Bobby Doerr, legendary Boston Red Sox second baseman and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, died on Monday at age 99. Doerr was the oldest living major leaguer and the only Hall of Famer to live to 99.
Doerr played in the majors for 14 seasons, from 1937-51, and spent all of it with the Red Sox. Doerr was the last living major leaguer to have not just debuted in the 1930s, but to have played in the 1930s at all. He was on teams with baseball greats like Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Jimmie Foxx and Dom DiMaggio, but among them Doerr was known as the “silent captain,” a title coined by Williams.
Out of a 14-year career, Doerr was an All-Star nine times. He had a career .288/.362/.461 triple slash, along with 381 doubles and 223 home runs. He also hit for the cycle twice in his career, and in 1948 had a span of 73 games with no errors, which was an AL record at the time. He was an elite defenseman, and according to the Associated Press, Doerr credited his skills to a childhood spent bouncing a rubber ball on the steps outside his house in Los Angeles.
Doerr led the AL in slugging in 1944 with .528, but took a year away from baseball in 1945 to enlist in the military. He returned in 1946, the year the Red Sox went to the World Series. Doerr hit .409 with a homer and three RBIs in the Fall Classic, but with the famous Babe Ruth curse still in full force (as it would be for more than a half century), the Sox came up short against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Doerr’s time on the diamond was shorter than most. He retired at 33 due to a back injury, but his career in baseball was far from over. After taking a few years off to fish, ranch cattle and meet his wife, he returned to the Red Sox as a scout in 1957. He’d hold that job for ten years, and then became Boston’s first base coach and hitting instructor until 1969. In 1977, he became the hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, a job he’d hold until 1981.
Thanks to the Veterans Committee, Doerr was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Red Sox retired his No. 1 jersey in 1988. When the Red Sox opened their own Hall of Fame in 1995, Doerr was in the inaugural class. He was inducted alongside teammates Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio, and is considered to be the franchise’s all-time best second baseman.
Beyond retiring his jersey and inducting Doerr into their own Hall of Fame, the Red Sox organization was never shy in telling Doerr how important he was to them. In 2004, they presented Doerr with his own World Series ring, recognizing his effort in trying to end the curse in 1946.
In a news release from the Red Sox, several members of the organization had kind and thoughtful things to say about Doerr’s death, but the words of Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy reflect on Doerr’s place in the great family of baseball.
“There is something fitting about Bobby Doerr becoming the patriarch of baseball, outliving all of those he played with and against,” said Red Sox President/CEO Sam Kennedy. “Bobby was a special player, to be sure, a Hall of Famer, but he also commanded universal respect from all those fortunate enough to have crossed his path. We celebrated his return every time he came back to us here at Fenway Park, and we now mourn his passing, grateful for the wonderful memories he left.”
Doerr’s death marks the final end to a great era in baseball history. In addition to being the oldest living major leaguer and the last player from the 1930s, Doerr was one of just three living players to have debuted before World War II. As far as Red Sox history, he was the only player left who could legitimately say that he outlived the famous Red Sox curse. That’s a testament not just to his long life and great career, but to the place he earned in baseball history.
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