GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Bobby Doerr, the Hall of Fame second baseman dubbed the “Silent Captain” of the Boston Red Sox by longtime teammate and friend Ted Williams, has died. He was 99.
Doerr died on Monday in Junction City, Oregon, the Red Sox said Tuesday in a statement. The Red Sox said Doerr had been the oldest living major league player.
“Bobby Doerr was part of an era of baseball giants and still stood out as one himself,” Red Sox owner John Henry said. “And even with his Hall of Fame achievements at second base, his character and personality outshined it all.”
Signed out of the old Pacific Coast League on the same scouting trip that brought Williams to Fenway Park, Doerr played 14 seasons with the Red Sox and joined his fishing buddy in the Hall of Fame in 1986. He had a .288 lifetime average and helped the Red Sox to the 1946 World Series.
The nine-time All-Star often forgave his more accomplished friend for his storied anger and impatience.
“Ted couldn’t understand mediocre, see,” Doerr told The Associated Press on his 90th birthday in 2008, which the governor of Oregon declared Bobby Doerr Day. “And I was in that mediocre class.”
Doerr’s modesty was belied by his stats: He finished with 2,042 hits, 223 home runs and 1,247 RBIs and he once went 414 games without an error — a record at the time. His six seasons with at least 100 RBIs was not matched by another second baseman for 25 years.
Doerr was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986 by the Veterans Committee and the Red Sox retired his No. 1 jersey in 1988. The Red Sox honored Doerr with a 2004 World Series ring after breaking their 86-year championship drought.
He frequently led AL second basemen in double plays, putouts and assists, crediting his fielding skill to endless hours spent bouncing a rubber ball against the front steps of his family’s Los Angeles home.
He returned from a year in the Navy to help the Red Sox win the AL pennant in 1946 — the only time his teams got past the Yankees — but they lost Game 7 of the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals when Enos Slaughter scored the winning run from first on a single. Doerr long maintained that with just one more strong relief pitcher, they could have won more pennants.
Forced to retire by a bad back in 1951, Doerr lived out his retirement in Oregon, his adopted home after spending a winter fishing for steelhead on the Rogue River and meeting his future wife. When Doerr retired, he picked up a bamboo fly rod Williams designed and named for him — but Doerr still had to pay for it.
Doerr returned to the Red Sox as a coach from 1967-69 and was a batting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1980. Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski credited Doerr for helping him snap out of a slow start in the “Impossible Dream” season of 1967, when the Red Sox won the AL pennant and Yaz was the league’s MVP.
“He was really a big help to me, and he was close to everybody. Everybody loved him,” Yastrzemski said. “There wasn’t a thing about him that you could dislike. As classy as they come.”
Even rivals like Yankees star Tommy Henrich found it hard to dislike Doerr, saying: “Bobby Doerr is one of the very few who played the game hard and retired with no enemies.”
The lifelong friendship between Doerr, Williams, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio was described by David Halberstam in the 2003 book “The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship.” A statue commemorating that friendship was unveiled at Fenway in 2010.
Doerr was the last surviving member of the group.
“Now Ted, Johnny Pesky and Bobby are together again,” former Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs said.
Born Robert Pershing Doerr in Los Angeles on April 7, 1918, he figured he would have grown up to work for the telephone company like the rest of his family if he hadn’t found a career in baseball.
As a kid, Doerr papered his room with pictures of big leaguers, and remained a fan while a big leaguer himself, once running to his locker for a bat to get autographed by Babe Ruth when he showed up at Fenway Park. He was 16 when he joined the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1934, and moved with the team to San Diego in 1936, where they became the Padres.
That’s when Doerr met Williams, then a brash kid out of high school.
After the 1936 season in San Diego, Doerr spent the winter fly fishing for steelhead in Oregon, where he fell in love with the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse after meeting her at a dance. The next spring, Doerr was called up to the Red Sox to join future Hall of Fame stars Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove.
After the following season, Doerr and Monica Roseman Terpin were married. After retiring from baseball, Doerr moved his family to Junction City, his wife’s hometown, so their son, Don, could go to middle school.
“People ask, “Don’t you wish you played now,” Doerr said in 1990. “No. I know the money is better, but I just feel fortunate to have played then. I think we had more fun. We played the game hard, but there is so much pressure on these guys.”
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