By Scott Greene
Editors note: Shirley Povich championed the integration of Major League Baseball during his 75-year career at the Washington Post. His piece written for the July 5, 1947 editions of The Post and reprinted below covered Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Larry Doby later joining the Cleveland Indians. He also wrote a ground-breaking 13-part series in 1953 about the integration of Major League Baseball called “No More shutouts.” Several pieces from that series will run in the coming weeks.
The year 1947 marked Brach Rickey bringing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Bill Veeck signing Larry Doby for the Cleveland Indians. Major League Baseball and the country would never be the same. Povich believed Veeck was more sensitive to Negro League owners than Rickey, who signed additional players the following year and essentially destroyed the Negro Leagues.
New York, July 4 – Bill Veeck, the Cleveland owner who broke American League precedent by signing a colored ball players, did it at least the correct way in contrast to Brooklyn’s grab of Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League.
The Kansas City squad squawked, and justifiably, a couple years ago when Branch Rickey whisked Robinson out of their lineup and put him in Brooklyn’s Montreal farm without so much as an if-you-please.
Not a shilling passed between Rickey and the Monarch owners. When Veeck signed Larry Doby of the Newark National League club the other day, it was all very business-like with $15,000 being paid over to Mrs. Effie Manley, owner of the Newark franchise.
This Doby fellow is a considerable ball player, as I hear it, even with his .400 batting average in the Negro National League dismissed as an unsafe standard.
Mickey Vernon, who played with him on Navy teams at Great Lakes, says, “He’s a good ball player.” The Yankees, who saw a lot of him in Puerto Rico where he was playing on all-star teams last spring, are of the same opinion.
In fact Vernon, who saw much of Jackie Robinson during his tour with the Feller all-stars last year, asserts that Doby is a better ball player than the Brooklyn first baseman. “I don’t know where Doby will end up with the Indians,” Vernon said, “because when I saw him trying to play first base, he was no first baseman. He can play second or short, though.”
That’s where it may be rough for Doby. Of all the things the Indians don’t need, a shortstop and second baseman head the list. He’ll have to be a triple-distilled wonder to break in at short with Lou Boudreau, the league’s leading hitter and the best shortstop in the majors, still around. And at second base the Indians have Joe Gordon, who rates as the finest in the league.
At first base, though, the colored boy from Newark might well make it with the Indians, even though he is something less than a good first baseman. If he can hit as the Cleveland scouts believe he will, well, the Indians will welcome him at first base inasmuch as their present first-sackers, Les Fleming and Eddie Robinson, are no balls of fire.
The Negro race is batting 1.000 thus far in the big leagues, with Robinson something of a sensational success with Brooklyn. Going into today’s game he had a 20-game hitting streak going and was hitting more than .300. He’s the fastest man on the club, leads the league in stolen bases, is tremendously popular with the Brooklyn fans, and is one of the chief reasons why Brooklyn is leading the league.
Robinson isn’t a good first baseman, or even an adequate one, but his other talents counteract his defensive weakness. The complaints against him can be easily answered anyway. Natively, he’s a second baseman or shortstop, and for a guy who is playing out of position, he is doing an immense job. At second base, he might well be the league’s best, and certainly he would be the best-hitting second baseman.
It makes a lousy prophet of Bob Feller, incidentally. After pitching to Robinson on his all-star tour, Feller delivered the opinion, “That guy won’t hit big league pitching.” That’s the thing Robinson has been doing best.
In fact, if the Brooklyn club’s great need this year was not for a first baseman, Robinson probably would be plaing second and as a second baseman he would doubtless be on the National League All-Star team. But at first base, he is gone pigeon what with Jonny Mize and his 22 home runs overshadowing every other first sacker in the league.
Robinson doesn’t scare easily, either. He’s been hit by pitched balls seven times this year, more than any other player in the league, but you’d never know it the way he persists in his crow-the-plate stance. he used to sit on the corner of the Dodgers’ bench by himself, but now his teammates cotton to him and he’s one of the boys.
If Doby is a good ballplayer, he will have fewer worries than Robinson did at the outset. The National is a rougher league than the American, which is not as sharp-tongued. And for the Negro with baseball talent, the significant item was that Cleveland had to outbid a couple of other big league clubs in signing a colored player.
July 5, 1947