CLEVELAND — Outfielder Larry Doby was the first African-American to play in the American League when he joined the Indians in 1947, months after Jackie Robinson joined the National League.
Seventy years later, another Doby will be at center field at the Tribe’s ballpark. Larry Doby, Jr. has been a rigger on Billy Joel’s crew for the last 22 years and is among the crew members working to turn Progressive Field into a concert venue for Joel’s sold out show Friday night. He makes sure lighting, audio and video equipment are all hung properly.
“It takes a ton of manpower,” he said.
Doby, Jr. was here when the Indians unveiled a statue of his father at the center field entrance and when Eagle Avenue was dedicated as Larry Doby Way. Now here for work, it’s a ballpark tour stop unlike the others.
“Obviously this one will be a little bit different because I’ll look up and see my father’s name and think about the times my family spent here, and how they welcomed him here, and what this city meant to him,” he said.
Doby was part of the last world champion Indians team in 1948 and over his 13-year career logged 253 home runs and was named an all-star seven times. Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, along with Rep. Jim Renacci, have introduced bills to award Doby a Congressional Gold Medal. The bill has bipartisan support, and Brown’s office said he’s hopeful the bill will pass this year.
“Himself and Jackie Robinson, when they first got the opportunity, it was just they were very lucky, fortunate, happy and they just wanted to make good,” Doby, Jr. said. “I think the enduring legacy is they knew if they didn’t do well it might be a long time before others came after them, but the fact that they did succeed has opened the door and things that happen today that we don’t even think of are made possible by their efforts.”
Doby, Jr. played baseball for Duke before playing in the minor league for the Chicago White Sox then transitioning to rigging. He is based in New Jersey and works at Madison Square Garden and on Broadway when he’s not touring with Joel, who is aware of his crew member’s connection to Cleveland.
“I’ve talked to him about it and told him how much I was looking forward to it and how much of an honor it will be to represent him and my dad down there,” he said.