Appreciation: Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr was a star of his eraBy STEVE BUCKLEY
November 14. 2017 9:32PM
During a return visit to Boston in May of 2005, Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr, 87 years old at the time, was asked to share the secret of his robust health.
“It all begins with a healthy frame of mind,” he said. “I have very good friends, a great faith in God, which is very important to me, and a good sense of humor. I’m just a happy person.”
Doerr’s disposition served him well and earned him countless admirers. A rugged player during his 14 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Red Sox, he was the unofficial captain of the Sox’ 1946 pennant-winning team and for many years served the club as a scout and coach. In his only World Series, which the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games, Doerr hit .409.
His popularity was wonderfully renewed late in life with the release of “The Teammates,” written by the late David Halberstam as an ode to the friendship that existed between Doerr and fellow Red Sox legends Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Ted Williams. The book proved so popular that a statue honoring the four players was erected outside Fenway Park.
Robert Pershing “Bobby” Doerr, the last surviving member of “The Teammates” and the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame, died Monday at the age of 99. A native of Los Angeles, Doerr passed away in Junction City, Ore., where he had lived for many years.
“Bobby Doerr was part of an era of baseball giants and still stood out as one himself,” said Red Sox Principal Owner John Henry in a statement. “And even with his Hall of Fame achievements at second base, his character and personality outshined it all. He will be missed.”
Such was Doerr’s link to the early days of baseball that he was the last surviving player to have appeared in a game in the 1930s and the last to have competed against New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. On Opening Day, 1939, Doerr went 1-for-4 in the Red Sox’ 2-0 loss to the Yankees, with Gehrig going 0-for-4. Gehrig, soon to be diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, took himself out of the Yankees lineup just a few weeks later, ending his “Iron Man” streak at 2,130 consecutive games played.
When Doerr made his major-league debut on April 20, 1937 against the Philadelphia Athletics, the A’s manager was Connie Mack, who had been filling out lineup cards since 1894.
The dominant second baseman of his era, both offensively and defensively, Doerr was an American League All-Star in nine of his 14 seasons. Listed at 5-11, 175 pounds, he was a powerful right-handed hitter who socked 223 career home runs and drove in 100 or more runs six times.
When he retired after the 1951 season, his 2,042 hits were the most in Red Sox history. He still ranks in the top 10 among Red Sox players all-time in most offensive categories, including games, runs, hits, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, walks, extra-base hits, total bases, and times on base.
But Doerr was equally proud of his defensive prowess. He held an American League record by taking 414 consecutive chances without an error, an achievement proudly noted on his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown. He was elected to the Hall in 1986, and two years later the Red Sox retired his uniform No. 1.
During the 1946 pennant-winning season Doerr had 18 home runs and 116 RBIs, finishing third in the American League Most Valuable Player race behind Ted Williams and Detroit Tigers pitcher Hal Newhouser. Another Red Sox teammate, shortstop Johnny Pesky, finished fourth in the MVP race.
Doerr’s relationship with Williams, Pesky and DiMaggio was the inspiration for Halberstam’s “The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship.” Though Doerr was a quiet, stoic individual who preferred retirement in Oregon to living in the big city, he nonetheless made frequent trips to Fenway Park and in the aftermath of Halberstam’s book he found his mailbox bulging each morning with requests for autographs.
“And that’s very nice,” he said during a 2005 interview.
Writer, toastmaster and poet Dick Flavin, who was close to the four players and was a central character in “The Teammates,” said, “Until that book came out, a lot of people didn’t understand what Bobby meant to Ted. Ted was like a wild animal. He never really grew up. He never had any real parenting in his life. He never really had a model to follow until he met Bobby, even though Bobby was only about five months older than Ted.
“Bobby had such a strong base from his own bringing up and was so comfortable in his own skin that he helped Ted through a lot in those early days,” said Flavin. “Bobby, particularly in those early days, saved Ted from himself.”
Yet even taking “The Teammates” out of the discussion, Doerr’s reach still spanned the generations. More than 15 years after his playing career ended, he was first-base coach on the Red Sox’ 1967 “Impossible Dream” pennant-winning season.
