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Goodbye to an Icon of the Greatest Generation

Posted by Radatz on November 15, 2017 at 11:50 PM

He was and remains a testament to the inadequacy of statistics. To see them, one would wonder (and some, believe it or not, actually have) why he's in the Hall. In his 14-year baseball career, interrupted a year by World War II, he only hit over .300 three times. He never won a batting title nor an RBI title. He never won a Gold Glove (they didn't exist between 1937 and 1951).

Yet over that career Bobby Doerr managed to bat .288. His average RBI total, normalized to 154 games (as seasons went then) was 103. Take that to the 162 used today and it becomes 108. At his position of second base he once handled 414 consecutive chances over 73 games without making an error. In an era teeming with immortals he was voted an All-Star nine times. Some Yankee greats of the era even claimed it was he, not his legendary friend Ted Williams, who sparked the incredible Boston offense of those years.

And what an offense it was. In 1946, as Boston went 104-50, Williams batted in 123 runs. Rudy York added 119. And Doerr tacked on 116. In 1948, teammate Vern Stephens had 137 and Ted Williams followed with 127. There was Doerr with 111. In 1949 Stephens and Williams each batted in 159 runs. Doerr chipped in 109. In 1950, with Ted out nearly half the season with a broken elbow from the All Star Game, the team batting average (pitcher batting, you will recall) was an impossible .302. Stephens and Walt Dropo each batted in 144 runs. Doerr added 120. Williams, despite his abbreviated season, managed 97.

Why didn't they just win every year? The answer is no pitching after 1946. Everyone was hurt. Ace Tex Hughson needed Tommy John surgery... but there was no such thing. "Sore arms" and "sore shoulders" prevailed from overuse. Ellis Kinder, the ace in 1949, was moved to the bullpen because nobody was left there either. Still, they went to a playoff against Cleveland in 1948, lost to the Yankees on the last day of the season in 1949, and finished just 4 games back in 1950 despite (a) no Williams for a couple of months and (b) a team ERA of 4.88, bad today, almost lurid back then.

It wasn't Doerr's fault, that's for sure. The Boston icon passed away on the 14th of November 2017 at 99, the oldest living member of the HOF. He was the last man alive to have played against Lou Gehrig. None of his storied teammates... Williams, Joe Cronin, Pinky Higgins, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio, Billy Goodman, Vern Stephens, Walt Dropo, Birdie Tebbetts, so many more... were around to say goodbye. Bobby had seen them all pass, and it must have hurt each time. RIP to the stoic second baseman. He was one of my Dad's heroes, an honor he never knew of but I'm sure would have appreciated. And it tells me all I have to know.

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Reply Ferociousjane
12:29 AM on November 16, 2017 
Great tribute as only you could do.
Reply Ark_Razor
1:14 AM on November 16, 2017 
You made the case for Doerr being in the HOF. I would argue that Vern Stephens should be in also if Aparicio and Fox are in especially.

Mel Parnell was a pretty significant ace for you guys, and he was a lefty, but he developed a bit too late for the contending teams?
Reply Radatz
1:47 AM on November 16, 2017 
Good point. Vern Stephens is the Jerry Kramer of baseball.

Mel came in just as the great core aged away. The new core of the 50s was star-studded but the curse of all Red Sox teams, the managers, did them in mostly. And of course the pitching. While the greats were still there, Parnell was alone on the mound. He was the color man for a while so I got to hear him at least.
Reply the immortal scurds
8:53 AM on November 16, 2017 
not aware of the man until now. sounds like he was a linchpin of some very good teams.
Reply Southern Lion
9:25 AM on November 16, 2017 
May I suggest a book entitled The Teammates by David Halberstam? The story of Ted Williams, Domonic Dimaggio, Johnny Pesky and Doerr. A very good read by a very good writer.

Good job on this too, Radatz.


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