Jackie Robinson was baseball's first black player, taking the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But the Cleveland Indians' Larry Doby and Satchel Paige made history in 1948 as the first black players in the World Series, as The New York Times' Richard Sandomir recounts in a Momday feature.
Signed by the Indians' maverick owner Bill Veeck, Doby in 1948 was the American League's first black player, receiving the same racial abuse as Robinson did during his ground-breaking 1947 season. Despite the hostility from fans and opposing players, the center fielder Doby sparked the Indians to winning the American League pennant and the World Series championship over the Boston Braves. (Doby and Robinson are shown at left.)
Before 1948, the Indians had last won the World Series in 1920. The 1920 player-manager, Tris Speaker, is credited with helping Doby change from second base to center field, according to Sandomir.
During the 1948 season, Veeck signed Paige, the 42-year-old Negro League pitching legend. Paige, who might have been closer to 50, as Sandomir relates, received a contract after a successful pitching test against the Indians' player-manager Lou Boudreau.
While Veeck's signing of Paige was criticized as a publicity stunt, Paige made a strong contribution to the Indians' championship, first as a reliever, then starting a number of games. He was even mentioned as a rookie of the year candidate.
The 1948 championship was the last for the Indians, who play the Chicago Cubs in the World Series beginning Tuesday. The Indians lost the World Series to the New York Giants in 1954 and the Atlanta Braves in 1997.
The Cubs will make their first World Series appearance since 1945, seeking their first championship since 1908.The two teams have never played against each other in the World Series.
Boudreau, a Hall of Famer along with Doby, Paige and Veeck, went on to a long career as a broadcaster for the Cubs. He also served one year as the Cubs manager, taking the place of Charlie Grimm, who piloted the Cubs to their 1945 championship.
Robinson played in his first World Series in 1949, the first of several against the New York Yankees. The Brooklyn Dodgers won the championship over the Yankees in 1955.
The careers of Robinson, Doby and Paige, who all played in the Negro Leagues, began an era of brilliant black players. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, major black stars of the next generation, also began in the Negro Leagues, which declined after the integration of the major leagues.
While the 1945 team had no black players, the Cubs soon had black stars like the late Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, neither of whom ever played in the World Series. Williams was at Wrigley Field Saturday night when the Cubs won the National League Championship Series over the Dodgers, launching a delirious celebration in Chicago and throughout the nation.
The Cubs-Indians matchup, with all of the history and drama surrounding it, gives baseball the chance to return to the strong national ratings the World Series once enjoyed. With the NFL regular season ratings declining this year, sports fans might be drawn by the Cubs' and Indians' quests to end years of futility.
The baseball championship has to be better than NFL games like the Seahawks-Cardinals' 6-6 tie Sunday night. Such games are becoming the NFL norm, repelling all but hard-core fans of concussions, frequent penalties and bad football.