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Admirers pay last respects to Doby
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06/23/2003  6:22 PM ET 
Admirers pay last respects to Doby
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Yogi Berra (left) greets Larry Doby Jr. after Monday's memorial service for Larry Doby. (Brian Branch-Price/AP)
MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- As someone who 56 years ago integrated the American League, then kept the door open for generations that followed, Lawrence Eugene Doby was bigger than life.

Certainly, he was bigger than the modest church where Monday afternoon an overflow crowd of admirers gathered for the last leg of the former outfielder's greatest run home, into the waiting arms of his recently departed wife, Helyn.

As Larry Doby Jr. noted near the conclusion of memorial services for Doby, who passed away Wednesday at 79, looking down from the pulpit at the sea of long faces, "I do believe he is in a better place, if he is reunited with my mom.

Larry Doby 1923-2003
Tribute to a baseball pioneer >

"Seeing all your faces, so many memories come back. Through all of you, he will never die, but live in all of your memories."

They came to the quiet hillside in the Newark suburb of Montclair, to Trinity Presbyterian Church, to pay their respects to a man who quit being a ballplayer nearly a half-century ago, but never stopped being an inspiration.

The amazing assembly bespoke of the many facets of Doby's life, each lived to the fullest.

Fellow Hall of Famers came to honor the scintillating ballplayer. Politicians came to honor a beacon for the community. Baseball dignitaries came to honor someone who lent their game a touch of nobility. Media old-timers came to reminisce.

Neighbors ... they came to give thanks for having known Mr. Doby.

That's all Kevin Malone could bring himself to call the stately man he remembered always giving him "that look" from the porch whenever he passed his house.

"Growing up, we didn't know who he was. To us, he was just Mr. Doby," said Malone, who just happens to share names with the former general manager. "But that's all he had to be, to inspire us to be better, with a simple word of advice, or just by showing that he cared."

On this suddenly-summer day, muted organ music greeted the solemn faces strolling to their pews ...

Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Branca, Joe Morgan ...

Former league presidents Bill White and Leonard Coleman; Mike Veeck, son of the late owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Veeck ...

New Jersey governors present (James E. McGreevey) and past (Brendan Byrne), state congressmen (William Pascrell) and U.S. senators (Frank Lautenberg), Montclair mayors (Paul Eaton) and councilwomen (Joyce Michaelson) ...

The organ recital ended fittingly with "My Way," and Reverend A. Craig Dunn welcomed the assembled to "a celebration of life, a celebration of his legacy."

That legacy bores so much deeper than is known to octogenarian fans or to readers of the Baseball Encyclopedia, or even to sociologists.

After Doby Jr. recited his father's obituary and invited mourners to an open microphone to share their sentiments, a most amazing thing happened. One after another, men rose to give stirring tributes to a hero, a giant, a pillar.

And none of them were from the world of baseball.

"Larry was a big fan of Jackie. He always felt Jackie made it possible for him to do what he did. Without guys like Larry Doby, the job Jackie Robinson started would not have been finished."
-- Joe Morgan

"I first met Larry in 1938," recalled Sen. Lautenberg. "I first saw him in track, doing the broad jump. And he was amazing. He was a man of such talent and dignity."

"He led a classic life, and lived it well," said Congressman Pascrell. "We celebrate him. We celebrate what he meant to America.

"He made this place a little bit better, and you can't ask anyone of anything more."

Eaton reflected on being encouraged by Doby to run for mayor at a time he was satisfied to aspire to be deputy mayor ("Why'd you want to be No. 2?") and called him "a symbol of what Montclair is."

As noted on the street sign displayed in front of the church stage -- "Camden (South Carolina) Birthplace of Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Doby" -- he wasn't born in New Jersey. But he moved to Paterson with his family at an early age, and made it his lifelong home.

And made it better.

Kenny Pignatello talked about losing a friend, and a hero.

"Larry and Helyn considered me their 'other son,'" Pignatello said. "I've had only two heroes in my life. One was my father, the other was Larry Doby.

"I knew the love he had for me ... the talks we had! Whenever I came to him to say the kids in the city needed this or that, he never said no, never asked why. I will never forget him."

In this rich quilt of life, there of course remained room for baseball, the sport Doby graced as a player from 1947-60, eight times stroking 20-plus homers, five times driving in 100-plus runs.

Morgan rose to address how proud Doby was to share Jackie Robinson's mandate.

"There's always been a misconception that Larry was jealous of Jackie, because he got most of the credit. Nothing could be further from the truth," Morgan said of a man he'd come to know intimately.

"Larry was a big fan of Jackie. He always felt Jackie made it possible for him to do what he did. Without guys like Larry Doby, the job Jackie Robinson started would not have been finished."

Jerry Izenberg, the veteran Newark Star-Ledger sports columnist, was brought near tears by his passionate recollection of someone who "even without achieving athletic fame would live in my heart."

Izenberg recalled the 1998 night of Doby's induction into the Hall of Fame. The Cooperstown shrine remained open after hours for a private tour by dignitaries, and Doby and Izenberg paused in front of a large photo snapped in the minutes after Game 4 of the 1948 World Series.

It showed Doby, whose home run had given the Indians a 2-1 win over the Boston Braves, and winning pitcher Steve Gromek falling into each other's embrace.

The dramatic scene was a front-page picture in countless publications, and Doby said to Izenberg, "That was the first time you could see a black and white person embrace on the first page of papers."

"At the time," Izenberg said, "America needed that picture. And Larry was so proud to have played a part in giving America what it needed."

Larry Doby spent nearly 80 years giving, and the grateful left the church Monday afternoon agreeing with Sen. Lautenberg's final words:

"When we stand every day for the things we believe in, we'll be standing for Larry Doby."

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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