Bill Madden

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1954: Perhaps no single baseball season has so profoundly changed the game forever. In that year—the same in which the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregation of the races be outlawed in America’s public schools—Larry Doby’s Indians won an American League record 111 games, dethroned the five-straight World Series champion Yankees, and went on to play Willie Mays’s Giants in the first World Series that featured players of color on both teams.

Seven years after Jackie Robinson had broken the baseball color line, 1954 was a triumphant watershed season for black players—and, in a larger sense, for baseball and the country as a whole. While Doby was the dominant player in the American League, Mays emerged as the preeminent player in the National League, with a flair and boyish innocence that all fans, black and white, quickly came to embrace. Mays was almost instantly beloved in 1954, much of that due to how seemingly easy it was for him to live up to the effusive buildup from his Giants manager, Leo Durocher, a man more widely known for his ferocious “nice guys finish last” attitude.