By Mary Manning, Ph.D., PK-12 Education Coordinator & Youth Entrepreneurship Education (YEE) Project Director (Interim)
In 1946, the Cleveland Indians gained a new owner – Bill Veeck, an enthusiastic promoter committed to making the team the best in baseball at nearly any cost.
In 1947, the team stopped splitting time between their historic stadium, League Park in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, and moved into Municipal Stadium full-time. Where League Park’s capacity numbered 22,500, Municipal Stadium could accommodate three times as many fans, and Veeck employed imaginative tactics and stadium promotions to fill as many of those seats as he could.
In July of 1947, Veeck signed Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles of the Negro American League and brought him straight to the majors, believing Doby could handle the transition and that a stint in the minor leagues to warm him up would limit the media impact of the signing. With Doby’s arrival in Cleveland, Major League Baseball’s American League was officially integrated—mere months after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
Then, in 1948, the Indians fielded a roster that included Doby, along with famed former Negro League pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and won the World Series.
This photograph from WRHS collections shows Doby and Paige at a moment of rest during a game that must be in either the 1948 season or the 1949 season – the only two years Paige played with the Indians. To some degree, it reflects the personalities of the two men. Doby, a known introvert, surveys the scene before him, while Paige, a charismatic, confident man, seems in the middle of speaking.
These two men also represent the kinds of players who made up the first two waves of the integration of Major League Baseball. Doby was 23 years old when he arrived in Cleveland, an extraordinarily gifted young multi-sport athlete who would eventually put together a 13-year MLB career on top of the four seasons he had played in the Negro Leagues. In 1978, he would become the second Black manager in Major League Baseball for the Chicago White Sox (second to the Indians’ Frank Robinson, hired as a player-manager in 1975).
In contrast, Paige remains the oldest player to debut in Major League Baseball—he was 42 years old when he made his first start with the Indians in July of 1948. Yet he had been pitching professionally since 1927 when he began his career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League. In between Negro League seasons, he would barnstorm throughout the Midwest and other parts of the country, including a tour beginning in the fall of 1946 that pitted him against Indians great Bob Feller on a near daily basis. Paige had an uncommonly high number of pitches in his arsenal and accumulated new tricks that helped him maintain his dominant form on the mound as he grew older.
Together, these two very different men would help lead the Indians to first the American League pennant and then to the most recent World Series victory in Cleveland. Both would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Doby would be honored in 2015 with a statue in front of Progressive Field. Though Jackie Robinson was the first and most famous player to begin the integration of Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians played a crucial role in how baseball would receive players from the Negro Leagues, especially ones as experienced and talented as Paige.