LARRY DOBY’s Winter With the Baltimore Orioles
I like to think I’m pretty hip when it comes to the history of the Baltimore Orioles, but it’s only recently that I learned about their trade for baseball Hall-of-Famer Larry Doby fifty years ago. You’ve got to cut me some slack though – it happened over a decade before I was born.
Doby, of course, was a former Negro League player who integrated the American League just eleven-and-a-half weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. A left-handed hitting centerfielder with a corkscrew swing, Doby batted .301 the following year to help the Cleveland Indians win their last World Series. From 1949-1955, he made seven consecutive All-Star teams, averaging 27 homers and 95 runs batted in. After the 1955 season, Cleveland traded Doby to the Chicago White Sox for a pair of former All-Stars.
Doby knocked in 102 runs his first season in the Windy City, but the fans turned on him in 1957 when a recurring groin injury forced him to miss thirty-five games.
“We wouldn’t start another season with Doby because the fans are down on him,” explained Chicago skipper Al Lopez, who’d been managing Cleveland when they dealt Doby away.
Ten days before Doby’s 34th birthday on December 13, he was traded to the Orioles in a seven-player deal. “This trade gives us more punch,” remarked Baltimore manager Paul Richards. “Something we have always been shy on in the late innings.”
There was no disputing that, but many baseball people considered something else that Richards said a lot more telling: “The acquistion of Doby gives us more potential to make other trades between now and spring training.”
All winter long, The Sporting News published speculation that Doby would never actually play for the Orioles, followed by Richards insisting he had no plans to trade him.
One published report said the Orioles directors were peeved at Richards over Doby’s acqusition because the outfielder’s salary was over $36,000. If that didn’t get Doby traded, surely the fact that he’d never be happy watching his line drives die on the warning track in vast Memorial Stadium would.
However, Doby flew to Baltimore on the eve of spring training, aced his physical, signed his contract and announced “If you’re going to hit, you can hit anywhere. Perhaps everything will work out, because I understand the Orioles are planning to move in the fences. I am in favor of that.”
When spring training camp got underway in Scottsdale, Arizona, Richards told reporters “Doby’s my centerfielder, and probably will bat in the number three spot.”
Though Doby was a proven talent, Richard apparently saw something alarming when the eleven-year veteran misjudged several fly balls and got off to a .220 start at the plate. Two weeks before opening day, Doby was traded back to the Cleveland Indians in a five-player deal involving Gene Woodling, who’d earn Most Valuable Orioles honors in 1958.
The hundred or so people who’d already purchased tickets for a “Friends of Larry Doby” welcome dinner in Baltimore were disappointed, but the deal was a good one for the Orioles. Doby lasted 89 games as a platoon player in Cleveland, then ended his career with 39 games split between two clubs in 1959.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, and passed away five years later at the age of 79.
by MALCOLM ALLEN