For one second, the Republican from Ohio and the Democrat from New Jersey were nothing but baseball fans, wandering through sports memorabilia, standing out in their suits in a sea of sweaty shorts-clad tourists.
But Reps. Jim Renacci, R–Wadsworth, and Bill Pascrell, D–N.J., were taking a moment at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Wednesday to celebrate the passage of a bill honoring an often unsung hero: Larry Doby, the former Cleveland Indian who was the second African–American to play for the Major Leagues.
As proof of the bill’s bipartisanship: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio, the man whose Senate seat Renacci hopes to win in November, sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which has yet to pass.
It’s a rare occasion when the two political foes agree on an issue. “This is about Larry Doby,” said Renacci. Brown, in a press release applauding House passage of the bill, said Doby “has seldom received the credit he deserves, and this recognition is just one small way we can honor all he did for civil rights and America’s game.” Brown is currently gathering co-sponsors for the Senate version of the bill.
Renacci and Pascrell visited the museum one day after the House passed a measure to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Doby, who joined the Indians just three months after Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play for the Major Leagues, signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. While Robinson became a household name, Doby also endured abuse – but he also became the first black to play for a World Series team in 1948, hitting a game-winning home run in Game 4. He later went on to manage the Chicago White Sox.
The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’ highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Each medal honors a particular individual, institution, or event. The most recent recipient with Ohio roots was Jack Nicklaus, who received the award in 2014.
Pascrell said he knew Doby because Doby is a native of Paterson, N.J., and the two men knew each other. Doby was “one of the finest men I ever met,” Pascrell said.
The combination of Doby being a hometown hero for Pascrell and his legacy for the Indiana spurred the Democrat and Republican to pair up.
Getting the resolution passed became something of a competition itself — the two men competed to get the 290 signatures necessary to get the bill to the floor, ribbing each other about who had more signatures.
Pascrell and Renacci were impressed by the fact that Doby left baseball to serve in the military, and more impressed that he had the endurance to put up with the abuse he got after he came back to the United States and became one of the first black Major League players.
“You heard about what happened to Jackie Robinson, but you didn’t hear what happened to Larry Doby,” said Renacci. “And he was just three months behind.”