The west coast was very kind to the great Red Sox teams of the 1940’s. The region produced a legendary Boston version of a “Core Four” with Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and today’s Birthday Celebrant all coming east as young men and making Fenway their summer workplace.
If you research Doerr’s life and career, the most common description you encounter is not Hall-of-Famer, great hitter or outstanding second baseman, though he was certainly all of those. Nope, to those that played with him and against him and to the hundreds of young players he mentored as a long-time hitting and fielding instructor, Bobby Doerr is a true gentleman and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.
That doesn’t mean Doerr wasn’t tough or afraid to lead. In the late David Halberstam’s book “Teammates,” which focuses on the strong bond of friendship between these four great Red Sox legends, the other three Boston stars all insisted that Doerr was the glue that held those great pre- and post- WWII Boston teams together. And Doerr was the only Red Sox willing to tell Williams to cool it, whenever the Splendid Splinter got into one of his patented surly moods.
Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Doerr was a teenage sensation with the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League. He joined the Red Sox in 1937, at the age of 19. By September of that first season, he had taken over as Boston’s staring second baseman from a very good player named Eric McNair. Doerr remained at that position for 14 of the next 15 big league seasons with the only interruption being the one year (1945) he spent in military service during the war.
A right-handed hitter, he could be counted on like clockwork to smack close to 20 homers and drive in between 95-to-110 runs. His career average was .288 and he made nine All Star teams. During his only postseason appearance in the 1946 World Series, Doerr led all Red Sox regulars with a .409 batting average. His glove work was near flawless and if there were Gold Gloves awarded back then, he’d own at least a dozen. But it all ended abruptly.
While bending over to field a slow-hit grounder during the second half of the 1951 season, Doerr felt like he pulled something in his back. He kept playing but weeks later, the pain had gotten so bad he couldn’t get out of bed. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing the pain and told him the only hope was a complicated operation that might actually end up making his back worse. Just 33-years-old at the time, Doerr retired instead. You’ll still find his name among the top ten all-time franchise leaders in just about every offensive and defensive category.
He settled in Oregon with his wife and son and tried ranching. He gave that up to become a roving instructor and scout for the Red Sox. He missed the Halberstam-chronicled road-trip with DiMaggio and Pesky to visit a dying Williams because he didn’t want to leave his wife, who had multiple sclerosis and had suffered two strokes. Today he turns 96-years of age. His wife passed away in 2003 and Doerr remains in Oregon, still the perfect gentleman and still one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.