I’m the third child of five, and my two older brothers cleared the way for me in school and in sports. Growing up, we played lots of sandlot baseball and football, and when we got a bit older, basketball on the concrete outdoor courts at a school near our home. We moved around a lot—I attended three different schools in sixth grade, but we settled down in Tempe, Arizona right after I finished seventh grade, and I was lucky that we stayed put all the way through high school. My brothers and I played sports all through high school, and all four of us received football scholarships from different universities. Good thing, because my parents couldn’t have afforded to pay our college expenses. When I graduated and it was obvious I had no future in the NFL, I took a job as an English teacher and coach at my former high school. It was a great job with terrific students and fellow teachers. I started writing for publication during that time and managed to publish pretty regularly in magazines and newspapers. Of course, I dreamed of writing a book someday, but I had no idea how to go about that. Over time—and with lots of rejections—I figured out how to write books, and I’ve enjoyed writing books for young readers best.
Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game began as a biography of Larry Doby, the first African American player in the American League. He signed with the Cleveland Indians just a few weeks after Jackie Robinson started the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Unlike Robinson, who had a full season in the minor leagues to get accustomed to playing with white players in front of white fans, Doby had no preparation for entering the all-white Major Leagues. He played his last game for the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues on July 4, 1947, and joined the Indians for a game against the Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park on July 5. It was a difficult transition, and Doby had one of the worst seasons of his career. Unfortunately, his lack of success reinforced the lie that racist MLB team owners perpetuated that Jackie Robinson was a fluke, and that there were no other MLB-quality players in the Negro Leagues.
1948 would be different. Doby batted .301, hit 16 homeruns, and led the Indians to the World Series. His homerun in the crucial Game 4 against the Boston Braves won the game and propelled the Indians to win the Series. They haven’t won one since.
My interest in Doby goes beyond his significance to the Indians and to MLB. Here’s why Doby matters to me—and to American history: his success with the Indians exposed the MLB owners’ great lie about African American ball players and started the real migration of African American players from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues. The integration of Major League Baseball was one of the first—and very public—acts of integration, and I’m convinced, along with Branch Rickey (the man who signed Jackie Robinson), that it paved the way for racial integration in the United States.
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I love to use toffee peanuts as the reward/motivation for getting my daily writing done.
2. I have a grandson named Ryu (which means “dragon” in Japanese).
3. I really, really, really don’t like cats!