Doby, Lacy hit inclusion homer In Hall, most elite club opens to player, writer who fought prejudice

July 26, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- There was a time when Major League Baseball was such an exclusive club that hundreds of worthy black players could only dream of being admitted.

Larry Doby was only the second black player to see that dream come true and -- finally -- he has lived to join an even more exclusive group of baseball stars. He will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today along with 300-game winner Don Sutton, longtime executive Lee MacPhail, turn-of-the-century star George Davis, Negro leagues pitcher Joe Rogan, Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin and the legendary black journalist who crusaded against baseball's color line, Baltimore Afro-American sports editor Sam Lacy.

Nice touch. Lacy fought for the inclusion of black players and accompanied Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson during his historic first season in the major leagues. Doby would soon follow, becoming the first black player in the American

League when the Cleveland Indians called him up three months later. Both can see some poetic justice in their simultaneous arrival in Cooperstown.

"I think so," Doby said yesterday. "I think we both had to endure the same thing. Nobody thought this would happen 50 years ago, but God works in mysterious ways."

Doby would go on to hit 253 home runs and help lead the Indians to the World Series in 1948 and 1954. His career numbers would not necessarily have qualified him for Cooperstown, but they must be viewed in context. He played four seasons with the Newark Eagles in the Negro leagues before getting his chance to play in the majors, losing the opportunity to compete fairly for his rightful place on baseball's all-time lists.

"Only God above can answer that," Doby said. "I'm just thankful for the 13 years I got to play. I got an early start. Jackie was 26. I was 22. That was a time when if you were 31 to 35, you were considered old. I was fortunate to be one of those that time was in my favor."

His arrival in the major leagues on July 5, 1947, may not warrant the same historical significance as Robinson's breakthrough 11 weeks earlier, but he faced the same set of challenges in the era of Jim Crow.

"When it came time to break the color barrier in the American League, Larry was the logical choice," said Lacy, who also roomed with Doby at one point. "He was a good ballplayer. One of the two best players from the Newark Eagles. And like Jackie, he also had gone to college."

Doby, 73, has been battling cancer. He recently completed a course of chemotherapy and clearly has lost weight since he took part in last year's celebration of the 50th anniversary of Robinson's arrival in the major leagues, but said yesterday that he is feeling fine and the outlook is positive.

Rogan is not a household name, because he retired nine years before the color line was broken. He played 19 years for the Kansas City Monarchs and was one of the top stars in the Negro leagues, compiling a 113-45 record and a career .343 batting average. He dedicated his entire adult life to Negro League baseball, serving as an umpire after retirement.

dTC Lacy was the 47th writer to receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which is given for lifetime achievement by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Jarrin, who has been the Spanish voice of the Dodgers since 1959, is a figure of tremendous international prominence -- broadcasting the World Series to the Hispanic world for the past 16 years.

Like Lacy, Jarrin is closely linked to one of this year's Hall of Fame inductees, doing play-by- play for every game that Sutton pitched in a Dodgers uniform.

For a while, even Sutton had to wonder if he would ever get here. He had joined an exclusive group of pitchers when he won his 300th game in 1986, an achievement that once was considered an automatic ticket to induction. But he was passed over four times before the members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America finally gave him the necessary 75 percent vote of approval in January.

He had a tough act to follow when he joined the Dodgers' starting rotation in 1966, arriving near the end of Sandy Koufax's reign as the greatest pitcher in the game. Sutton would never be able to dominate a game like Koufax, but he won 15 or more games 12 times and established himself as one of the most productive pitchers of all time.

"This is why I had to win 300, so I could have this day," Sutton said. "I thought if I could win 300, it would be very hard to justify me not being in the Hall of Fame."

Sutton was one of the first top-flight pitchers to take advantage of free agency and spend his career in several locations, but -- despite a bitter parting with the Dodgers after returning to Los Angeles for the 1988 season -- he will be enshrined today as a Dodger.

"I can't find any reason not to," Sutton said. "It's what my mother would have wanted. It's what Walter Alston would have wanted. It's what the O'Malleys would want. It's want my dad wants."

MacPhail is the ranking member of one of baseball's first families. His father Larry already is in the Hall of Fame and his son Andy already has had an auspicious enough career as general manager of the Minnesota Twins and president of the Chicago Cubs to be considered a potential third-generation inductee.

Lee MacPhail began his career as a minor-league executive and would go on to be director of player personnel for the New York Yankees during a period in which the club won seven world titles in 10 years. He also served as the general manager of the Orioles and the Yankees before serving as American League president from 1974-83.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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