July 27, 1998

Doby enters Baseball Hall of Fame

Lawrence Eugene Doby's resume as an athlete is now complete. The Camden native is officially a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Editor's note: This story was published July 27, 1998

Lawrence Eugene Doby's resume as an athlete is now complete.

The Camden native is officially a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On a glorious Sunday afternoon in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking country, Doby, his wife, Helyn, their five children, a gaggle of grandchildren and a small army of vociferous Cleveland Indians fans celebrated what is considered baseball's highest honor.

"If somebody had told me 51 - 52 years ago that I would be standing here being honored by the Hall of Fame, I wouldn't believe it," Doby said.

"But thank God I've lived long enough. I certainly appreciate it," he said.

For Doby, now 74 and battling back from a bout with kidney cancer, Sunday's honor caps a long career in and around athletics in which he always seemed to be on the fringe of baseball's inner circle.

Today, he's part of it.

He started off his five-minute speech by telling a sprawling, sun-drenched crowd of 5,000 people that he "was born in a little small town in South Carolina called Camden."

To no one's surprise, Doby's likeness on his fabled bronze plaque features him wearing a hat of the Cleveland Indians, the team he broke in with in 1947 just 81 days after the revered Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier.

Doby spent much of his adult life living in Robinson's shadow and deflects notions he has any lingering disappointment.

"Why should I dwell and focus on being second," Doby told reporters after the ceremony. "I'm pretty healthy. I'll take second, baby!"

Robinson, who died in 1972, was voted into the Hall in 1983. Robinson's plaque in the hallowed central gallery makes no mention that he was the first black man to play major league baseball.

Doby waited four decades after retiring as a player to achieve the same honor as a pioneers who paved the way for other blacks to play major league baseball.

This time, the Hall of Fame didn't overlook Doby's greater contribution as a trailblazer.

Doby's plaque, in part, says his "exceptional athletic prowess and staunch constitution led to a successful career after integrating the American League in 1947."

If Doby harbors any bitterness, he hid it in remarks delivered during a two-hour ceremony at a sports complex south of the village.

"It's a very tough thing to look back and think about things that were probably negative. You put those things on the back burner. You're proud and happy that you've been a part of integrating baseball - to show people we can live together, we can work together, we can play together and we can be successful together.

"I'm very happy and proud I've been a part of this baseball and I'm still part of it," he said. Only once did his strong, resonant voice hesitate slightly - just for a moment.

Helyn Doby said "he's been that way all his life. He's not one to show much emotion." She conceded, however, that Doby was disappointed a year ago, when he didn't get voted into the hall during the 50th anniversary of the color barrier being broken.

Sunday also happened to be the 49th birthday of Doby's daughter, Christina Fearrington. "I couldn't ask for a better one," Fearrington said.

Those at the induction ceremony were treated to a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on harmonica played by St. Louis Cardinal great Stan Musial.

Among those Musial serenaded were K.D. and Dorothy Lowery of Timmonsville, who said they traveled some 800 miles to central New York to see Doby receive his honor.

"He's the first one to come into the hall from South Carolina. The people back home should be proud. We came up to be part of this historic event," K.D. Lowery said.

Mary Jo Johnson, who grew up in Georgetown and now lives in Rome, N.Y., said she remembers traveling to New York City as a young woman to see Doby and Robinson play.

"I was always so proud he was from South Carolina," Johnson said.

Cooperstown was crawling with baseball fans of every ilk throughout the weekend, but it seemed to be Cleveland East Sunday afternoon.

Bob and Donna Workman, both in their mid-60s and decked out in Indian T-shirts, drove 480 miles from Ashland, Ohio, to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Bob, a retired firefighter, said "Larry Doby was terrific. I just remember he could really play centerfield."

Donna, who wore Chief Wahoo earrings to the ceremony, said she's been a Doby fan since she was a teen-ager. She wanted to attend the induction "because Larry Doby is my favorite."

Workman, who is white, said she "never gave race a thought" when she watched him play for her beloved Indians.

"I just remember how far he used to hit home runs. That was a big stadium," she said.

Workman is not alone. That's what Hall of Fame weekend is here each July - a chance to relive a childhood memory with old-timers who come back to the museum like fraternity brothers returning for a college class reunion.

Most move a lot slower than they used to - although former Cardinal Lou Brock looks like he could still swipe second - and they're losing their hair and weigh a little more than the numbers listed on their Topps cards of years gone by.

Nathaniel Wise, a Prosperity native who now lives in Elizabeth, N.J., said Doby's induction makes him proud to be a fellow South Carolinian.

"It's long overdue," Wise said.

Bobby Scott, a Negro leagues star who played against Doby, has a theory why Doby had to wait to make it into the Hall.

Scott said he remembers Doby as strong-willed. "He was his own man. He didn't always do things people thought he should. That's prolonged him in getting into the Hall of Fame. It wasn't (that) he wasn't qualified."

The long wait didn't matter to fans like Dan Mahoney, 41, of East Meadow, N.Y., who sported a Cleveland cap "in honor of Larry Doby.

"I hope to get my picture taken with him," said Mahoney, who works as a key grip in the film industry. "I respected him as a player. "

"My father always expounded that he played the game to the max," said Mahoney, a regular at the annual Dave Thomas Invitational Golf Tournament in Columbia.

Paul Terry, 51, of Baldwin, N.Y., wore a replica 1947 Indians jersey with the number "14" on the back - the same number Doby was assigned when he joined the Tribe 51 years ago.

"I came (to Cooperstown) because of Larry Doby. It's long overdue. I just love this game. It takes me back to my childhood."

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