Diverse paths cross at Hall Pioneers Doby, Lacy share dais with Sutton on induction day

July 27, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- They came from different places. Different backgrounds. Different eras.

Don Sutton, the son of a tenant farmer, won 324 games and was one of the most steady and consistent pitchers of his generation.

Larry Doby, the brilliant young Negro leagues outfielder who followed closely in the footsteps of Jackie Robinson, hit 253 major-league home runs, but is better known as the first black player in the American League.

Sam Lacy, the sports editor and columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American these past 54 years, crusaded for the inclusion of black players in the major leagues and, yesterday, was included in the large class that was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame.

The Class of '98 also included longtime baseball executive Lee MacPhail, turn-of-the-century star George Davis, Negro leagues pitcher Joe Rogan and Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, all of them honored during an emotional 2 1/2 -hour induction ceremony on the lawn of the Clark Sports Center on the outskirts of Cooperstown.

It was Sutton who tugged hardest on the heartstrings of the estimated crowd of 6,000 with an elegant 20-minute acceptance speech that traced his career from the uncut baseball fields of the rural South to the stage where he stood in front of 33 past Hall of Fame inductees to see his plaque unveiled.

"I've wanted this for over 40 years," he said, "so why am I standing here shaking like a leaf? Probably because I'm standing in front of these wonderful artists of our game. If you can't feel the aura when you walk through the Hall of Fame, check tomorrow's obituary column because you're in it."

Sutton thanked his father for the work ethic that carried him through 23 major-league seasons. He lovingly acknowledged his late mother, Lillian, his wife, Mary, and his children.

He thanked Hall of Fame teammates Sandy Koufax and the late Don Drysdale, who inadvertently ushered him into the major leagues with their dual contract holdout in 1966, then guided him through his first season. He thanked the late Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who took a chance on him in his youth, and former Angels manager Gene Mauch, who stuck with him in the latter stages of his career.

But he saved the most credit for his eventual Hall of Fame induction for longtime Dodgers pitching coach Red Adams, who fashioned him into the durable and skillful pitcher who would win 15 or more games 12 times and finish his career ranked fifth all-time with 3,574 strikeouts.

"No person ever meant more to my career than Red Adams," Sutton said. "Without him, I would not be standing in Cooperstown today."

There weren't a lot of dry eyes when Sutton finally pointed out his 20-month-old daughter Jacqueline, who was born 16 weeks premature and given little chance to survive, and credited her with bringing his life and career into perspective.

"Thanks, little girl, for sticking around to be part of this. You make it perfect," said Sutton, 53. "I'm a very blessed man. I have my health. I'm part of a family that I love to be a part of. I've had a dream come true that is a validation of what my father taught me a long time ago. You can have a dream and if you're willing to work for it, it can come true. With apologies to Lou Gehrig, I'm the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have everything in life I ever wanted."

The makeup of the group of honorees clearly reflected the great progress that baseball -- and society -- has made during the half-century since Robinson broke through baseball's color barrier in 1947.

Doby would soon join Robinson in the major leagues, helping fulfill the dream that Lacy had articulated in countless newspaper columns in the 1930s and early 1940s -- a dream that still seemed very distant when Rogan ended his playing career in 1938. Jarrin would forge a link to the Latino community in Los Angeles a decade later and emerge as the voice of baseball to millions of Hispanic baseball fans in the United States and Latin America.

Lacy, 94, gave the crowd a start when he stumbled and fell on his way to the podium, but he collected himself and delivered a poignant, humorous speech that included a call to more fully acknowledge the history and contributions of the black press.

"I hope that my presence here will impress on the American public that the Negro press has a role that is recognized and honored," Lacy said.

Doby also gave a stirring acceptance speech, recounting a career that began with the four years he spent with the Newark Eagles of the Negro leagues and took a historic turn when Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck purchased his contract and brought him right to the majors on July 5, 1947.

"Everything I have and my family has got has come from baseball," he said. "If someone had told me 50 years ago that I would be here today, I would not have believed it."

Pressed later for details of indignities he suffered as one of the pioneer black players, he responded without rancor or bitterness.

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