50 YEARS of All-Star Excellence

Article excerpt

On the golden anniversary of the first Blacks to play in the All-Star Game, two players share their memories and thoughts about that historic day in 1949

IT was a day that Larry Doby and Don Newcombe will never forget, thanks to some vivid images from a historic event that have been indelibly etched into their memory banks. They still remember the faces in the sell-out crowd, the mounting anticipation, the unbridled excitement and the profound sense of pride that were so obvious when they--along with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella--took another trailblazing step in Major League Baseball.

The Date: July 12, 1949

The Place: Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Event: The 16th annual All-Star Game

The Historic Significance: The first time African-Americans (Robinson; Campanella, Newcombe, all of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Doby of the Cleveland Indians) participated in the Mid-Summer Classic.

"When I walked out on that field that day, I remember being proud, scared and nervous, but mostly proud to have that uniform on and be able to represent our people and be with Jackie, Roy and Larry," says Newcombe, at the time a rookie who had produced an incredible 8-1 won-loss record in less than two months in the big leagues. "We were in the midst of making history, but I remember being scared to death when I went to the mound to relieve Warren Spahn."

Like Newcombe, Doby had some butterflies of his own, but they didn't diminish the historical significance of the day. "It was a great feeling for me to look across the diamond and see other Black faces because, during my first three or four years, I was the only African-American in the American League," says Doby, an outfielder/first baseman who signed with Cleveland on July 6, 1947, just three months after Jackie Robinson's Major League debut. "I think I was more excited after the game, after thinking about the history, but that day--looking across the diamond and seeing those guys--I no longer felt like I was all alone."

While Newcombe, Doby and Campanella were inserted after the game had begun, Robinson became the first African-American to start an All-Star Game, opening at second base. The historic game, attended by 32,577 onlookers, was won by the National League, 11-7.

Although the game was just two years removed from the so called "Great Experiment" the Dodgers put into motion when they signed Robinson, neither Newcombe nor Doby remembers any racist behavior--on or off the field--that day, but both clearly remember the glow on the faces of Black fans, who were scattered throughout the stadium because, at Ebbets Field, they could sit in any seat they could afford.

Since that game, African-American players have been such an integral part of All-Star competition that it's difficult to imagine their not participating. What would the games have been like had there been no contribution from players like Willie Mays, who played in a record-setting 24 All-Star Games, and also has the distinction of holding records for most at-bats (75), most runs (20) and most hits (23)? What about other players like Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Willie Stargell, Curt Flood, Reggie Jackson, Ozzie Smith, Billy Williams, Bob Gibson, Elston Howard, Willie McCovey, Lou Brock, Maury Wills, Joe Morgan, Dave Winfield, Dick Allen, Rickey Henderson, John (Blue Moon) Odom, Dusty Baker, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds, Kirby Puckett, Barry Larkin and a number of others who have displayed talents that have been instrumental in changing the way the game is played?

Ironically, this year's All-Star Game (on the 50th anniversary of Blacks being included among the game's best players) was held at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox--the last team to integrate when it finally signed Elijah (Pumpsie) Green in July 1959, a full 12 years after Robinson had broken the color barrier in the modern era. …