St. Paul Saints co-owner Mike Veeck stated he believed that the historical accomplishments of groundbreaking baseball player Larry Doby are too often overlooked. He spoke to the MSR during the July 20 home contest against Winnipeg on “Larry Doby Night” and said he’s doing his part to ensure the late baseball player and Hall of Famer isn’t forgotten.
“He loved St. Paul, and any excuse to come here; I’d come up with some phony night to honor him and he’d be embarrassed,” admitted Veeck on Doby. “What fun is [it] to have a ball club when you can’t do what you want?”
Turning serious, Veeck recalled the night Doby died in 2003. His wife wrote a letter to the Doby family. “I read the letter and started to weep. I told her to put it away and we would use it at an appropriate time.” He later tried to read the letter at a public event “and broke down, and I am not the type of person to break down,” said Veeck.
“My favorite Larry Doby memory is the year before he died [in 2003] in Cooperstown. He was sitting in a corner with all his girls around and my wife was sitting with them. One by one — Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays and all of these giants in the game — they all said the same thing, tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Thank you, big man.’ To see that parade of guys in Cooperstown was really wonderful.”
Another quick recollection Veeck shared was when his daughter wanted to touch Doby’s likeness on his plaque at the Hall of Fame — both he and Veeck’s father Bill were enshrined: “He [Doby] picked her up so she could touch his face and said, ‘Which one is Grandfather?’”
Although both Doby and Jackie Robinson entered the major leagues within a couple of months apart in 1947, the latter seemingly is more well-known than Doby, who was the American League’s first Black player. A possible reason for this, suspected Veeck, is that Robinson graduated from college, while Doby was a high school graduate who started playing pro baseball at age 17 in the Negro Leagues. He later returned there after World War II, where Bill Veeck purchased his contract, and signed him to play for his Cleveland club.
“He was a player’s guy. He wasn’t aloof like [Jackie] Robinson. He gave it all he had between the lines, and gave even more outside the lines,” said Veeck. “He always spoke his mind. He didn’t have prepared statements.”
“I’m not taking anything away from [Robinson] but it takes tremendous courage to be the first person. I think that people identify with Doby more,” said Veeck.
A book on Doby’s life was recently published and is used in South Carolina public schools, according to Veeck. “It was funded by the South Carolina State Board of Education because they didn’t realize what a hero they had in their midst,” he said.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.