A True Gentleman of the Game

When the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, my mom and her coworkers went to Opening Day 2005. I’ve sat in her law firm’s seats all my life; they’re the perfect spot, right underneath the overhang on the first baseline. She sent us crummy pics from her flip phone of the bluest sky and the largest American flag being unfurled over the Monster. I’m still jealous.

But the best part came that night at dinner. My mom came home and told us about this song that had been sung during the ring ceremony, a song written for all the players who’d never won World Series with the Red Sox. The song started, “This is for Johnny Pesky! This is for Bobby Doerr,” and whenever the singer said his last name, he’d draw it out: “This is for Bobby Doooooerr.” My mom said it went on like that for a few minutes, making us laugh and laugh. We still sing those few bars every once in a while, and I always smile and tear up, thinking about these two beloved players celebrating on the field, finally getting their due after all those years.

Bobby Doerr passed away yesterday. He was ninety-nine years old, the last player from the 1930s, and the oldest Hall of Famer ever. If you’re a nostalgic lover of the game like me, you recognize that a bygone era of baseball has died with him. Bobby Doerr was a true gentleman of this game. He was known for being a class act. I miss that. I miss seeing men wearing these uniforms, instead of directionless little boys. There was a nobility in baseball when teams had players like Bobby Doerr. That quality is gone; the last vestiges died today with Bobby Doerr.

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I’ve had to write a lot of sad articles lately. From Roy Halladay to Marquise Goodwin, and now, Mr. Doerr. But I want this to be more of a celebration of life. Because Bobby Doerr was a great baseball player, and he lived a long and good life. His longtime friend and teammate Ted Williams nicknamed him the “Silent Captain of the Red Sox.” Johnny Pesky said he had “the best backhand of any second baseman” he’d ever seen. Bobby Doerr was a nine-time All-Star, a .288 career hitter with 223 home runs, 693 extra base hits, and 1,247 RBI. Regarded as one of the greatest second basemen to ever play the game, he often led the AL in double plays, putouts, and assists. The notoriously modest Doerr once went 414 games without an error, a record at the time. In his first Major League game in 1937, a 19-year-old Doerr went 3-for-5. A true team player, he led the league with 22 sacrifice hits in his second season. In 1940, he and his teammates Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, and Joe Cronin each had 105 or more RBIs. All of them would go on to be Hall of Fame inductees. In the infamous 1946 World Series against the Cardinals, he hit .409 and had a home run and 3 RBIs. It would be Doerr’s only appearance in a Fall Classic.

Bobby Doerr played his entire 14-year career with the Red Sox, only missing the 1945 season to fight in World War II. He returned to the Red Sox as a coach in 1967 and helped the Red Sox win their first pennant since his own playing days. You can also credit Doerr with helping transform Carl Yastrzemski into a Triple Crown-winning AL MVP who hit 44 home runs in the “Impossible Dream” year thanks in large part to Doerr’s tutelage.

Bobby Doerr was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, another inauspicious year for his team, and we retired his #1 jersey in 1988. Unlike so many of his friends and teammates, Doerr lived long enough to see the team with whom he played his entire Major League career finally win a World Series. He and Johnny Pesky both received World Series rings in 2004. He returned to the field with Pesky again in 2012 to celebrate Fenway’s 100th birthday; Pesky would die a few weeks later, leaving Doerr the last surviving member of their group. As the first Hall of Famer to live to the age of 99, Bobby Doerr was known in the baseball world as its unofficial patriarch. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of all these honors than this man who embodied grace on and off the field.

I hope that players today will read about Bobby Doerr and strive to emulate him. Some of them might have even gotten a chance to meet him, and I’m sure they were in awe, because Bobby Doerr was not only a magnificent ballplayer, but a truly and remarkably dignified human being. He was admired and respected by players across the league – even the Yankees never had an unkind word to say about him. He was a devoted husband to his wife Monica, who lived with Multiple Sclerosis for almost sixty years. His friendships with teammates Williams, DiMaggio, and Pesky (they remained in constant contact until their deaths) and his behavior as a player and person should set a standard in baseball.

In my heart, I know that heaven is a Field of Dreams, and now, Bobby Doerr has finally shown up to join the game. He’s greeted by his old teammates made young again; Ted Williams, happy to play the game without the press hounding him, Dom DiMaggio, who’s been trying to break his own 34-game hitting streak record, and Johnny Pesky, showing off that beautiful 2004 ring. It makes me smile to think of these four reunited, their Fenway statue brought to life once again.

This is for Bobby Doerr.

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