If baseball were compared to old car rental company ads, then when it comes to historic recognition Jackie Robinson would be Hertz and Larry Doby would be Avis, according to St. Paul Saints Co-Owner Mike Veeck.
His St. Paul minor league club annually honors Doby, who was signed in 1947 out of the Negro Leagues by Veeck’s father Bill Veeck to play for Cleveland. This made him the first Black player in the American League but the second Black overall to crack a half-century or longer baseball color line after Robinson arrived in Brooklyn.
Doby helped the Indians win two American League pennants, twice led the league in home runs (1952 and 1954), and once led the AL in runs (1952) and RBI (1954). The team permanently retired Doby’s uniform number 14 in 1994, and a statue of him stands outside the club’s downtown Cleveland stadium. He is a 1998 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee as well.
“He’s number two, but [he] worked harder,” Veeck told the MSR last week in the Saints’ press box between innings on Larry Doby Night, July 13. He added, “I think baseball has been at fault” by not fully recognizing Doby’s historic footnote.
Veeck told us that a new children’s book on Doby’s life will serve to help move forward the recognition needle. About a dozen at-risk youngsters from the late ballplayer’s home state of South Carolina have produced the book for that state’s public school children. The effort is part of “A Backpack Journalist” classroom studies where third and fourth graders learn media skills.
“They produced 10,000 of these books. The kids have found a new personal hero,” reported Veeck, who knew Doby and grew up with his children.
“They called me to do a talk on Larry Doby,” continued Veeck. “I can separate Larry the man from Larry the ballplayer. The man was much more powerful than the ballplayer.”
Veeck has made it a personal mission to ensure that baseball fans, minor and major, remember Doby. This reporter even suggested that perhaps on next year’s Doby Night both teams wear No. 14 like the majors do every April in wearing Robinson’s number 42 for one game each season, his number having been permanently retired by every MLB club.
Always the showman, Veeck responded with a wry smile, “I’m not going to give you credit” if he goes with the idea.
Nonetheless, his mission will not reach its conclusion until more people give Larry Doby — the “try harder” Avis of smashing baseball’s color line — his full due.
Alonzo Harris and Tony Thomas, the Saints’ only two Black players, are key cogs in the team’s current first-place play this season.
Harris, now in his second season with the St. Paul club, has displayed both his power (he is currently fourth in American Association in homers) and his thievery (the centerfielder leads the league in stolen bases and is fifth in total bases).
“I’m just trying to take one at-bat at a time,” he told the MSR using the Bull Durham approach — “See the ball, hit the ball — have fun,” said Harris.
Thomas at short, now in his first season in St. Paul, is tied for second in extra base hits, fourth in total bases and slugging percentages, and fifth in home runs among league players. He hit a career-high two homers in one game and last month came a single shy of hitting the cycle (he had a double, triple, and a round-tripper, along with four RBI), and tied a career high of hitting safely in 26 straight games from May 20 through June 15.
“We support each other and motivate each other,” said Thomas of Harris.
Visit “Trials of an Only One” for a story about two African Americans from Minnesota at the RBI Tournament.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.