Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 18, 2013

Jackie was the first — but not the only one in 1947

Monday was Jackie Robinson Day — the day all major league players wear his otherwise retired 42 in honor of his social significance.

Further attention is being devoted to Robinson this year with the recent release of the movie “42,” which depicts his struggles as he broke baseball’s color bar in 1947.

Largely lost in the adulation for Robinson are the four other black men who played in the major leagues that year — four men who faced the same racism and opposition as Robinson did, but without the historic fame that has accompanied Robinson through the years.

Their stories also suggest how well Branch Rickey chose Robinson as the trailblazer. Robinson’s success in his first year stands in contrast to the others.

Here are their stories:

-- Larry Doby, Cleveland Indians, debut July 5.

Doby may well have been on Rickey’s list when he was searching for the pioneer black. Instead, Doby became the Buzz Aldrin of baseball integration: the second black player in the majors, the first in the American League.

Doby had been a middle infielder in the Negro Leagues, but the Indians had a superb double play combo in shortstop Lou Boudreau and second baseman Joe Gordon. Doby was mainly used as a pinch hitter in 1947 and hit just .156.

The next spring he was converted into a center fielder, and his career took off. He hit .301 and helped the Indians win the pennant and World Series in 1948. He went on to make seven straight All-Star teams. He twice led the American League in home runs, once in RBIs, once in runs scored.

In 1978 be became the second black man to manage a major league team (Frank Robinson having been the first). In 1997 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

- -  Hank Thompson and Willard Brown, St. Louis Browns. Thompson debuted July 17, Brown on July 19.

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