In Memoriam – Bobby Doerr

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Bobby Doerr vs Yankees at Fenway Park (Bill Dickey catching), 1940 or 1941

 

A small tribute to Bobby Doerr, the “silent captain” and 9-time All Star second baseman who played his entire Hall of Fame career for the Boston Red Sox (1937-1951), the oldest living major leaguer, as well as the oldest Hall-of-Famer, and the last surviving major leaguer from the 1930’s, who passed today at 99.

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Doerr at Fenway

Doerr was one of the dominant second baseman of his era, at one point handling 414 chances without an error, but was also a clutch performer at the plate; although not a classic power hitter, he drove in 100 or more runs six times, was the Red Sox hits leader when he retired in 1951, and remains in the Top 10 in many offensive categories for the club to this day.

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Rookie Ted Williams and Doerr in 1939

While the legendary Ted Williams is thought of in retrospect as a somewhat stoic type that was all baseball business, Bobby Doerr (although only a few months older) was an early mentor for the young, wild Williams, who debuted in 1939, with Ted bestowing the moniker “silent captain” on the determined yet down-to-earth Doerr.

Doerr had one of his best seasons in 1944, sporting a .325 average and led the league in slugging, earning AL Player of the Year honors from the Sporting News, this despite being called up for military service in early September (which was unfortunate for the Red Sox, in the midst of a pennant race at that time). Doerr’s service extended into the next year, necessitating missing the entire 1945 season.

redsox46flagHe came back strong in 1946, finishing third to Williams in the MVP voting in the Red Sox’s pennant-winning season; unfortunately, while batting over .400 in the 1946 World Series Boston again fell short of winning a championship. The Red Sox celebrated their second base All-Star by giving him a Bobby Doerr Night in August 1947.

In 1948, the now veteran Doerr set the then record of 414 errorless chances noted above. While he continued to be consistent into the 1950’s with All-Star selections in 1950 and 1951, back problems had slowed him, eventually leading to him shutting down a month early in 1951, and at age 33, electing for retirement rather than risk more serious injury.

While Doerr retired as the Red Sox leader in many offensive categories as noted above, his career home/road splits were still eye-opening: .315 career at Fenway, as opposed to .261 on the road. And again not to be denied on defense, he led AL second basement in double plays 5 times, and held the MLB record for double plays at 2B until the 1960’s.

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Carl Yastrzemski and Doerr, on the eve of the 1967 World Series

Doerr returned to the Red Sox in later years as a scout and instructor, and fittingly was hired as first base coach for the pennant-winning 1967 season. He resigned after manager Dick Williams was fired in 1969. He returned as a hitting coach for the expansion Blue Jays from 1977-1981, eventually retiring from baseball for good to his home in Oregon. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986, and his #1 was retired by the Red Sox in 1988.

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Jimmie Foxx and Doerr in 1939

 

 

 

And now, some historic audio of Bobby Doerr. Vintage baseball broadcast audio from Fenway Park is quite rare, and only one known recording of Bobby Doerr in action at Fenway is known to exist: It happens to be from the earliest surviving audio from Fenway Park, Monday, April 18, 1938, Opening Day vs the Yankees. After being a part-time player in 1937, Doerr was to begin his first full season as the Red Sox second baseman, at the tender age of 20. Doerr slotted in alongside Hall-of-Famers Jimmie Foxx at 1B and Joe Cronin at SS, and batted 7th, against the defending WS champion Yankees, with a lineup packed with 4 HOFers including Lou Gehrig, of which Doerr was the last surviving MLB player to have played with Gehrig. Doerr went 2-4 with 2 RBIs, as Boston took their home opener 8-4.

The surviving audio is a partial game, only through the 4th inning (see YT link at bottom). But today I made a quick video of game moments from that contest involving Doerr, below. 1930’s audio to enjoy, as the last surviving MLB player from the 1930’s passes into memory.

 

Here is the entire 4 innings of the earliest surviving Fenway audio (and again the only Fenway Doerr audio). Unfortunately the first half-hour or so is marred by extraneous pops, clicks and pac-man (lol) like noises, but an historic document.

 

RIP, 1930’s. RIP silent captain.

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Yankee Stadium Yogi

Returning to my blog after a long absence, but I’ll keep it short and sweet – on this day of memorials to the great Yogi Berra, a few rare photos of him at Yankee Stadium in the 1950’s, from various sources. Above, Yogi dons the tools of ignorance before a game against the White Sox in 1956.

 

 

Opening weekend, April 1956, either Saturday the 21th or Sunday the 22nd, Ted Williams steps to the plate in a pinch-hitting appearance. Yogi knocked in 5 over that weekend as the Yankees swept the series from the Red Sox to go to 5-1 on the short season.

 

 

Wednesday, June 6, 1956. Yanks beat the K.C. A’s 10-5 to improve to an MLB best 30-17, as Yogi goes 2-4 with a 2B and HR. Losing pitcher for the Athletics? Tommy Lasorda, who would only have 7 more appearances that season to close out his short playing career.

 

 

Friday, May 2, 1958, Moose Skowron looks on as Yogi catches a foul pop to help secure a CG 4-hitter for Bob Turley over the A’s, 8-1, as the Yankees improve to an MLB best 10-4.

