Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Doby threw historic first punch
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.
I never would have guessed that 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke the modern major league color barrier, that the baseball media was still keeping track of such things . . . but did you ever wonder who was the first black major leaguer to throw the first punch in a major league on-field fight?
All of the books, movies, tv shows, etc., about Robinson played up the agreement he made with Branch Rickey to keep his cool when things got hot. I don't know if he ever threw the first punch in baseball fight.
Reading a late-June, 1957, issue of The Sporting News, it appears that Larry Doby, then with the Chicago White Sox, may have been the first black major leaguer to throw the first punch in a rhubarb. The historic moment in baseball race relations came June 13, 1957, at Comiskey Park.
That's according to an article by Shirley Povich of the Washington Post & Times Herald. According to the writer, Doby threw the first punch at Yankees pitcher Art Ditmar, connecting with a "left hook" that flattened Ditmar.
Only seconds earlier, Doby had been flat on his back, having avoided a high inside fast ball from Ditmar in what Povich called a "dust-off situation" where the pitcher could afford to waste a pitch.
In the bottom of the 1st inning, there were two White Sox on base; Nellie Fox having walked and Minnie Minoso having singled. Two were out. Ditmar uncorked a wild pitch that came too close to Doby's head. When the Yankees pitcher ran in to cover the plate, he and Doby "traded insults" and Doby decked Ditmar.
Predictably, the benches cleared. When the brawl was over, Doby, Walt Dropo and Billy Martin had been thrown out of the game. Enos Slaughter, who was not in the Yankees lineup that game, was removed from the bench. Ditmar was allowed to remain in the game because he had not been the aggressor . . . aside from that bean ball thing.
Because American League president Will Harridge was in attendance at the game, assessments against the combatants came swiftly. Doby, Slaughter and Martin were fined $150 each; Dropo and Ditmar were plastered for $100 each.
After the game, Yankees owner Dan Topping said the team would pay the fines on Martin, Slaughter and Ditmar. Harridge had to remind him that was illegal according to AL rules.
Neither Fox nor Minoso had scored during the melee and the Yankees ended up winning the game 4-3.
As is often case in such incidents, there had been recent bad blood between the teams. The White Sox had won the previous night's game 7-6, increasing their lead in the AL to five games over the second-lace Yankees.
In that game, Yankees pitcher Al Cicotte had twice flipped Minnie Minoso and as the two teams were returning to their clubhouses after the game via a shared ramp, Minoso had to be restrained from going after Cicotte.
Doby never got a hit off Ditmar in 1957, striking out in three of his eight at-bats against him.