Muscatine County, Iowa


Compiled by Jeff Shellabarger
Submitted July 27, 2021

A nationally recognized baseball school operator and sports promoter during the 1930s and 1940s.

Ray Lambert Doan was born on May 8, 1896, to William Paton and Cora (nee Darland) Doan in Montezuma, IA. His father was a farmer in Poweshiek County until 1916, when the family moved to Muscatine. On April 6, 1918, at the age of 21, Ray married Natalia Heitz in Muscatine. They had one son, Robert, born in January, 1919, as well a daughter, Marie, from Natalia’s first marriage.

As a young man, Ray became a promising local baseball pitcher. An article in the September 6th, 1921, edition of the Muscatine Journal reports Doan earning the win in Muscatine’s victory over Wapello at South End Park. After his arm went bad, Doan served stints as an athletic director in the United States Army and as a coach at Springfield College in Massachusetts, before changing his career path to that of a booking agent and publicity man.     [1]

In the 1930s and 1940s, the name Ray Doan became synonymous with the phrase “sports promoter” … and… among those who were not fans of his, the word “huckster”. He sported a stylish mustache, the type worn by Hollywood star Clark Gable. Photographs generally showed him impeccably dressed with his arm around one luminary or another.     [2]

Doan’s clientele included Babe Didrikson, the Kansas City Monarchs Negro League baseball team, and miscellaneous House of David baseball teams.

Who were these clients?

Didrikson won two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympics before turning to professional golf, where she captured 10 LPGA major championships. In 2000, Sports Illustrated magazine placed Didrikson second on its list of the Greatest Female Athletes of All-Time and ESPN named her the 10th Greatest North American Athlete of the 20th Century, the highest ranked woman on the list.

The Kansas City Monarchs were winners of 10 Negro League championships before baseball was integrated. The team produced more major league players than any other Negro League franchise. Its alumni included Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson, now Hall-of-Famers and legends.

The House of David was known for mixing their version of the national pastime with long hair, beards and a fun-to-watch activities. They barnstormed across the country playing daily exhibition games in big and small cities, traveling up to 60,000 miles per year.     [3]

For six years, beginning in 1933 and ending in 1938, Doan operated the “All-Star Baseball Academy”, a “for profit” enterprise in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He shrewdly planted his Baseball School not only in the U.S. midsection, where it was accessible to all, but in Hot Springs he chose a town that reveled in publicity. The academy was a “factory” of sorts for baseball hopefuls. The business attracted thousands of youngsters who cadged rides or hopped freights to get to Doan’s camp, desperately hoping to catch the eye of a professional scout. Attendees, who were told to bring their own uniform and equipment,     [4]    participated in exercises, conditioning drills, and learned all aspects of the game. The majority of the boys imagined stardom. To his credit, Doan never claimed the school’s graduates would achieve fame and fortune, a wise precaution since only a handful ever reached the big leagues.

To serve as instructors at his school, Doan recruited and hired both active major leaguers and old-time greats. Eight members of the Major League Baseball Hall-of-Fame worked for Doan.     [5]    They included pitching sensations Cy Young, the winningest hurler in baseball history, and Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was later the subject of the movie “The Winning Team” (1952), in which he was portrayed by Ronald Reagan… the future President of the United States. Doan paid his biggest name instructors $250 per week.     [6]    Doan’s 1936 school drew 361 aspiring ballplayers.     [7]     His staff that year included 3 hitting legends -- Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler, and Tris Speaker. The batting average of all 3 ranked among the top 14 in baseball history. Hornsby is one of only three players to ever hit over .400 in three different seasons. Sisler eclipsed the hallowed .400 mark twice. To put this in perspective, since 1900, only eight players have achieved a batting average of .400 or better – and in 1936 two of them were working for Muscatine’s Ray Doan.

In 1937, Doan signed St. Louis Cardinals sensation Dizzy Dean and Van Meter Iowa’s 18-year-old phenom Bob Feller as instructors.     [8]     The popular, irrepressible Dean was a born showman and the pitching ace of the Cardinals’ famed Gas House Gang. These days, not many people talked about Dizzy Dean. However, in the 1930s, Ol’ Diz was known nationwide for his unhittable fastball and unshakable self-confidence. Feller had just completed his first season en route to a Hall-of-Fame career.     [9].     He is recognized as the greatest baseballer ever produced by the state of Iowa.

