Doerr, Red Sox great, Williams teammate, dies at 99
Was oldest living member of Baseball Hall of Fame
(WPNS) — Bobby Doerr, an all-star second baseman who was the oldest living member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and who, with his friend and teammate Ted Williams, helped make the Boston Red Sox of the 1940s perennial rivals of the New York Yankees, died Nov. 13 in Junction City, Oregon. He was 99.
The team announced the death but did not offer further details.
During most of his years with the Red Sox, from 1937 to 1951, Doerr starred alongside his close friend and fellow Californian, the bombastic, foul-mouthed but immensely talented Williams. Together, they helped restore luster to a team that had little success since winning the World Series in 1918.
Author Robert W. Cohen included Williams and Doerr in his book “The 50 Most Dynamic Duos in Sports History,” crediting them with lifting a moribund franchise.
“They helped transform the Red Sox into perennial contenders during that time,” Cohen wrote in his book “making Boston the most serious challengers to the Yankees for supremacy in the Junior Circuit and providing much of the initial spark for a rivalry that eventually became the most intense in all of professional team sports.”
If Williams alienated fans, writers and friends during his Red Sox ca- reer, Doerr was the gentlemanly opposite. Williams nicknamed him the team’s “silent captain.”
He was described by Tommy Henrich, a Yankees outfielder whose career overlapped with Doerr’s, as one of the few men who played the game hard but left without a single enemy.
Doerr and Williams argued good-naturedly about hitting. Williams, one of the best hitters in baseball history, could not understand why Doerr wasn’t as obsessive about the intricacies of hitting as he was. He often castigated Doerr for not being able to tell whether a pitch was a curveball, slider or fastball.
“Even when he did know, he would tell Williams that he didn’t, to infuriate him,” author David Halberstam wrote in “Summer of ‘ 49,” a book about the American League pennant race that year.
“Doerr was easily the most popular member of the Red Sox and possibly the most popular baseball player of his era,” Halberstam wrote. “He was so modest and his disposition so gentle that his colleagues often described him as ‘ sweet.’ He was the kind of man other men might have envied had they not liked him so much.”
In the final two games of the 1949 season, both against the Yankees, Doerr had four hits and three runs batted in. But New York won both games to claim the American League title, then went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.
Three years earlier, Doerr starred in his only appearance in the World Series, tallying a home run and a .409 average as the Red Sox fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. His secondbase counterpart in the 1946 World Series, Red Schoendienst, is the now oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Throughout his 14-year career, Doerr was perhaps the most sure-handed defensive second baseman of his era. His lifetime fielding percentage of .980 was the best at his position when he retired in 1951.
He was also an excellent hitter, with a career average of .288 and 223 home runs. He drove in at least 100 runs in a season six times, with a career high of 120 in 1950.
Robert Pershing Doerr was born in Los Angeles on April 7, 1918. His father worked for the local telephone company.
During the Depression,
“there was always extra food on the table, which made it a magnet for other boys Bobby’s age whose fathers in those difficult years were less fortunate,” Halberstam wrote in “The Teammates,” a book about the decadeslong friendship between Doerr and his fellow Red Sox stars Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky.
Doerr was a superior baseball player from a young age. He became a professional in 1934, when he was just 16 and signed with the Hollywood Sheiks, also known as the Stars, of the Pacific Coast League. He had to drop out of high school to play, but he upheld the promise he made to his father that he would get his diploma.
After the 1935 season, the Stars moved to San Diego and became the minor league Padres. One of Doerr’s teammates was Williams, a San Diego native, and the two enjoyed a friendship that lasted until Williams died in 2002.
Doerr debuted with Boston on April 20, 1937, a few weeks after his 19th birthday. Williams joined the Red Sox two years later.
In 1941, Doerr was named to the first of nine all-star teams. He missed the final two weeks of the 1944 season and all of 1945 when he was in the Army. He retired from baseball at age 33 because of a back injury.
During the offseasons and in retirement, Doerr lived in Oregon in a home so remote he initially had to paddle a canoe several miles to get to the post office. He owned a mink farm and a cattle ranch for a time.
As a scout and roving minor league coach for the Red Sox from 1957 to 1966, he helped mold the career of Mike Andrews, the Red Sox second baseman of the late 1960s. “I had so much faith in him that if he told me I’d be a better hitter if I changed my shoelaces,” Andrews told the Boston Herald, “I’d have done it.”
From 1967 to 1969, Doerr was first-base coach for the Red Sox under manager Dick Williams. He later served as hitting coach of the Toronto Blue Jays from 1977 to 1981.
Doerr loved to tell the story of the courtship of his wife, the former Monica Rose Terpin, a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in
rural Oregon. One evening in 1936, they sat in a boat as it took them to a party. The seats were icy, so she took off her coat and laid it down so he could sit on it. He fell in love with her in that moment. They married in 1938.
Doerr spent the latter part of his life caring for his wife, who had multiple sclerosis. She died in 2003. Survivors include a son, Don Doerr, who pitched in the minor leagues.
Doerr never received more than 25 percent of the vote of the Baseball Writers Association, which elects players to the Hall of Fame. A veterans committee named him to the hall in 1986, 35 years after he played his final game. The Red Sox retired his No. 1 in 1988.
On June 18, 2015, Doerr turned 97 years and 72 days old, which made him the oldest baseball Hall of Famer ever, surpassing Al Lopez, a
former player and manager.
Doerr played during a Red Sox era that came to be known as “The Curse of the Bambino,” in which the Red Sox did not win a World Series title for an 86year stretch from 1918 to 2004. The so-called curse referred to the decision of Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to sell Babe Ruth, who was nicknamed the Bambino, to the Yankees after the 1919 season.
Doerr scoffed at the notion of a curse.
“That’s a bunch of baloney,” he told the writer Ed Attanasio of a baseball history website called This Great Game. “We weren’t cursed. We just didn’t have enough good starting pitchers, that’s all. And we never had a relief pitcher at all. The Yankees always had good relief pitchers and that’s how they beat us late in games.”