Bobby Doerr, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, passed away on November 13, 2017 at the age of 99. Doerr was the oldest living Hall of Famer as well as the oldest living former big leaguer at the time of his passing. Baseball historian and former Yankees publicist Marty Appel noted that Doerr was the last remaining player who played at the Major League level in the 1930s, as well.
Doerr was born on April 7, 1918 in Los Angeles. Even before graduating high school in 1936, his professional baseball career had begun, as he spent ’34-’35 with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. Doerr played for the PCL’s San Diego Padres in 1936, a team that also featured Ted Williams, who would become Doerr’s future Red Sox teammate and longtime friend.
At the age of 19, Doerr broke into the Majors, making his MLB debut for the Boston Red Sox on April 20, 1937. Doerr spent his entire 14-season MLB career with the Sox, from 1937-1951 (he missed the ’45 season as he served in the Army that year during WWII). His proficiency at bunting early in his career led him to lead the league in sacrifice hits with 22 in 1938. In 1941, he was selected for the American League All-Star Team, the first of nine such appearances for Doerr. He was often referred to as the “silent captain” of the Red Sox, a team that would contend for the pennant throughout much of his career.
From both a team and an individual standpoint, 1946 was a standout year for Doerr; he drove in 116 runs that season and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting (behind his pal Williams, who won that award that season), while the Sox won their first pennant since 1918. They lost that World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, though Doerr did put up a .409 average in that series.
Doerr was also considered one of the top defensive second basemen of his time, leading the American League in double plays five times, in both putouts and fielding percentage four times, and in assists three times.
At just 33 years old, Doerr retired from playing after the 1951 season due to ongoing back problems. He’d return to Boston as a scout and as a minor league hitting instructor from 1957-1966, and was hired as the first base coach under manager Dick Williams in 1967. He resigned from the Sox in 1969, after Williams was fired as the manager. He later acted as the hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, from 1977-1981.
In 1986, Doerr was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame via the Veteran’s Committee. Two years later, his jersey number 1 was retired by the Red Sox. Doerr often lamented the fact that he never got to win a championship with Boston; when the Red Sox won it all in 2004, Doerr was one of several former players to receive a ring.
“[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.”