Doerr spent countless hours working with pitcher Jim Lonborg, a notoriously weak hitter, to improve his bunting skills. In the sixth inning of the final game of the season, with the Red Sox trailing 2-0 against the Minnesota Twins and needing a victory to remain in contention, Lonborg began a five-run rally when he dropped a perfect bunt down the third-base line.
Doerr also worked with rookie second baseman Mike Andrews, just 23 years old when the 1967 season began.
“Bobby Doerr was my mentor,” said Andrews. “When I was in the minors, I always seemed to improve when he came along. I had so much faith in him that if he told me I’d be a better hitter if I changed my shoelaces, I’d have done it.
“I can still hear him yelling, ‘Swing down on the ball,’ “ Andrews said. “That was his philosophy . . . If you start down low, your swing will be more level and you’ll stay on the ball longer.”
Not all of Doerr’s pupils enjoyed long, successful baseball careers. Some of them went on to enjoy long, successful basketball careers.
We refer, of course, to current Celtics president Danny Ainge. Though he would gain greater fame for his 14 seasons in the NBA, Ainge, a two-sport star at Brigham Young University, played a few seasons as a third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays before being wooed by Celtics president Red Auerbach. Ainge’s hitting coach in Toronto was Bobby Doerr.
“Bobby was the guy I’d talk with after every at-bat,” said Ainge, who played for the Blue Jays from 1979 through 1981.
Doerr always insisted that Ainge “... would have been a success as a baseball player. I guess he made the right decision, given everything that happened with the Celtics, but he had the tools to be a very good big-league hitter.”
Ainge isn’t so sure.
“I guess we’ll never know about that,” he said. “What I do know is that I learned more about baseball from Bobby than from anyone else.”
It was in Doerr’s Bend, Ore., home that Ainge signed his first professional contract. Pat Gillick, Toronto’s director of baseball of operations at the time, traveled to Oregon to sign the BYU star after he had been selected in the 15th round of the 1977 amateur draft, and everyone wound up at Doerr’s house.
“Danny signed the contract on the table in our living room,” Doerr recalled.
Born on April 7, 1918 in Los Angeles, Doerr was just 16 and still attending Fremont High School when he broke in with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1934, hitting .259. He hit .317 the following season, after which his contract was purchased by the Red Sox. He remained in the PCL for the 1936 season, hitting .342 for the San Diego Padres, at the time a Boston farm club.
He played in just 55 games for the Red Sox in 1937 as a 19-year-old rookie, hitting .224. In an odd quirk in Red Sox uniform history, Doerr actually wore No. 9 his first season, but he switched to No. 1 in 1938. When Williams debuted with the team in 1939, he was issued No. 9.
Doerr was Boston’s everyday second baseman through 1944, but then enlisted in the Army and missed the entire 1945 season, serving out the end of World War II at Camp Roberts in California. He returned to the Red Sox lineup in 1946.
But beyond baseball and the military, Doerr would always tell you his greatest teammate was his wife, Monica.
Doerr met Monica Roseman Terpin, a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, during an off-season fishing trip to Oregon. According to a 2005 Associated Press story, they met at a party and danced to the song, “Chapel in the Moonlight.”
“That was the winter of ’36,” he said. “In 1938, we got married.”
As Monica Doerr’s health declined in her later years due to multiple sclerosis, Doerr remained at her side, dutifully guiding her wheelchair at home and at various events. Traveling to a function hosted by Bob Costas at the Florida-based Ted Williams Museum in 1995, Doerr wheeled Monica into the room and saw to her comfort before taking his seat on the stage.
“It was never a big project,” said Doerr. “You could jerk her around in that chair and she never made a fuss. She always did good things for me, and I always did good things for her.”
Doerr is survived by his son, Don, and Don’s wife, Wendy Dame; his grandson, Brad, and Brad’s wife, Jennifer; his granddaughter, Mischel Lowenberg, and her husband, Jason; and his great-grandchildren, Jackson, William, Allison, and Reese. The family asks that any donations be made to one of the following organizations:
• Junction City Retirement and Assisted Living Community, 500 East 6th Ave., Junction City, OR 97448
• PeaceHealth Hospice Care, 677 East 12th Ave., Suite N-110, Eugene, OR 97401