Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How the integration of the American League into Cleveland’s Glory Days

Whether you care about baseball or not, you know the name Jackie Robinson. But even a baseball fan of a certain age may not know Larry Dobie, Who made his major league debut with the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947, when Robinson boldly worked for the National League, integrating the American League just three months after that. Dobbie’s experience as the second black player to break baseball’s 20th century color barrier is one of Luke Applin’s first book, “Our Team”. Iplin recounts through the stories of four eminent figures the Indians of 1947 and 1948: Dobbie; Satchel Paige, a Negro pitching legend who joined the Indians in 1948 at the age of 42; Bill VK, team owner; And Bob Feller, Hall of Fame pitcher, who made his debut in Cleveland in 1936 when he was just 17 years old. Below, Applin talks about the origins of his interest in the team, how Doby’s experience differed from Robinson’s and more.

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

It is strange to find someone like me, writing a book about Cleveland, from rural Illinois, near St. Louis. I grew up as a Cardinal fan. But here’s how the germ happened: My father had difficulty hearing from my father’s side, so he did not go to World War II. Instead he worked at an airplane factory in St. Louis. He would go to Sportsman Park, which hosted two baseball teams at the time: the Cardinals, who were always great, and the Browns, who were terrible. My grandfather was an unusual person, in which he was a great admirer of Brown.

The Browns’ last owner (before they became the Baltimore Orioles) was Bill Vieck, an iconoclastic showman. I wanted to make a long project about him. While doing research, I went back to the years before owning Indians. Reading through the archives of The Sporting News at the New York Public Library, I saw these four names coming up: Bill VK, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Bob Feller. You had these four men, two white and two black, and they each seemed to represent different aspects of integration at that time. I felt, through these four persons, the big story has to be told here.

Credit …Beth Parker

What is the most amazing thing you learned while writing it?

I hadn’t realized how different Larry Doby’s introduction to the American League was from Jackie’s introduction to the National League. Robinson was signed in October 1945. From there he goes to spring training, and then a full season in the minor leagues. He goes to another spring training before coming to the National League. So he has a kind of appreciation period, to wrap his mind around what is happening. Dobbie played in the Negro League in 1947 over the Newark Eagles. He is 23 and is tearing up the league. On July 1, Veeck contacts a woman by the name of Affa Manley, co-owner of Nevra Eagles. Dobie plays a double-dider in Newark on July 4, boarding a train, and the next day he is in an Indian uniform. So he virtually travels overnight from Negro leagues to major leagues. It almost throws him into a state of shock. He said that the first time he came to the plate at Majors, he could not stop rubbing his teeth.

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