Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr remembered for consistency, durability

Written by: Samantha Burkett

Bobby Doerr may have been the silent captain of the Red Sox, but his story will always be heard at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Doerr died Monday at the age of 99. He was the oldest living former big leaguer at the time of his passing, and he was the oldest Hall of Famer ever. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.

Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who played with Doerr for 10 seasons, called Doerr “The silent captain of the Red Sox.”

“I never saw him misplay a ball, and he had the best backhand of any second baseman I ever saw,” said teammate Johnny Pesky.

Born in Los Angeles on April 7, 1918, Robert Pershing Doerr played his entire 14-year career with Boston and is widely regarded as one of the best second baseman to ever play the game. He was discovered by Hall of Famer Eddie Collins on the same recruiting trip that signed Williams and began his big-league career in 1937 at the age of 19. Doerr was the last living major leaguer to have played in the 1930s.

Ted Williams (left) and Bobby Doerr became very close during their time as teammates on the Boston Red Sox. Williams referred to Doerr as the "Silent Captain" of the team. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

"Bobby was not only an exceptional player, but a gentleman to his friends and to his fans," said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the Board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "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."

He was named to nine All-Star Games, led the league in double plays five times and in fielding percentage four. He was so good at bunting that he led the league in sacrifice hits in 1938 with 22. He never played a position other than second base, averaging almost 140 starts per season.

Doerr, who missed the 1945 season while serving in the U.S. Army, spent more seasons as the Red Sox’s second baseman than any other player.

The Red Sox dedicated a statue featuring (from left) Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio at Fenway Park in 2010. (By Traveling Photographer Jean Fruth/National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

He had 12 consecutive seasons with 10 or more home runs and 73 or more RBI. He had 116 RBIs in 1946, helping lead the Red Sox to the American League pennant after spending a year in the military.

The Red Sox lost the 1946 World Series, but it certainly wasn’t because of Doerr’s performance. He hit .409 with a .458 on base percentage and three RBI in his only World Series.

He finished with a career .288 batting average, 2,042 hits and 223 home runs, which at the time was the third most by any second baseman. Doerr hit for the cycle twice and drove in 100 or more runs six times, with a high of 120 in 1950.

Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr, pictured above at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. (By Photographer Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

He once held a major league record by handling 414 chances without an error. Doerr retired in 1951 due to back problems that ended his career, but he served as the Red Sox’s first base coach from 1967-69 and was the Blue Jays’ hitting coach from 1977-81.

“Bobby Doerr is one of the very few who played the game hard and retired with no enemies,” said the Yankees’ Tommy Henrich, who played against Doerr for portions of three decades and was part, along with Doerr, of a fierce rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox in the late 1940s, culminating in the legendary pennant race of 1949.

But no matter the on-field battles, Doerr remained revered by friends and opponents alike.

"The baseball world lost a giant with the passing of Bobby Doerr, a man who led by example and had a heart of gold," said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "In an era with no team captains, Ted Williams dubbed him "The Silent Captain" of the Boston Red Sox, the team with whom he spent his entire 14-year career. A nine-time All-Star, he could bat anywhere in the lineup, drove in 90+ runs eight times and was a standout defensive second baseman. Bobby could also hit in the clutch, batting .409 in the 1946 World Series while also recording the only hit in two of Bob Feller's would-be no-hitters.

"He was a regular in Cooperstown after his 1986 election, where he was adored by his Hall of Fame teammates and baseball's fans alike."

Samantha Burkett is a freelance writer from Fairport, N.Y.