“[Bobby] Doerr, and not Ted Williams, is the No. 1 player on the team. He rates the Most Valuable Player in the American League.” – Babe Ruth on the 1946 AL MVP.
The Babe had been retired 11 years in 1946, but was still very much aware of the game. Looking at this quote, you’d think that maybe the Babe had gone a bit mad, but he was really quite clear in his thinking. Looking back, maybe the Babe might have had a good argument in Doerr.
Bobby Doerr played second base for the Red Sox with Ted Williams, and Jimmy Foxx, and Dom DiMaggio and many others from that great era of baseball from 1937 to 1951. He is Oregon’s only Hall of Fame inductee, and arguably the greatest baseball player living in Oregon. Period.
Looking at his stats is like looking at art: It’s all there on the page. His .980 lifetime fielding percentage is second only to Jackie Robinson. He hit .409 in the 1946 World Series, while Ted Williams hit .202, and Stan Musial hit .250. He was by far the best player on the Red Sox for that series, and would have been the best overall if it hadn’t been for Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals hitting .412. He was the model of consistency, having six seasons of over 100 RBIs (it took 25 years before another second baseman, Joe Morgan, repeated this feat), and churned out 1,507 double-plays in his career; 132 in 1943 alone. He was The Sporting News AL player of the year in 1944. He is the only Red Sox player to hit for the cycle twice. His #1 was retired by the Red Sox in 1988 (his was only the 3rd such number), and he was formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1986.
At 84, he is one of the last great players left from that time when baseball consumed the nation. Unassuming and modest, his life is richly woven in the tapestry of baseball having played it at a high level almost all his life. He fell in love with the game at the age of 9 by bouncing a rubber ball against the steps of his front porch, and has been involved since. He moved to Oregon after taking a vacation trip on the Rogue River at the invitation of one of the Padres training staff. Oregon tends to do that to people… make them pull up stakes and move here. He’s been living in Oregon since leaving the game as a player in ’51, and has never really never left here since his retirement from coaching the Blue Jays in 1981.
Coming up in the PCL
OBC: When you were 16 and playing on your father’s American Legion team with Mickey Owen and Steve Mesner, Oscar Vitt of the Hollywood Stars tried to hire you on. Vitt must have wanted you pretty bad. Did your dad have any misgivings about you signing at such a young age?
Doerr: No, my dad never said, no exactly. He said it would be up to me, but if I did sign he would want me to go back and get my diploma in High School, which I did over the course of 2 winters. See then you could sign by the rules of the PCL.
OBC: Once the Stars moved to San Diego and became the Padres you were really coming into your own hitting .324 and leading the league in hits. Did it help having someone like George Myatt to team up with out in the field? He must have been a great guy for turning double plays.
Doerr: Oh, sure we got to play along side each other. You got to know each other habits and things. It was a real good combination.
OBC: Can you recall how the Red Sox picked you up?
Doerr: See in the winter of 1935, I guess the San Diego Chamber of Commerce got a hold of Bill Lane who was the owner of the Hollywood team at the time. And I guess they gave him free rent and a lot of incentives to come down there, and that’s when they decided to move in the winter of 1935. And it was the winter of 1935 that the Red Sox took an option to buy George Myatt’s and mine contract, and they exercised the option in the middle of summer 1936.
OBC: It’s also at this time that some kid from Hoover High in San Diego named Ted Williams joined the team. Can you tell us what your impression of him was the first time you saw him taking batting practice?
Doerr: What happened on that was in June when school was out of ’36 , I was standing’ on the right side of those old batting cages they used to have. And most of the time most of the players was leaning’ against the backstop there waiting for batting practice. Most of the guys were ex-Major League players in those days, and right in front of me about 10′-15′ was this big skinny kid. He was 6′ 3″ and 147 lbs. And I can remember him just standing there in front of me, and Frank Schellenbach was the manager of the team, and he was pitching’ batting practice, and he yelled in, “Let the kid get in and hit a few.” And all the guys; all the old players were around the batting’ cage were, “Oh geez, this guy is going to get in there and take all of our time in batting practice.” Anyway, he got in and hit 6 or 7 balls and was really impressive. I think he might have hit one out of the ballpark it seemed like to me that he did, and he hit some line drives, and the guys said, “Jeez, who’s this kid?” But when he got done he walked out of the batting cage, I heard one of the these players on the other side of the batting cage say, “This kids going to get signed before the weeks over.” And this was like on a Thurs.
Every Monday was off day in those days in Coast League. You played a 9-inning and a 7-inning double-header on a Sunday, and travel day was a Monday. So, Monday night when we go to the train depot, here’s here’s Ted prancin’ up and down, he had signed a contract, and when we got there we knew he had been signed.
And that’s the first time I got to know Ted. He and I kinda of hung around together cause we were the same age. He and I would go out every night and get a chocolate milkshake or something trying to put weight on.
OBC: In August of 1937, the story of how you and Ted Williams got discovered in Portland is a great story. Eddie Collins came out to Portland, on his only scouting trip ever, while the Padres were playing 3 double-headers in a row at Vaughn Street Park against the Beavers. Can you tell me about those games against the Beavers that Eddie Collins was at, how you felt and how Ted Williams plays into this?
Doerr: This was on a Sunday doing a double-header in August. Collins had been following us in Seattle, but we didn’t know that. Now he’s down in Portland at the double-header, and somebody said, “Eddie Collins is in the stands”. And jeez I remember, God I dropped the ball on a double-play, I think I made 2 or 3 errors in that game, cause in those days you didn’t hardly ever see a scout in those days. I had been going real good I was havin’ a good year, but I did get nerved up. Anyway, in-between games on Sunday there was a knock on the door of the clubhouse, I just always remember, it was kind of unusual. And he said, “We’re going to take your contract Bobby, but we’re not going to take Myatt’s because we have Joe Cronin” who was our [Red Sox] shortstop.
But it was during that time that he saw Ted Williams taking batting practice. Ted might have got in one game that particular time, but he liked his swing so much that he went to Bill Lane and wanted to buy his contact and Lane said “No” not right then, saying they wanted to see more and see what Ted could do. But, Collins had the foresight enough to ask Lane if the Red Sox could have the first chance at buy his contact, and they shook hands on it, and there was no written thing. And that’s how the Red Sox had the foresight to sign Ted.
Life with Ted, Dom, “Double X” and the Red Sox
OBC: When you first came up with the Red Sox you had a huge first base target to throw to: the Double?X, Jimmie Foxx, who had already proved himself as a great player by the time you joined the big leagues. Did you have to pinch yourself for a while knowing you and he were on the same team?
Doerr: Oh, jeez I’ll never forget the first time I went to spring training in 1937. When I was a kid growing up I had all these guys pictures, Grove, and Foxx, and Cronin and all those players on my bedroom wall. I had my bedroom stuffed full of pictures, cause I idolized these guys. And now all the sudden you go to spring training and you walk out that first day and here’s Foxx hitting’ balls… jeez looked like golf balls going out of the ballpark. And seeing all these great players… There was the Ferrell brothers there… Lefty Grove… [Jimmy] Foxx at first base, Mike Higgins third base, [Doc] Cramer in center, [Joe] Cronin [at shortstop], and you felt like a little pea out there. You almost had to pinch yourself to think you were amongst all those great ball players.
See back then we didn’t see on the coast many Major League players. The Cubs trained out there, and the White Sox, and you’d see some of those guys; The Giants one year. So you saw a little bit of them, but nothing like you know when you went there all the sudden.
OBC: During your career you must have seen some unreal pitchers. Guys like Spud Chandler, Bob Feller, and Lefty Gomez. Were there some guys that you had a heck of time with over your career with the Red Sox? If so, who?
Doerr: Well, Feller was always tough. He threw like 100mph every time you saw him. Big gaudy motion, little on the wild side. Then two guys that bothered me probably as much as any was Bob Muncrief with the St. Louis Browns, and Al Benton with Detroit. They had big gaudy motion with a about a ¾ motion, with big breaking curve balls, and those two guys bothered me about as much as anybody.
OBC: If not for you, Bob Feller would have two more no-hitters on his list. You had the only hits against him in 1939 and 1946. Do you recall the pitches that you hit?
Doerr: Ya, well I kid Feller about that too. In 1939 it was on Memorial Day in Boston. It was a cold day. And Feller had some stuff that day – he had good stuff every day – but it was just one of those days where he was just overpoweringly fast. And I hit a ball over second base, and broke my bat. It was just a freak thing you know. I broke my bat and it just dropped in over the second baseman’s head for a base hit. And of course we kid each other all the time, but actually it was shame that a no-hitter was broke up in that manner.
In then in ’46 I hit a line drive that was in the old League ballpark in Cleveland over the shortstop for a bases hit that broke up a no-hitter.
OBC: So you kid him around about that?
Doerr: Ya, we talk a lot about that. I suppose if you look at my batting average against him, it probably would be something like .150. But DiMaggio hit 11 home runs off Feller. Ted Williams 10, and I hit 9, and think [Henry] had 8. I can remember some balls I hit off of Feller that were probably 6″ over my head. But I always felt like if I could hit a fastball off of him, it would be from the middle plate in. I had much better luck of hitting a bad pitch like that than trying to hit a strike pitch that would be on the middle plate out, on him. I remember Cronin tellin’ me when I broke in, “When you face Feller cut the plate right in half and just look at everything being inside. And don’t worry too much about trying to make it a real good strike.” Because if your trying to be too careful that way, with the stuff he had it’d be on you before you had a chance to [hit]. And that helped me hitting’ him in that manner, and he used to kid me about hitting’ bad fastballs high.
OBC: A lot is made about Joe DiMaggio, but his brother Dom was pretty good as well. What was he like?
Doerr: Dominic was a really good player. [He] was just an everyday, smooth type of player. He never had a problem with a popup out in the outfield between center field and second base. You had to play with him to appreciate the amount of range he had in the outfield. He had a good accurate arm, [and] played a very shallow center field. He was good.
OBC: And what about any of the games against Joe?
Doerr: Joe DiMaggio was the greatest all-around player I saw. I mean for hitting and everything. Good arm, great range in the outfield. Good hitter, I mean he was right there with Ted being a great hitter. Yankee Stadium was the toughest stadium, I thought, that I hit in for a right-hand hitter. Because of shadows during the day games. Tall stands. And then, we always played to a big crowd and fans always had white shirts in center field with their white shirts, jeez it was tough the pick the ball up. And then straight away left-center was God, a long ways before they remodeled it. I remember hitting’ balls out there, my God, I thought I hit the heck out of it, and you’d fly ball out, and be like 5′ from the fence.
I think about how many times how many balls DiMaggio must have hit out there that any other park in baseball would have been homers or hits. He was so good.
OBC: Can you think of a play in the field with Joe running that stands out?
Doerr: I had him in a rundown between first and second one time in Boston. And I had the ball within… I must have been 5′ from him. And I was on the move to catch the ball to go after him. And by God, he took off from a stand still position and I just barely tagged him, and remember I’m already on the run. It opened my eyes why he was such a great outfielder cause he could accelerate from a stand still position [with such speed].
OBC: You played under mainly two managers your whole career, Joe Cronin and Joe McCarthy. Can you tell me a little about the two as managers, and Joe Cronin as a player?
Doerr: Well Cronin, I loved to play for Cronin. He was firm, but he patted you on the back; he always encouraged you in different ways. That was when I was younger, and was a big help to me. Then when McCarthy came over in ’48, I’m quite sure that he had the feeling we had been pampered a little bit too much between Yawkey and Cronin. He was much firmer disposition kind of guy. He hardly said much to you, or encourage you much. Very smart baseball man, good baseball man. But, I felt it was a little more difficult to play for him, and yet I had my best years with!
OBC: A lot of people are still mourning the passing of Ted Williams this year. Now that Ted is gone, is there anything that you’d like people to know about him that they may not have known before?
Doerr: Well, I think that Ted was more of a compassionate guy then what a lot of people think. But he was a son-of-a-gun at times, you’d like to grab him and shake him and say, “Come on Ted, let’s get going here.” But, he did so many things. After ballgames he would sit in the stands with the kids. They’d come in the clubhouse and ask, “Will you talk to the kids?” Ted would say, “As soon as all the fans are all out of the ballpark, and I don’t want anything in the press about it. Then I’ll come up there.” And he’d go up there and talk to them for a half-hour or so, talkin’ with those kids. Not every day, but times he’d do that. And then he’d go to hospitals a lot of times. But he did a lot of charitable work, and, of course, the Jimmy Fund that he did.
And yet, he was very good with the ballclub. He was always encouraging us players in wanting to win. But, his disposition was really stinkeroo sometimes…
OBC: In ’46 Ted Williams won the American League MVP, but you must have made quite an impression that season. How did you feel when you heard Babe Ruth say, “Doerr, and not Ted Williams, is the No. 1 player on the team. He rates the Most Valuable Player in the American League”?
Doerr: Ya, I was quite honored to think Ruth would say something like that. You had to be flattered, but Ted did so many things. God he was such a great hitter, and he wasn’t a bad outfielder. He had a good accurate arm, not strong arm, but he covered the ground pretty good. See, Dom kinda had a deal Ted that anything that I can get I’ll come over and get. And Ted pretty much let him do it.
The ’46 World Series: Red Sox vs. Cardinals
OBC: Let’s talk about the ’46 World Series. So much has been made of the fact that Ted Williams only hit .200 for the series, but looking at the Cardinals, Stan Musial only hit .250. I know he got hit in the elbow by Mickey Haefner playing a tune-up game just before the Series. Is it fair that Ted got so much of the blame for the Red Sox losing the series?
Doerr: No, I don’t think so. See we finished around the 12th of September or something like that. So, I think, looking back, we kinda went flat a little bit. We were playin’, but the competition and everything wasn’t competitive or anything. The Cardinals and the Dodgers went into a 2 out of 3 playoff, and so they came out of that series they were all revved up. We had that group come in [The Senators] and play us, but that was just some routine type of thing, but not like the competitiveness they had.
But, back to Ted. Every year Ted would get a virus. A flu-type virus that he got in the fall. And he had, but he never said a thing as an alibi or anything like that, but he wasn’t fellin’ good. That hurt him a lot more, I’m sure, than the elbow did. I think it was his weakened condition. In fact, if it hadn’t been the World Series I don’t think he would have been playin’.
OBC: On the opposite side of things you hit an amazing .409 for the series. Can you tell me a little about how you were feeling at the plate during the series compared to the regular season?
Doerr: What happens is you get hot streaks. I was in a little bit of a rut in the last part of September, and I wasn’t hittin’ all that good. Somewhere or another 2 or 3 days before the World Series I tried this and that, and I got in a little bit of a hot groove. And going into the Series I guess was in that little groove. And that’s happened during the season, 2 or 3 times, you’ll get into those… I think what you do is get tired, and you don’t have that quickness you should have. But, during the season that happens. You’ll go 2 or 3 weeks and be hot, and hit good. Then you go 5 or 6 days where you cool off. I think your body gets tired before you realize it, but your not quite as quick with the bat. I think that’s what happened with me in the World Series. I just happen to be lucky to get into a little hot groove just before that and went into the Series hot.
OBC: In the ninth inning of Game 7, with the Red Sox down a run, you singled the tying run into scoring position. Did you feel any differently at that point about the outcome of the game, like, “Hey, we’re going to pull this off”?
Doerr: No, I don’t think you feel any different, you just always have that hope of doing that. Dominic and I have talked of the play to Pesky. Dom had pulled his leg muscle and [Leon] Culberson was put in to replace Dom in center field. Dom said, “If I had been center field Slaughter would have never scored on that play.” He would have been positioned different. He would have charged the ball more, and got the ball in or would have made the play himself. That outfield in St. Louis was rough, just terrible, and I think Culberson going in there probably played the ball pretty conservative. He was playing’ a little more straightaway than what Dom would have done. See, Harry Walker was pretty much a straightaway left center field hitter, and Dom would have been playing’ over there. He says, “Slaughter would have never scored had he been playing'”
OBC: You’ve had a while to think about that World Series, and what might have been. Can you put a finger on something with the team that could have been done differently to change the outcome?
Doerr: No, I don’t think there would have been anything different. Like I say, I just don’t think we were quite revved up. You think you are, but I don’t think we were. Just like hitting you get hot and cool spells. I think we were just in one of those cool spots. I’m not saying we were a better club, but I think that in the first part of the year we were winning so many games… just so many good things happening. They were just better because they beat us, but I think if we were in the same situation as they were, playing’ in the playoffs or something like that, we would have been a little more revved up for that.
OBC: Looking at the players during your era, and looking at players like Barry Bonds, or Sammy Sosa, how do you think the players then and now would have stacked up against each other?
Doerr: Oh, I think that players now are every bit as good. God, they’ve got some great players in there now. Pitching is so good, and there is much good relief pitching. If we had even one of these great relief pitchers back in ’48, ’49, and ’50, I think we would have won 3 pennants and could won one or two World Series. So many games we’d go into the last part of a game 8th or 9th inning and couldn’t hold a lead. You didn’t have that outstanding pitcher like they do now.
OBC: You were born in Los Angeles, and played in Boston. How did you wind up buying a farm and living in Oregon?
Doerr: When I was out in San Diego there was trainer of the ballclub, Les Cook, and he had been coming up here to the Rogue River in the winter time hunting and fishing. It was 35 miles up the river. No roads or anything, and really primative. He had all these pictures in the training room. And I’d go in everyday, and as a kid I always wanted to live in the mountains, and fish and hunt. So, I’d talk to him after batting practice everyday about those pictures. And finally one time he said, “Why don’t you come up with my wife and I and spend the winter?” When I got here I thought I’d gone to heaven, all the mountains and rivers, just beautiful country. So, anyway, I just decided this is where I wanted to live.
OBC: Portland is the only city from the original PCL to not have a Major League Baseball team. After playing in Vaughn Street Park, and living in Oregon, would you like to see a Major League team in Portland?
Doerr: Well I always remember when Seattle was trying to get back in. I got a letter that someone gave to me to give to Cronin who was the President of the American League at the time. Cronin said that if they get the facilities and everything that they would certainly have to be considered. But, I always thought Portland, at that time, would have been a better franchise than Seattle.