Although he was born in the South, Doby grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. Doby excelled in a number of sports, including football, basketball, and baseball. Doby attended Long Island University, where he continued to play a number of different sports.
After college, Doby joined the Newark Eagles, a baseball team that was a member of the Negro National League. During this era, professional baseball was segregated. White teams would not hire African-American players. Doby played for the Eagles from 1942 to 1943. The United States was fighting World War II by this time, and Doby left baseball to join the United States Navy in 1944. Because Doby had grown up in New Jersey, he had not had much experience with segregation. He found that the Navy separated him and other African Americans from white troops. Once the war ended, Doby returned to the Newark Eagles.
In 1947, Doby became only the second African American to play major league baseball and the first to play in the American League. Only Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier three months earlier, preceded him. Bill Veeck, the owner of the Cleveland Indians hired Doby in July 1947 and was a major supporter of Doby's professional career. Veeck treated Doby as an equal and had no qualms about hiring an African-American player. Some of the Indians' players were not as friendly. A number of them refused to shake Doby's hand when he was first introduced to the team. Like Jackie Robinson, Doby also received numerous death threats during the early years of his major league career.
Doby eventually played thirteen seasons in the major leagues and was named an All Star seven times during his career. The Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant in 1948 and 1954 while Doby was on the team. The Indians went on to win the World Series in 1948. He also played for the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. In 1962, Doby and Don Newcombe, another former major league player, went to Japan to play professional baseball for the Chunichi Dragons. After retiring as a player, Doby became only the second African American to manage a major league baseball team. He spent time managing the Montreal Expos, the Indians, and the White Sox. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, and his experiences led various commissioners and league presidents to seek his advice.
In the late 1970s, Doby briefly moved away from professional baseball and served as the Director of Community Relations for the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association. Doby died on June 18, 2003, at his home in Montclair, New Jersey.