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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America's Game, written by Chris Crowe and illustrated by Mike Benny. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"Daddy turns up the radio, and we sit down to listen to the starting lineup. We cheer when we hear that Larry's starting in center field, but Daddy's worried about the pitcher. "Steve Gromek?" he says. "He'll need help beating the Braves." "Good thing he's got our man, Larry Doby," I say. "Our man is THE man."

A radio is a big deal for a family in 1948. Homer and his family have only one reason for making such an extravagant purchase that summer. They want to listen to World Series baseball between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Braves. Homer and his father are 'baseball crazy'!

Homer is not allowed to play Little League because of his color. His coach lets him know that he thinks Jackie Robinson is 'a fluke' and that no other colored player is  'worth a spit'. It fires Homer's desire to have one of his own playing for the home team. He knows it's a pipe dream; that is, until Larry Doby joins the team and becomes the first African-American to play in the American League.

Homer finishes his paper route early so he can go down to drug store and listen to the upcoming World Series game. Imagine his surprise to learn that his daddy has gone out and bought a new radio! Music blares, and soon they hear Mel Allen's voice. It's game 4 and no one cheers louder than Homer and his dad. They pace the floor, urge on the Indians through each play, and are especially tense when Larry Doby is at bat. His homer in the third inning is all the team needs to beat the Braves, and they go on to win the series. Larry Doby makes a huge contribution to their team and is deserving of the accolades heaped upon him by his teammates.

His rookie season allowed naysayers to remind the sports world that Jackie Robinson was indeed an anomaly. Doby's second season changes all that, and his play during the World Series cements his place in the history of the game. He is also credited with leading the way for Satchel Paige. The color barrier had come down, and many black players would follow in their footsteps.

It was not an easy path:

"The things I was called did hurt me. They hurt a lot.
The things people did to me, spitting tobacco juice on
me. sliding into me, throwing baseballs at my head.
The words they called me, they do hurt." -Larry Doby

Mike Benny does a great job with his acrylic illustrations in creating a look at a family home in 1948. His characters are expressive, the baseball scenes dramatic and the double page spread of Larry Doby hitting one out of the park is a dream! Then, he adds his own replica of the picture that appeared in the newspaper the following day. Steve Gromek, the winning pitcher, shows no reluctance in sharing the limelight with the game's hero!


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