“Bobby Doerr was part of an era of baseball giants and still stood out as one himself,” said Red Sox owner John Henry. “And even with his Hall of Fame achievements at second base, his character and personality outshined it all. He will be missed.”
Doerr played his entire 14-season Major League career with the Red Sox between 1937-51, missing ’45 while serving during World War II.
The second baseman was known as the “silent captain” on the strong Red Sox teams of the 1940s and early ’50s that also included Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio.
The late Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam wrote the well-received 2003 book “Teammates” about the poignant and long-lasting friendship shared by those four men.
In particular, the close friendship between Williams and Doerr — which started in 1936 when they were teammates with San Diego of the Pacific Coast League — was compelling because of their opposite personalities.
As Halberstam wrote, “Ted somehow understood that he needed Bobby’s calm, and he seized on his friend’s maturity and took comfort in it from the start.”
Those who knew Doerr best said that he was so mild-mannered, it was difficult to remember a swear word ever coming out of his mouth. Doerr was known for his exemplary work habits, quiet confidence and the ability to lead by example.
Doerr was the first baseball Hall of Famer who lived to be 99 years old.
“Bobby’s life is one we salute not only for its longevity, but for its grace,” said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. “He set the standard for what it means to be a good teammate through abiding friendships with Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio, all while realizing legendary status on the diamond. He touched us all with his class and dignity, and will remain an example and an inspiration for generations of players to come.”
“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.”
From a team standpoint, the highlight of Doerr’s career was in 1946, when the Red Sox went 104-50 and lost to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. But Doerr’s talent shone through in that Fall Classic, as he hit .409 against St. Louis.
The one regret for Doerr in his career was that he was never able to play for a World Series winner. He often lamented how different things could have turned out if three key Red Sox pitchers — Boo Ferris, Tex Hughson and Mickey Harris — hadn’t had sore shoulders in 1947. Medical science was not as advanced at the time, and none of those three pitchers ever returned to form. Boston fell one win short of the American League pennant in ’48 and ’49.
Doerr once confided to longtime Boston television personality, poet and author Dick Flavin, “If that didn’t happen to our pitchers, we’d be reading about the Red Sox dynasty instead of the Yankees dynasty.”
Still, when the Red Sox finally did win the World Series in 2004, snapping an 86-year drought, Doerr was one of several former players who received a ring. He was overjoyed by the gesture from team ownership.
“[Owner] John Henry called me and said he would like to give me a ring and wanted to know what my size was,” Doerr said in 2005. “I tell you, when he said that, actually I had some wet eyes. I thought that was quite a nice gesture for them to do that. We had our chance in ’46, ’48, ’49. I just think the Red Sox are just a wonderful organization.”
Williams died in 2002, but Doerr remained close with DiMaggio and Pesky until their deaths in ’09 and ’12, respectively.
“To be friends of 65 years or more … I talk to Dom once every 10 days, two weeks. We still keep in touch with Johnny,” Doerr said in 2005. “They’re coming out for a fishing trip in September, we’re going to catch some big salmon on the Rogue River.”
Yes, fishing. That might have been the only thing Doerr was as accomplished at as he was hitting a baseball. It was a skill and pastime Doerr shared with Williams. Together, they would often fish in the Florida Keys if Williams was hosting, or in Oregon near Doerr’s home.
On a more personal side, friends marveled at the way Doerr took care of his wife, Monica, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1940s. Until Monica’s death in 2003, Bobby was known to dote on his wife and give her the best care possible.
“I’m very saddened to hear about the passing of Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr, one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met,” said Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. “Our bond started very early, because we both had loved ones who suffered from multiple sclerosis — Bobby’s wife and my sister. He will be dearly missed. Now Ted, Johnny Pesky and Bobby are together again. Rest in peace, my friend.”
Sad day for our HOF and Red Sox family on the passing of Bobby Doerr RIP Bobby 🙏 pic.twitter.com/IcA3RV1RE4
— Wade Boggs (@ChickenMan3010) November 14, 2017
Doerr’s playing career was cut short by back woes, but he was elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1986. His retired uniform No. 1 is displayed on the right-field facade at Fenway Park.
