By KELLY NICHOLAIDES
For Montclair Local
Baseball Hall-of-Famer Larry Doby lived a quiet life in Montclair after he ended his 13-year career playing with the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, and Detroit Tigers. He broke the American League color barrier, yet rarely discussed his baseball career off the field. The centerfielder, seven-time All-Star and two-time AL home run leader later worked as a baseball scout, executive, and coach. He was director of community relations with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets from 1979 to 1990, often visiting athletes in city schools, family members said.
The Doby family celebrated their patriarch at the Montclair Brewery on Friday, Feb. 21, after husband-and-wife Brewery owners Denise Ford and Leo Sawadogo made a 15-gallon barrel of a caramel pale ale called “Doby,” a toasty caramel citrus and pine American hops pale ale.
“Doby” was created in honor of the legendary athlete, who died in Montclair in 2003 at age 79, with the launch timed to Black History Month.
“He’s not as big a name as Jackie Robinson, but had just as many accomplishments,” Ford
said. “We wanted a beer parallel to Doby’s life, a style of beer not as well known. It took five weeks to make and it’s the first time we brewed this style. We posted on social media, which got the attention of a neighbor of the family and Mr. Doby’s family.”
Larry Doby Jr. said his father did not like talking about his sports career.
“Whenever I asked about his time in baseball, he’d tell me to look it up. That’s in the past. Focus on what I’m doing today,’” said Doby Jr., who lives in Montclair and works for singer Billy Joel. “My father was a simple guy and a dad to us. None of us saw him play baseball. We grew up hearing stories about him on Nishuane Road. It was a special place to grow up, with a unified community.”
Doby Jr.’s childhood friend Mike Lennon was at the Brewery on Friday, too.
“Mr. Doby let us enjoy his hospitality around his home. To think, a future Hall-of-Famer let us go through and listen to stacks of Stevie Wonder records while he would sit there reading,” Lennon said.
Outside the brewery, a taco truck set up in the parking lot and customers grabbed some grub to go with their craft beer and conversation.
Sawadogo noted that Doby persevered, despite adversity.
“In the face of racism, he remained a superior hitter and outfielder. He later settled in Montclair and raised a family here.”
Doby’s grandson Scott Hutchins, who lives in Montclair and works as a stagehand, said his grandfather had a “tough skin to handle any situation.”
The launch of the brew included readings from a biography about Doby, from his granddaughter Nicole Frasier. She reminded the audience of how Doby was the first black player to hit a home run in the World Series, how he played 164 error-free games as an outfielder, and his career batting line of a .283 average, 253 home runs and 970 runs batted in.
“My grandfather was a humble man and great man who didn’t grumble,” said Frasier, who works for the Montclair Public Schools.
Doby took incidents of racism on the field and the challenges of finding lodging during segregation prior to the Civil Rights movement in stride, she said.
“He was spit on when he slid into base. When he traveled for games, the team set up overnight stays in homes with black families. In the mornings he’d head out to the ballpark. He never had any animosity, and treated everyone the same, black or white. That’s why Montclair was so special to him. There were no lines between races. It didn’t matter if you lived uptown or downtown. We all integrated.”
A picture of Dobby hugging Cleveland Indians teammate Steve Gromek, who was white, after Game 4 of the 1948 World Series became a symbol for integration in baseball, she said.
Son-in-law Todd Robinson said Doby was an unassuming guy who never discussed his legacy. “I played golf with him. Some guy on the green said to him, ‘You look familiar. Do you work in Shop-Rite?’” Robinson said.