 

 

Saturday, October 4, 1958, World Series Game 3, Don Larsen and on-deck batter Red Schoendienst watch Yogi gun out the Milwaukee Braves’ Bill Bruton on a bunt attempt for the first play of the game. Yankees would shut out Milwaukee 4-0 to get their first win in the Series, and would go on to win the crown in 7 games.

 

 

Nice shot of Yogi and Roy Campanella in action.

 

 
Yogi Berra Day, Saturday, September 19, 1959:




Yogi went 0-4 but caught Whitey Ford’s CG 4-hitter against the Red Sox. Likely unwillingly, Yogi would have more time to relax in that lounge chair that October, as it was a rare season in the Bronx with the Bombers missing the postseason for only the fourth time in his Yankee career.

That’s it for now, but to borrow from a classic Yogi-ism, thanks Yogi, for making this all necessary.

Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks, #8 – Fenway Park

In 1937, Ed Burns, a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune, penned a series of articles on every major league park at the time (15 articles in all, of 16 parks for 16 teams; the Cardinals and Browns shared Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, while the Indians played in both League Park and Cleveland Municipal Stadium that year, with one article for both), which were also published in the Sporting News that year.

A very interesting series, especially from the perspective of 1937, and the hand-drawn diagrams of interesting plays and quirks of each park are wonderful. I’ll post them in order of when they were originally published, and one at a time to make things interesting. Click the Burns-Eye Views of Big Time Parks category link to the right to see all the articles together.

Eighth in the series, venerable Fenway Park, which, while classic today, back then had “no apparent reason for the outline of the field having similarity with…a tough jig saw puzzle.” Sounds like the complaints of the contrived designs of “retro” ballparks today, 75 years later.

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Now batting, NUMBER THREE, Babe Ruth…

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Babe Ruth in his first year wearing #3, 1929

 

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Yankee Stadium, Opening Day, April 18, 1929. And if you look close (or click the photo to see the larger version), something is unusual about the players in this photo. A sharp eye reveals that the hometown Yankees have numbers on their backs (with Gehrig’s #4 at first base most prominent), while the visiting Red Sox do not. As it turns out, this is the first year (and the first game) that the Yankees introduced numbers to their already iconic uniforms.

As the article below states, “There is never anything half measure about the way Colonel Ruppert does things. When he built the Stadium he gave baseball the biggest arena of its kind in the world. And when he decided to number his players he got them the largest numerals that money could buy and still fit on a baseball uniform. The numbers proved an unqualified success. They are clearly discernible to the naked eye.

1916 Indians

Actually, Ruppert wasn’t entirely original in this idea. At the beginning of the 20th century, a few minor league and traveling/barnstorming teams experimented with numbers, but on the players’ sleeves. The first major league team to try the idea was the 1916 Cleveland Indians, who did it for a few weeks in mid-season, and again for a short time in 1917, but was quickly abandoned.

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Harry McCurdy, 1923 Cardinals

Later, the 1923 St. Louis Cardinals gave it a try, but, per Wiki, as then-manager Branch Rickey recalled, the Cardinals’ players were “subjected to field criticism from the stands and especially from opposing players,” so the numbers were removed.

Also, the aforementioned Indians had also planned to introduce numbers on uniform backs for the 1929 season, and both teams were scheduled to open their seasons on the same day, April 16, but the Yankees were rained out, so the Indians have the honor of playing the first MLB game with proper uniform numbers. The Yankees couldn’t introduce their soon-to-be-legendary digits until April 18 (above). And as the only two teams wearing them, the first game featuring numbers on every player was the first meeting of the Indians and Yankees that year, on May 13 (in Cleveland, at League Park).

What would have been interesting is to see one team on the field with numbers, and one without. And one can just imagine the fans seeing the numbers for the first time and the interesting chatter in the stands that day; some undoubtedly decrying the modernization of the game (“they look like racehorses out there”) while others marveling at how easy it is to tell who’s who now. I wouldn’t doubt that the numbers allowed more casual fans to become more involved in the games.

As most fans know, interestingly, the Yankees were intially numbered according to their spot in the batting order on that first game in 1929 (except for the pitcher), as follows:

Combs cf #1
Koenig 3b #2
Ruth rf #3 (of course)
Gehrig 1b #4 (of course)
Meusel lf #5
Lazzeri 2b #6
Durocher ss #7 (yes, Leo Durocher was the Yankees SS in 1929!)
Grabowksi c #8

The remainder of the roster was apparently numbered as follows: The other two catchers were assigned #9 and #10, #11 through #21 were assigned to pitchers (except unlucky #13 wasn’t used), and #22 through #28 given to the remaining position players, then #29 and up assigned to coaches (manager Miller Huggins did not wear a number, but when he died suddenly in late 1929, coach Art Fletcher, #34, took over as manager and was then the first Yankee manager to have a number – good trivia question – stump your friends! Of course, this number system was too rigid to follow through the course of a season, and with pitchers going down or being released, new position players would take numbers in the 20’s, etc.

Times article from Opening Day 1929

Turns out numbered uniforms proved to be very popular indeed, with all teams having numbers by the 1930’s, including road uniforms, and now old baseball photos of uniforms without numbers look very unusual in modern times.

The Times itself had the understatement of all time in the article above: “In the event any one needs the information, Babe Ruth is No. 3. It is now expected he will make “3” as famous as the “77” Red Grange wore at Illinois.” Dare I say, Mr. Ruth’s #3 may be even a bit more famous than Mr. Grange’s #77 by now.