Saturday, February 20, 2016

Review of "Greatness in the Shadows"

When I was learning about Jackie Robinson and what he did for baseball, the name Larry Doby never came up in the literature I read as a kid.  In fact, I never heard of him until he was named manager of the White Sox in the 1970's, long after he played an important role in the integration of baseball.  Therefore, I was very interested in this book on Larry Doby when I saw it was going to be published this spring.  There is a lot of good information in this book about the man.  Here is my review of "Greatness in the Shadows." 

“Greatness in the Shadows: Larry Doby and the Integration of the American League” by Douglas Branson

Baseball, race, history, Indians, White Sox

Publish date:
April 1, 2016

336 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

The story of Larry Doby is one that not many people remember because even though he was the first black baseball player in the American League, he wasn’t the first one to play Major League Baseball.  While Jackie Robinson’s story is quite well known, author Douglas Branson tells the story of Doby as well, which isn’t much different than Robinson’s for what he had to endure, but under a different set of ballparks and with a different integration pioneer.

Branson makes the case that Doby is just as important a figure as Robinson in the integration of baseball along several fronts. He does take away some of the luster of Robinson’s baseball prowess – not by dismissing what he accomplished – but by comparing the statistics of both men and showing that Doby was Robinson’s equal on the field.  Also, he calls into question the motives of Branch Rickey (while again respecting the work Rickey did) by noting how many of Rickey’s transactions resulted in a net profit to him. Branson gives a lot of credit to Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians, for integrating baseball as well by bringing Doby to the Indians just weeks after Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers.

It is here where Branson starts to question if the reason that Doby and Veeck were not given enough credit for integration because of several factors.  Veeck was not popular with his fellow owners, Doby did not play in New York, which was going through its “golden age” of baseball and therefore did not get the same recognition as a great player as Robinson, Willie Mays, or Mickey Mantle. Of the latter, Branson wrote much about he seemed to be made larger than life by an adoring press and fans.  Like with Robinson, Branson never diminishes what Mays or Mantle accomplished, but did question why they received a lot of fanfare while Doby did not.

Branson also notes that the National League became integrated as a whole and with more teams employing more black players faster than the American League and as a result of that, Doby may not get the attention for what he did as much as Robinson.  He also describes the racial hatred and taunting that Doby received as well. He wants the reader to realize that while Robinson had to endure a lot, so did Doby and he did not have the advantage of preparing for it the previous season in the minor leagues like Robinson did.  Doby was given a baptism by fire.

If this review sounds like it keeps hitting on the same points over and over, this book did the same thing and that made it a difficult read at times. It seemed that Branson was repeating points he was trying to make or certain facts and events over and over. He would repeatedly refer back to an earlier reference by noting the chapter or stating that the point he was making would also be explained in an upcoming chapter. That was a shame because it kept the book from having a good flow and making Doby’s story even more compelling.

Nonetheless, I felt it was a very good source of information for learning more about the first black player in the American League and the case he makes that Doby is underappreciated for what he did for the game of baseball is strong. It just didn’t read as easily as I hoped.  I give the book five stars for the information and three for the writing to make it a four-star book.  I do recommend this book for readers who are interested in learning more about Doby or the integration of Major League Baseball.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing an advance review copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying links (pre-order at time of post):


  1. Sounds like it would have made a better 5,000 word story in SI

  2. Or a compact informative 200 page book. Great information, just a bit too repetitive at times.