Larry Doby, the Four Letter Man

Heather Garside

Many readers are familiar with the story of Larry Doby, one of the first African American baseball players to break the color barrier. His decision to run out onto the field on July 5, 1947 and leave the Negro Leagues behind would change baseball forever. But, that is only part of the story. Who was young Larry Doby, the Larry Doby who played in Hinchliffe Stadium on Thanksgiving Day, 1941 and helped his Eastside Ghosts annihilate their Central High School rivals by scoring two touchdowns? Yes, touchdowns. Larry Doby was on the high school football team.

Lawrence Eugene Doby first moved to Paterson in 1938, at age 13. The move from his birthplace in Camden, South Carolina was in part because his mother had moved to New Jersey after divorcing his father. However, equally as significant was the existence of Paterson’s Eastside High School. Opened in 1926 and recognized nationally for academic excellence, Eastside offered an education to young Doby that could not be found just anywhere.

While at Eastside, Larry Doby found more than academics to occupy his time. He also participated in four varsity sports: Baseball, Basketball, Football and Track & Field. He excelled at all of them. In football, Doby was a star player, playing halfback, defensive end and kicker. On the track, Doby ran the 100, 200, and 440 yard dashes, and was the best sprinter on campus. However, when asked years later, many of his classmates thought his best sport was basketball. In 1943, Doby became the first African American player to play in the American Basketball League, a fore-runner of the NBA. When he played basketball, Larry would use moves, such as the reverse lay-up, which were not common at the time.

Larry Doby graduated from Eastside in June, 1942, having received letters for four varsity sports, representing his all-around athleticism. So why did he choose to pursue baseball? Money may have factored into the decision. Basketball and football did not pay players as well as baseball in the 1940s. However, more likely, he chose baseball because baseball was his favorite sport. Regardless of what spectators thought was his best sport, Larry Doby chose baseball, and the rest of the story became the stuff of a modern American legend.

Heather Garside
Article Author

Heather Garside

Heather Garside is the Curator of History at the Paterson Museum. She received her BA in History at Union College, NY and her MA in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York, UK.