Monday, March 29, 2010

The Last to Be First

Baseball season is around the corner and "hope springs eternal" (even for Cub fans).

We will spend many nights at the park, looking out at number 42, never to be worn again.

42 belongs to Jackie Robinson, the Dodger great who's number was retired by all professional baseball teams (majors and minors) a few years ago. Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 as major league's first black player. Before Jackie greats like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige tolied in the relative obscurity of the Negro leagues.

I have a challenge for you. As you read this, think of five people you can ask the question, "Who is Larry Doby?"

I would be surprised if one person knew the answer. Do you?

Larry Doby was the second black player in the majors after Jackie Robinson. Coincidently, he was also the second black manager (after Frank Robinson) of a forgetable White Sox team in the late 70's.

Larry Doby signed and played for the Cleveland Indians eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers. He led the Indians to their last world championship in 1948, played in nine all-star games and, like Robinson, is a member of the Hall of Fame.

So Jackie Robinson "paved the way" a couple of months for Larry Doby. Was life in "the show" any easier for Doby than Robinson? Hardly. But nobody remembers Larry Doby.

How about Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Who will be the Oscar's Larry Doby?

I'm not a fan of "firsts;" first black player, first woman director, etc. In J school I had an editor who hated "first" stories because they neglected everyone who came before them. Amen.

Not to take away from the achievement, or the significance. But too often we skip the first steps on the ladder.

For example, I was moved to tears in 1988 when Jesse Jackson gave his remarkable speech at the Democratic National Convention. "My right and my privilege to stand here before you has been won," he said. "Won in my lifetime, by the blood and the sweat of the innocent."

Jackson got it. So many had come before him, many forgotten until he spoke of the "common thread" which unites us all.

It's too bad we can't run an "honor roll" with the next "first" story of everyone who built the mountain the subject stands on. In that sense, the first is in fact last.

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