Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League by Douglas M. Branson
With the title Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League, a reader might believe they are about to learn about Larry Doby and his experiences as the first African American in the American League. Douglas Branson, however, has written a book that offers responses to issues about why he thinks baseball history does not recognize Larry Doby in the same way it does Jackie Robinson.
The author states that he grew up watching Larry Doby play in Cleveland. Branson, however, did not realize Doby's role in integration until he watched the movie 42 in 2013. This led Branson to ask why baseball seems to have forgotten Larry Doby. Since this is not a chronological narrative, Branson repeats material across chapters, including references to other chapters throughout the book. The thematic rather than chronological approach means that some information on a particular topic may appear in several places and does not provide a complete analysis of that topic in one location. For example, in chapter 6, information about pressuring Major League Baseball to integrate in the 1940s does not include any references to black newspapermen such as Wendell Smith, who is included in chapter 15 in a discussion about the media. The historical context is uneven. Given his training as a lawyer, Branson focuses on legal ways Jim Crow developed across the country in the 1890s, but white-only primaries and Plessy v. Ferguson were not the only elements that established racial segregation.
The three points that Branson makes in his summary in chapter 6 are true. [End Page 232] Branson argues that 1) Branch Rickey did not single-handedly break the color barrier, 2) authors compress the timeline of integration to 1947, and 3) authors oversimplify integration by focusing on major-league baseball (89). These are important conclusions to make about the history of integration as a process, but the information provided in the chapters does not establish the evidence to make those conclusions.
Branson also examines other popular baseball players who may have pulled attention away from Larry Doby, including Cleveland Indian teammate Satchel Paige, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays. Each of these chapters includes a great deal of background on each person and less analysis of why those individuals take away from the recognition of Larry Doby or their connection to Doby's integration of the American League.
There are a number of unfortunate mistakes. Mickey Mantle not Reggie Mantel (back cover). Eddie Gaedel not Eddie Pagael was a dwarf played by Bill Veeck (29). Jackie Robinson died in 1972, not 1962 (45) Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia, not Florida (45). One sentence after quoting from Effa Manley, Etta Manley replies (49). The Voting Rights Act became law in 1965, not 1964 (77). Abe and Effa Manley owned the Newark Eagles, not the Newark Stars (128). Kenny Washington was a teammate of Jackie Robinson at UCLA, not on the Kansas City Monarchs (198). In the Pacific Coast League, the Stars were in Hollywood not Los Angeles and in 1959 the league did not include the Hollywood Stars, the Los Angeles Angles, or the San Francisco Seals, but did include the Sacramento Solons, and Spokane Indians, and the Phoenix Giants (204).
Other mistakes or omissions are more than mere factual errors. Cap Anson, who played a critical role in establishing segregation in professional baseball in the 1880s, was white not black (75). Branson references Negro League teams as minor-league teams when describing the baseball career of Larry Doby and Willie Mays. While Doby did play for the Manleys in the 1946–47 season, it was on a team in the Negro National League, not in the minor leagues (128). While Willie Mays did play for the Chattanooga Choo-Choos and the Birmingham [Black] Barons, neither were ever minor-league teams. Mays played for the Birmingham Black Barons, not the Birmingham Barons, the white team (176). Branson also never mentions that the St. Louis Browns of the American League integrated twelve days after the Cleveland Indians when they signed Hank Thompson or that Willard Brown joined Thompson two days later.
Branson uses almost all secondary sources to make his arguments. He does use the Sporting News and a handful of newspaper articles. Branson makes over-generalizations about a forgotten Larry Doby. Forgotten by whom? The main evidence offered seems to be the number of books written about Robinson or the handful of movies about him. [End Page 233]
While baseball and society should recognize Bill Veeck and Larry Doby for their part in integrating Major League Baseball, they did not have the same role as Rickey and Robinson. Veeck may have intended to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942 to include African Americans, but he did not. Branch Rickey signed Robinson in October 1945, before Bill Veeck owned the Cleveland Indians. Bill Veeck purchased the Cleveland Indians in 1946, but did not sign Larry Doby until July 1947. This was the year after rosters of five different minor-league teams included black players. Larry Doby was the first black in the American League, but he was not even the second African American in professional baseball. His experience, like the experience of the hundreds of players of color on major and minor league teams across the country, combine to make "the great experiment" a success.
While answering a series of questions about Larry Doby's role in integration, Douglas Branson digresses from his focus with content that is repetitive and includes numerous factual inaccuracies. Douglas Branson contends that recognition of Larry Doby's experience as the first African American in the American League should equal that of Robinson in the National League for baseball historians, but Branson does not provide the evidence to support this argument.