying with his collection of lefty junk balls that had frustrated Tribe hitters popping-up and grounding out. Whitey Ford was a Lopat clone. Doby gave us a chance. In fact, in my lily-white hometown the kids rooted hardest for Rosen, Doby, and Lemon. Line-ups seldom changed in days before free agency, and year-after-year the Indians finished second. Worse we had to suffer the World Series, which always featured teams from New York; Yankees versus either Dodgers or Giants. At one stretch, the Yankees won five Series in a row. Dark days… When the Indians finally broke through in 1954, the Giants(arrgh!), featuring the charismatic Willie Mays, swept them in four games. Misery.
Before Larry Doby died in 2003 baseball gave him a small token of recognition, but not anything close to what he deserves. Someday I hope to see the American Leaguers wear his number on a special day each season, and a movie entitled, “14”.
Copyright by Gene Myers, author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN (2009), Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY – a hilarious account of the author’s overseas travels; and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), PublishAmerica, Fredericksburg, MD - a mildly sinister, but amusing work of fiction. Both are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and available in Amazon Kindle and Nook formats. Watch for SALT HIS TAIL, a catch-me-if-you can crime thriller.
Related Articles -
baseball, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, ethnic diversity, Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby,