Bobby Doerr graced the field with all-around excellence and carried himself with supreme dignity on and off the field. The Red Sox great and long-time fan favorite died at the age of 99 last November. At the time of hs death, Doerr was the oldest living Hall of Famer.
Doerr played his entire 14-year Major League career with the Red Sox from 1937-1951, missing the 1945 season to military service during World War II. Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam chronicled the longtime friendship between Doerr and fellow Red Sox legends Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Dominic DiMaggio in his well-received 2003 book Teammates. The tight bond between Doerr and Williams started in 1936 as teammates for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League, where both were discovered during the same scouting trip by Hall of Famer Eddie Collins. A year later, Doerr began his big league career at the age of 19.
There is a bit of a mystery surrounding Doerr’s first baseball card. Most collectors and baseball historians refer to Doerr’s rookie card as the 1936 Goudey Premium, but the sturdy second baseman did not play his first major league game until 1937. Although there is no specific date on the card back, the 1936 Goudey series, originally distributed in Canada, was most likely issued in 1937, possibly 1938. No matter the year issued, decent graded versions of the Doerr Goudey Premium rookie sells for $750.
By 1940, Doerr was a key member of a potent Red Sox lineup that included Williams, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe Cronin. The man Williams called “the silent leader” hit a robust .291 with 22 homers and 105 RBI — impressive numbers for a second baseman of any time period. Doerr’s 1940 Play Ball baseball card is a favorite among vintage Red Sox collectors, selling in excess of $100 in decent condition. Baseball cards issued more than 75 years ago lack the glitz and glitter of modern day cards, but the Play Ball series is renowned for its picturesque and simplistic settings.
Back woes forced Doerr from the game following the 1951 season. A nine-time All-Star, Doerr smacked 223 home runs for his career, the third highest total for a second baseman at the time of his retirement. He also accumulated 1,247 RBI while producing batting .288 and slugging .461 for his career. He also ranks in the top 10 among Red Sox players all-time in many offensive categories, including game, runs, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, extra base hits, and total bases.
Defensively, Doerr was one of the top fielding second baseman of his time, leading American League second baseman in fielding percentage six times and in double plays five times. He once held the AL record for most consecutive chances at second base without an error.
In addition to being a great ballplayer, Doerr also an avid baseball memorabilia and autograph collector. His most prized possessions — Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Williams autographed bats — were gathered as a player. After his playing days, Doerr accumulated autographed photos, balls, and bats from all-time greats such as Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Moe Berg, and Foxx at baseball functions and Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown.
Doerr was also a gracious autograph signer during and after his baseball career. He would even respond to autograph requests through old fashioned mail correspondence. Most Red Sox memorabilia collectors have a Doerr autograph or two tucked away for safekeeping. For me, the non-glossy, smudge-free 1986 Donruss Highlights card celebrating Doerr’s Hall of Fame enshrinement was the perfect card to send through the mail for an autograph.
Doerr was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 by the HOF Veterans Committee that included Williams. Two years later, Doerr saw his No.1 jersey retired by the Red Sox, which is now displayed on the Fenway Park right field facade alongside the numbers of Williams, Pesky, and other Red Sox greats.