Doby, the pride of Camden, enters Hall

07/25/1998 12:00 AM

03/14/2015 3:08 PM

Editor's note: This story was published July 25, 1998

Skin color didn't mean much to the children who played stickball on Lyttleton Street back in the 1930s.

For three sisters who competed there, it still doesn't. They plan to gather around a television Sunday night and watch as Larry Doby, one of their friends from nearly 60 years ago, is inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Doby, a Camden native, enters the hall in an afternoon ceremony that will be taped and broadcast on the ESPN2 cable network starting at 7 p.m.

Doby was the second African-American to play major league baseball, following Jackie Robinson by 81 days in 1947.

Ellen Davis and her sisters - Edna Reynolds and Lorine Stogsdill- grew up in what is now the 800 block of Lyttleton Street, just a stone's toss from where Doby lived with his aunt, uncle and five cousins, the Cooke family.

"That street had the most beautiful, big (elm and oak) trees back then," said Davis, who turns 84 today. "It was a wonderful place to play."

The sisters, who were known back then as the Straks, remember Doby and his cousins with fondness. "They were good neighbors," Reynolds said.

"He was a very polite young man," Stogsdill said of Doby.

Doby, likewise, recalls those carefree days.

"I have nothing but good memories and fond memories of Camden," Doby said.

Catherine Johnson, Doby's cousin who still lives in the Cooke home on Lyttleton Street, said she gets a kick out of how Doby sometimes introduces himself to strangers.

"The first thing he tells people is he's from Camden, South Carolina. He's proud of his roots," said Johnson, 80.

Reynolds and her sisters are happy for Doby and his honor, but aren't awestruck by it.

"We followed his career," Reynolds said. "We knew he had a chance to make it. But I can't say we kept track of everything" he did.

The Strak sisters, the Cooke children, Doby and other kids in the neighborhood would play what most would describe as stickball. Davis said the game often was nothing more than a pitcher tossing a ball and a batter whacking at it hard.

"Sometimes we didn't even have a real bat," Stogsdill said. "It was just a board."

Her sisters burst into laughter.

"If you say so," Davis said.

They all agree today that race didn't matter back then on Lyttleton Street.

"We were all neighborly and friendly," Reynolds said. "The color of somebody's skin didn't make any difference to any of us. It still doesn't."

Doby, who now lives in Montclair, N.J., remembers it the same way.

"If you leave kids alone, you won't have any problem with race," Doby said.

"Back in 1936, '37 and '38, people would never think that would happen in South Carolina. But it did happen. There was never any problem," he said.

Years later, when Doby broke the American League's racial barrier, he endured the same taunts, jeers and snubs from teammates, opponents and fans as Robinson, the fabled Brooklyn Dodger.

In 1978, Doby became the second African-American to manage a major league team - following another Robinson, Frank. He was the first black player to hit a World Series' home run.

Rollin Reynolds, Edna's husband, said he was in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium on that landmark day, Oct. 9, 1948.

"I remember it like it was yesterday. It was so exciting to see the Indians win," said Reynolds, who grew up in Cleveland.

Reynolds later joined the Air Force and found himself stationed at Shaw Air Force base in Sumter, where he eventually met Edna Strak of Camden.

They married in 1956. It was several years later that he discovered his wife's connection with one of his childhood sports idols.

Doby's pending honor has Camden, a quaint town 40 miles east of Columbia, bursting with pride.

"Everybody here is so excited that he's finally getting his due," Kershaw County Councilman John Lee said.

"We're just delighted," County Council Chairman Steve Kelly said. "Baseball traditionally has been a big sport in Camden and Kershaw County over the years. We'd like to feel his honor rubs off a little bit on us."

Ernie Mills, a community activist who does some regional scouting for the Boston Red Sox, said, "This was something that should have been done a long time ago."

Camden - and America, for that matter - rediscovered Doby a year ago.

Doby spent much of 1997 barnstorming the country as a goodwill ambassador during the 50th anniversary celebration of the integration of major league baseball.

Doby learned the game from the late Frank Dubose, a local legend who coached youngsters in Camden and organized a team of black boys to play in neighboring communities like Dusty Bend and Kirkwood.

"We didn't have Little League back then. We had to organize our own teams and our own games," said Doby.

For Doby and the Strak sisters, games on Sunday took a back seat in the 1930s.

Doby said he remembers his Uncle Jim making him and his cousins kneel around a bed to say a prayer before heading off to a Methodist Church on Campbell Street.

Two houses down Lyttleton Street, the Strak sisters' father had strict rules, too.

"My daddy wouldn't let us play ball on Sunday," Davis said.

Times have changed.

Tomorrow, Edna Reynolds, Ellen Davis and Lorine Stogsdill will try to find a television with cable service so they can watch their childhood pal realize every baseball player's dream.

Reynolds, the most outspoken of the trio, said "it's about time they recognize him. He's a fine gentlemen and he was a good ballplayer. At least that's what my husband says."

Eight hundred miles away, Doby will step to the podium in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday and try to express his feelings.

Last week, he was unsure what he might say on induction day.

"The most important thing about the speech is thanking those people who helped me be successful. I'm not one of those people who will bore people with a lot of stuff that happened 50 years ago," Doby said.

"I'm just happy I come from South Carolina. And I'm just happy God gave me the kind of ability to be a major baseball player," he said.

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