“Bobby was not only an exceptional player, but a gentleman to his friends and to his fans,” said Baseball Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark in a news release. “He has been, and always will be, held in the highest regard by the Hall of Fame board of directors, the Hall of Fame members, and by its staff. Bobby’s passing has affected us deeply, and we send our heartfelt sympathy to his family.”
A nine-time AL All-Star, Doerr belted 223 homers over his career while notching 1,247 RBIs. He produced a solid line of .288/.362/.461. Doerr made his debut for the Red Sox at 19 years old.
The nine All-Star Game selections for Doerr rank fourth in Red Sox history behind Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and David Ortiz. Doerr 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.
There were always debates in the 1940s over who was the best second baseman in the AL — Doerr or Joe Gordon, who played for the Yankees and Indians and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2009.
Aside from his offensive heroics, Doerr was known for his rock-solid defense at second base. He led AL second basemen in fielding percentage six times and in double plays five times. Doerr once held the AL record for most consecutive chances at second base without an error (414). In 1969 and again in ’82, Red Sox fans voted him the team’s all-time best second baseman. Doerr played in more games at the position (1,852) than any other player in Red Sox history, and he ranks first all-time in Red Sox history for homers by a second baseman.
Doerr also did the little things, evidenced by his 22 sacrifice hits in 1938.
“Bobby Doerr meant so much to the Red Sox organization and to Major League Baseball as a whole,” said veteran Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “He will be missed not only by those who were lucky enough to know him, but also by all of those who enjoy this game. Bobby was a legend, a Hall of Famer I have long looked up to throughout my career, and his character both on and off the field will continue to inspire players throughout the league for generations to come.”
After his retirement, Doerr scouted for the Red Sox for close to a decade and was the first-base coach on the “Impossible Dream” AL pennant-winning team of 1967.
“[Doerr] was the guy that helped me the most in 1967,” said the fellow Hall of Famer Yastrzemski, who won the AL Triple Crown that season. “I started off slow, and he was the one that got me to raise my hands up higher … because I was going to go straight away, and he told me, ‘No, you have a lot of power, use it.’ “He was really a big help to me, and he was close to everybody. Everybody loved him. There wasn’t a thing about him that you could dislike. As classy as they come.”
Though Doerr couldn’t accompany Pesky and DiMaggio in what amounted to a farewell trip to see Williams in Florida in 2001, he was on everyone’s mind. Flavin was also on that trip.
“Someone said, ‘Jeez, it’s too bad Bobby can’t be here,”‘ Flavin recalled. “Pesky said, ‘Yeah, but we wouldn’t be able to talk this way if Bobby was here.’ The language quickly deteriorated into locker-room kind of language, because Ted was leading the conversation. Not that Dom or Johnny in their normal conversation wouldn’t talk that way, but it deteriorated into locker-room kind of talk, and they wouldn’t do that if Bobby was around.”
Doerr was born in Los Angeles, but he settled in Oregon in the 1930s, claiming primary residence there for the rest of his life. Until a few years ago, when he moved into a nursing home, Doerr continued to search for the big fish on those quiet lakes of Oregon.
The last public appearance for Doerr in Boston was the lavish 100-year anniversary celebration of Fenway Park in April of 2012. On a sun-splashed afternoon, former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield brought Doerr onto the field in a wheelchair, while Jason Varitek did the same for Pesky.
Cardinals legend Red Schoendienst, at 94, is now the oldest living Hall of Famer. The 10-time All-Star played from 1945-63, spending 15 of his 19 seasons with St. Louis.
Chuck Stevens is now the oldest living former Major Leaguer. Born on July 10, 1918, the 99-year-old former first baseman played for the St. Louis Browns (now Orioles) in 1941, ’46 and ’48.
For 38 years, Stevens was secretary of the old Association of Professional Ball Players of America (APBPA), which helped former baseball people in need — a precursor to today’s Baseball Assistance Team.
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.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.