The St. Paul Saints have honored Larry Doby for many years. After a year’s postponement due to COVID-19, the team’s annual Larry Doby Night resumed June 29 when the Saints played Omaha.
The MSR also did our first Larry Doby quiz since 2016, where we ask a sample of Blacks at the ballpark their knowledge of Doby, the first Black player in the American League and the second Black major leaguer. That quiz found only one of 10 Blacks who knew who he was.
Five years later, the results weren’t much different, as again, only one Black, a married father of two, successfully answered the Doby question. A 16-year-old Black teenager had no clue.
“Is it a player?” asked a 25-year-old Black female from North Minneapolis. “Tell me about him.”
Bill Veeck signed Doby in 1947 out of the Negro Leagues to play for his Cleveland club. He played on two AL pennant winners, twice led the league in homers and once each in runs and RBI.
Doby’s uniform number 14 was retired by Cleveland in 1994, and by the Saints in 2005, two years after his death in 2003. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
This year’s Doby Night featured both teams wearing Negro Leagues uniforms. The host Saints represented the Newark Eagles—the team Doby played for and won the 1946 Negro Leagues championship—and the Storm Chasers wore Homestead Grays uniforms, the same team that Josh Gibson played on. Throughout the game, Doby was honored on the stadium’s large video scoreboard with historic facts on him and other Blacks in baseball.
However, just like the parent Minnesota Twins, the first-year Triple-A affiliate also has a trickle of Blacks in the stands, even on the night honoring a Black player.
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“It is disheartening that our people don’t come out to these games,” bemoaned the 37-year-old Black father—we spotted him, his wife, and their two children sitting in a section full of Whites. “I just love, love baseball,” said “Marlin” (not his real name). He showed this love as he double watched the Saints in person and the Twins telecast on his smartphone.
He also heard the typical “baseball is too slow” excuses when asked why there are not more Blacks at baseball games, whether major league or minor league. “I respect the game of baseball because of the strategy that goes with it,” he reaffirmed. Given the rich history and legacy of Blacks and baseball “it is concerning that we don’t have a lot of Black people at the games,” he added.
“Yes, I did notice,” said the 25-year-old young Black lady who wanted to know who Larry Doby was when asked about not seeing more people who look like her. “This is only my second [game]. I can’t wait to sit down and watch some baseball.”
But Marlin offered his belief on why so few Blacks at Saints and Twins games: “It is because of the market we are in,” he said about the Twin Cities Black population—13.5% in St. Paul and 18.6% in Minneapolis according to the U.S. Census.
“My wife and I were in Houston last week. We went to the Houston Astros [game]. There are a lot of Blacks there that go to the game,” he recalled. Houston is fourth among U.S. cities with large Black population, and Baltimore is seventh. “I go to Baltimore Oriole Park and you’ll see a lot of us out there,” he observed.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.