Jackals, State of New Jersey Celebrate Larry Doby Day

The New Jersey Jackals wore replica Newark Eagles jerseys to celebrate Larry Doby Day on July 5. Doby wore No. 14 with the Eagles and the Cleveland Indians. (Photo by Brian LoPinto/Special to World Baseball Network)

By Brian LoPinto
Special to World Baseball Network

PATERSON, N.J. – The last time Hinchliffe Stadium had a Larry Doby Night, Harry Truman was President of the United States, and the Cleveland Indians just won the World Series. 

Since then, there have been 13 presidents in the Oval Office, but Cleveland is still seeking another championship.

Doby, a Paterson, N.J. native, was instrumental in the 1948 World Series for Cleveland, hitting .318 with a crucial home run in Game Four to become the first African-American to hit a home run in World Series history. The number 14 is synonymous with Doby, and fittingly, Doby was honored 14 days after winning the World Series during halftime of the Paterson Panthers football game at Hinchliffe Stadium.

On that festive evening, Doby was presented with a television set by the Old Timers Athletic Association of Paterson, his wife Helyn was presented with a watch and a bouquet of flowers, and the couple were driven around the cinder track to wave to the Hinchliffe faithful.

Doby’s special night at Hinchliffe in 1948 honored his World Series achievements, and 75 years later, the State of New Jersey proclaimed July 5 as Larry Doby Day, in perpetuity, throughout the state. On July 5, 1947, Doby made his Major League debut in a game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. The day before, he played in his final Negro Leagues game. In story book fashion he hit a home run in his final at bat for the Newark Eagles, 24-hours later, he would become the first player to go directly from the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball.

Orchestrating an annual state-wide day is no easy task, but New Jersey State Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly was up for the challenge, after all, this was another way to honor, not only one of the greatest athletes with a strong New Jersey connection, but as Doby’s Hall of Fame plaque clearly states, a man with “a staunch constitution.”

“I don’t know if there is anyone from Paterson with an official New Jersey holiday,” said Wimberly, who was the primary sponsor of the Larry Doby Day resolution. “It is amazing that our history sometimes gets lost because of lack of concern. Larry’s history is unbelievable. The one thing I always emphasize, it’s not just African-American history. What Larry Doby did, what Jackie Robinson did, it’s American history.”

With over 20 Hall of Famers having played at Hinchliffe Stadium, there is certainly a piece of Cooperstown at the corner of Liberty and Maple in Paterson. On this first Larry Doby Day in the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Jackals worked with the Frontier League to ensure that they had a home game at Hinchliffe Stadium, the place where it all started for Doby. After all, before we have a July 5, it was a spring day in 1942 changed the trajectory of Doby’s life.

In 1942, Doby was offered a tryout with the Newark Eagles at Hinchliffe Stadium. On that seminal day, Doby walked into the ballpark as an amateur, and left as a professional athlete. The rest, as they say, is history.

To honor this history, the Jackals wore Newark Eagles jerseys with each player wearing Doby’s No. 14.

“It means so much because that is where so much of his story began, in Paterson,” said Larry Doby Jr., who was in Cleveland to celebrate the anniversary of his father’s debut. “That’s where he played. Where he met the love of his life. Where teachers, and coaches, took an interest in a kid who lost his dad at eight-years old. Where he had his tryout which led him to professional baseball. Where he often spoke of the Thanksgiving Day football games, Eastside vs. Central. He would be so proud.”

“At the end of the day, Larry Doby was a game-changer when it comes to African Americans playing baseball,” said Jackals manager P.J. Phillips. “He was into the game. Very talented. We have a lot of Black guys on the team, Larry Doby helped with that. I’m a Black manager in this League. I give all the credit to Larry Doby for giving us a chance.”

The Jackals played well in their No. 14’s, beating the Sussex County Miners 8-5. One of the stars of the game was Jackals shortstop Jordan Howard. Howard, who normally wears number 22, went 2-for-4 on Larry Doby Night, with two runs scored.

“I have always dreamed of being able to wear a jersey of someone iconic in the sport of baseball, especially for young Black players,” said Howard. “Today was one of the first days I got to represent Larry Doby. I’ve known about him since I was a kid. It’s a pretty cool experience and I’ll get to tell my grandkids about that one day.”

One of the fans in attendance just had to take in the celebration and support the Doby family.

“I’m a big baseball fan. It’s always a great day, a historic day and I’m here to celebrate,” said Gabe Lopez, who was a baseball teammate of Larry Doby Jr. with the North Bergen Astros. “Growing up, I was probably 17 or 18 when I first learned about Doby. To be able to go out and perform the best of what you do, even when people are negative against you. He fought through that, and look what happened, he’s a Hall of Famer.”

While we’ll never know if Doby, at that Newark Eagles tryout at Hinchliffe Stadium in 1942, recognized just how significant that moment was, perhaps New Jersey will from now on.

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