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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Larry Doby Remembered

I wasn’t planning on writing a column this week.  My intention was to take the week off and spend a pleasant weekend in Elkhart, IN, at a wonderful little jazz festival that is an annual event there.  Then last night (Wednesday) I heard of the passing of Larry Doby at age 79.  His passing marked the loss of yet another link to my childhood, and in a special way to my late father. 

Larry Doby came to the Sox in 1956 as a power hitting centerfielder.  In that respect he was somewhat of a disappointment, but at that point in my life, I was in love with everything White Sox.  I knew nothing of his struggles as the first African American player in the American League.  I didn’t know about the racial epithets that were slung at him, or the fact that he couldn’t eat or stay in the same places as his white teammates for a good portion of his career.  I just knew he was with the Sox and was therefore entitled to something akin to worship. 

June 13, 1957 was a big day in my life.  My dad was taking me to the second ball game of my life.  We lived in Bradley, IL, about sixty miles south of Chicago, and those were the days before expressways.  To get to Comiskey Park, you had to drive by the old Union Stock Yards. 

We got there early, and got grandstand tickets behind the Sox dugout.  The place was packed for the game.  The Sox were in first place.  Billy Pierce would face Art Ditmar.  Each team had won one game in the three-game series. 

There was no love lost between these two clubs.  Just the night before Yankees pitcher Al Cicotte had come close to beaning Minnie Minoso.  Minoso, who was used to being hit by pitches was so incensed that he charged the mound.  So the air in Comiskey Park was electric for this rubber game of the series. 

It didn’t take long for something to happen, and Larry Doby was right in the middle of it.  With a strike two count on Doby, Ditmar threw one up and at his head.  Doby went to the ground, barely missing being beaned. 

Doby did nothing, but words were exchanged.  The next pitch got past Yogi Berra.  Ditmar had to cover the plate in case the runner on second rounded third base in an attempt to score.  Doby said something to Ditmar.  Ditmar shouted something back at Doby.  Doby responded with a left hook and the benches cleared.

The crowd in the stands rose to their feet.  I was seven years old and couldn’t see anything.  First, I tried to stand on my chair, but it wasn’t high enough to see over the people in front of me, so my dad picked me up and I watched much of the rest of the melee perched on his shoulders.   

After a while order seemed to be restored, but Billy Martin apparently hadn’t had enough.  He jumped Doby, and the whole thing started all over again.   

Somewhere along the way, my dad said, “Look over there” and pointed.  There was Enos Slaughter, walking back to the Yankees dugout.  The beak of his cap was over his ear, and his jersey was in shreds.  Last summer Billy Pierce explained what had happened.  Slaughter had scratched Walt “Big Moose” Dropo in the face with his fingernails.  Dropo was infuriated and just beat the daylights out of him. 

When the umpires finally took control, they ejected Doby, Slaughter, and Dropo.  Ditmar, who had caused the melee was allowed to stay in the game.  The fans in the stands couldn’t believe it, except for those Yankees fans sitting behind us who went home gloating when the Yankees won the game 4-3.

I got some semblance of revenge on them by cheering at the top of my lungs the entire game, no small feat considering I’d had a tonsillectomy less than three weeks before.

While Doby is best remembered as the man who integrated the American League and as the second African American manager in history, whenever I’ve seen him I’ve thought of that day in 1957 when he unknowingly helped create the most vivid memory of my childhood, a memory his image or mention of his name has triggered for forty-six years.  Five days after the anniversary of that event Larry Doby left us.  His passing takes away that link to one of the best memories I have of sharing time with my dad.

On the other hand, in my memory, Larry Doby is still the strong athlete who took nothing from anybody. 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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