In 1939, Doan shifted his enterprise from Hot Springs to Jackson, Mississippi, however enrollment flagged. In 1940 and 1941, Doan’s school was lodged at Palatka, Florida. It was in February, 1940, that Doan hired baseball’s biggest name – Babe Ruth – to be his chief instructor. Five years into his retirement, the Great Bambino remained the most popular athlete in the world.

About Doan’s institution, Ruth was quoted as saying, “These baseball schools are a big help to a kid. Why, he learns more about baseball in four weeks than he learns playing the first 17 or 18 years of his life.” At $40 to $50 a head for 300 to 400 players, Doan grossed five figures in one month, a staggering sum in those days… today’s value would equate to as much as $385,000.     [10]

In the early summer of 1940, Doan organized a baseball clinic road show, with scheduled 10-day stops in Chicago, Hammond, IN., South Bend, IN., and Davenport. He contracted with Ruth to be the face of the schools. For this endeavor, Doan paid the Bambino $2,500 per week.     [11]     On the heels of the Davenport clinic, Doan arranged for Ruth to travel to Muscatine, where on June 28th baseball’s greatest hero was paraded down 2nd Street via a police escort before speaking to a capacity crowd of 500 at the Elks Lodge.     [12]

The 1930s and 1940s were also the golden age of baseball barnstorming. In that era, players did not receive a salary from the day the season closed in October until the next season commenced in April. As a result, many players toured to make extra income by staging exhibition games. Prior to the proliferation of television, barnstorming brought the National Pastime’s heroes to rural America.

For many years, Ray Doan was considered the first and last word in profitable baseball barnstorming. Every fall he took his charges caravanning around the country to large cities and small towns. They played in big league stadiums, local city parks, and on dusty old diamonds.

Following the conclusion of the 1934 and 1935 seasons, Doan contracted with the Dean brothers, Dizzy and Daffy, to lead his tour of exhibitions (12 stops in ’34 and 21 in ’35). Dizzy was then at the zenith of baseball and American culture.     [13]     For the two-week tour in 1934, Doan paid the Dean boys $5,716 apiece plus expenses. He also compensated them $4,500 net to appear in a cinematic short on Broadway.

The Deans typically teamed with several other big leaguers and local white semipro players. For opponents, Doan partnered with J.L. Wilkinson and Tom Baird, owners of the successful Kansas City Monarchs, to field a lineup billed as the “Negro League All-Stars.” The result was a squad of black baseballs best, most prominent players, including headliner Satchel Paige, an otherworldly type talent who was promoted as the “Greatest Colored Pitcher.”

In 1936, when Dizzy Dean’s career began to fade due to injuries, Doan signed Bob Feller for $10,000 to appear in 10 barnstorming contests or less.     [14]     In ’37, Doan helped orchestrate a major West Coast loop of interracial games pitting the young flame throwing Bobby and a first-rate supporting cast against the best black players in the California Winter League. Doan’s and Feller’s arrival in Los Angeles that fall was treated with the pomp of a royal visit. Doan, ever the promoter, arranged for Feller to be the guest of honor at a luncheon of LA community leaders, to do a series of radio interviews, to be introduced to motion picture star Clark Gable, and to be photographed ringside at a boxing match.     [15]

Ray Doan’s last successful barnstorming venture took place in 1945. It featured a Feller-led roster in a series of Doan-coordinated exhibitions against service teams, Pacific Coast League all-star clubs, and black squads. For the first time in baseball history, Doan’s ’45 circuit relied almost exclusively on air travel. Doan, Feller and company bounced from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest to Texas and back again.

At best, accounts of Ray Doan painted him as being brash, crafty, and having a healthy ego; at worst, he was viewed as greedy, scheming, and shamelessly exploitive. In “Diz,” a Dean biography, Doan is characterized as excessively and annoyingly talkative, direct, and never without a quip or a comeback.     [16]     One thing’s for certain, Doan was a hustler. It’s not surprising his baseball years were not without some controversy –

Following a game In October, 1946, a disagreement surfaced about how much money the black players had been promised. Jackie Robinson expressed concern they were getting “okey-dokeyed” by Doan and Feller, by receiving a percentage of the net rather than a percentage of the gross, as had been promised.

