Family, friends remember Doby during memorial services

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2003

MONTCLAIR, N.J. - Friends, family and fellow Hall of Famers gathered Monday to remember Larry Doby, 56 years after he became the American League's first black player.

Doby died last Wednesday at his home in Montclair after a long illness. He broke the AL's color barrier when he joined the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 1947, 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.

Doby, who played 13 seasons in the major leagues and was selected for seven All-Star games, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

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During an afternoon memorial service at the Trinity Presbyterian Church, Doby was remembered as a man of quiet dignity who never said an unkind word, even about those hostile to his joining the Indians.

Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra and Joe Morgan, as well as Gov. James E. McGreevey, U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg and Rep. William J. Pascrell Jr., were among more than 300 mourners at the service.

Rizzuto, who played for the AL rival New York Yankees, said after the service that Doby had ''nerves of steel,'' and noted that he was never envious of the much greater attention Robinson received.

Morgan, a two-time National League MVP with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s, met Doby in 1976, and the two became golf buddies.

''I'm a frat brother of Larry's in the greatest fraternity on earth, the Hall of Fame,'' Morgan said during the ceremony. ''He never, ever told me who would not shake his hand, because some of those folks were in the Hall of Fame.''

Lawrence Eugene Doby Sr. was born Dec. 13, 1923, in Camden, S.C., but he grew up in Paterson, N.J., then moved to Montclair 40 years ago, and has been adopted by New Jersey officials and institutions as one of their own. Lautenberg and Pascrell proudly pointed out they were once Paterson neighbors of Doby's. McGreevey said Doby possessed ''an understanding that the promise of America is also the promise of every child.''

''When we celebrate Larry, we celebrate what it means to be an American,'' the governor said.

The service at the small stucco church was punctuated by readings from scripture and the singing of hymns, including ''Amazing Grace.'' The Rev. A. Craig Dunn said Doby ''didn't allow race stop him from running the race.''

Larry Doby Jr., one of Doby's five children, read his father's obituary, noting he attended Long Island University and Virginia Union University before being drafted by the Navy in 1943.

Doby sat on the board of a Newark-based scholarship fund, Project Pride, run by sports writer Jerry Izenberg, a longtime friend and confidante, who told mourners of Doby's persistent optimism.

''There were so many nights when we talked about all the things that were wrong, but none of those conversations ended without Larry thinking they could be right,'' said Izenberg, who acknowledged the presence of Michael Veeck, son of the late Bill Veeck, the Indians owner who signed Doby. ''Mike said, 'I sure hope that there's an afterlife, because if there is, I know my dad and Larry are there together.'''

In addition to Larry Jr., Doby's surviving children are Leslie Feggan, Kimberly Martin, Susan Robinson and Christina Fearrington.

''We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day, and all my daddy's friends were there from all over,'' Fearrington, 53, of Edison, N.J., said later.

Asked what was the most valuable lesson her father had imparted to her, Fearrington replied, ''Just to treat everyone as a person, that's how we grew up - everybody was equal.''