Sadly, the once lucrative Doan – Feller relationship did not end amicably. In 1946, Feller decided that to maximize his barnstorming profits he would underwrite the entire enterprise himself. To the extent possible, he would eliminate promoters, booking agents, middlemen, and club owners. Feller wouldn’t use barnstorming impresario Ray Doan to do the organizing, hiring, and advertising, he would do it all himself. That fall Feller made upward of $75,000 in profit, an enormous payday in 1946 – the equivalent of over $1,000,000 today – a windfall that must have greatly annoyed Mr. Doan.

Several years later, in 1948, Feller was forced to testify in a lawsuit filed by Doan for allegedly violating the terms of his 1945 barnstorming contract. A federal judge dismissed Doan’s claims. While Doan threatened to appeal, nothing came of it beyond more negative and aggravating press for Feller. For the rest of his days, Bob Feller harbored ill feelings about Doan. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, three Muscatine baseball enthusiasts made numerous trips to Feller’s Museum in Van Meter, IA. Feller came to recognize them. On every visit, for all guests to hear, he unfailingly greeted them with, “Hey, it’s the guys from Muscatine. You know who’s from Muscatine? I’ll tell you who, Ray Doan, the biggest crook that ever lived.”

Ray Doan was part of one of the most successful promoter – entertainer combinations of the 1930s and 1940s. His motivations were financial. His goal was to deliver a product that was a hit at the box office. His barnstorming product… blending baseball and interracial matchups featuring marquee names… was a winner, routinely attracting large crowds of blacks and whites alike. The matchups enabled blacks to see talented white players and whites to watch gifted black players, which was not otherwise possible at the time. It’s unlikely Doan recognized the societal importance of black – white exhibitions. However, the long success of his barnstorming initiatives contributed to breaking racial barriers and easing baseball’s integration in 1947. In hindsight, that was arguably the greatest achievement of Muscatine’s Raymond L. Doan.

In 1969, at the age of 73, Ray Doan passed away in Muscatine. His service was at St. Mathias church. His wife, Natalia, died in 1973. In addition to his wife and children, Doan was survived by his sister, Maude Lola Doan McCaffery, who lived to the age of 97. She passed away in 1999. She was married to John T. McCaffery, who worked 27 years as the Attendance Officer for the Muscatine Public School System.

During his final years, Doan’s occupation was noted as “Agent Breeder’s Magazine,” seemingly a long way from his halcyon days and prosperous ventures. While the name Ray Doan has largely been lost in the mists of time, his clientele was once a veritable Sports Who’s Who, names forever woven into the fabric tapestry of the first half of the 20th century… today it would be akin to having a client list with names like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Jason deGrom, Annika Sorenstam and Venus Williams.

NOTE: The content for the above story was compiled from a variety of sources. All of the information is intended to be accurate, but it may not be factually perfect.

[1]     “Baseball: The People’s Game”, by Dorothy Seymour Mills and Harold Seymour, page 101.

[2]     “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert”, by Timothy M. Gay, pages 72-73.

[3]    Western Canada Baseball 1936 web site.

[4]     Society for American baseball Research Sam Narrow

[5]     Arkansas Baseball Encyclopedia.

[6]     “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert,” by Timothy M. Gay, p. 78.

[7]     “Rogers Hornsby: A Biography”.

[8]     “Reaching for the Brass Ring: A Portrait of Doan’s 1937 Baseball School”.

[9]     The Gazette Cedar Rapids Iowa, July 16, 2019 - The day Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller Came to Cedar Rapids.

[10]     The Florida Times - Union Newspaper May 16, 2015 - Babe Ruth Stayed Here: Palatka Resident Share Stories of Sutlan of Swaat's Stay by Vito Stellino.

[11]     Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa June 20, 2020 - 80 Years Ago the Babe Spent Time in the QC.

[12]     Muscatine Journal, June 29, 1940.

[13]     Society for American baseball Research Paul Dean

[14]     Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games, 1901-1962: A History of Off-Season Major League Play”, by Thomas Barthel, page 131

[15]     L.A. Times, October 13, 1937.

[16]     “Diz” by Robert Gregory, p. 123.

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