Bobby Doerr played in 67 games for the Hollywood Sheiks in the Pacific Coast League, then a Class AA league, in 1934. He only hit .259 but that wasn’t too bad for a sixteen year old. He had been born on April 7, 1918 and had just turned 16 at the start of that season and hadn’t finished high school yet.
The following year, at age 17 he played in 172 games for the Sheiks and hit .317. At the end of that season, the Boston Red Sox bought an option on his contract and he played the 1936, his third in professional baseball, at the age of 18, with the same team which had been moved to San Diego and renamed the Padres, still in the Pacific Coast League. That year, he played in 175 games, hit for a .342 average with 238 hits, 37 were doubles, 12 triples and two homers and he scored 100 runs.
He went to Spring Training with the Red Sox and won the starting second base position. On Opening Day, in Philadelphia, against the Athletics, 13 days after his 19th birthday, he made his Major League debut, batted lead off, went 3 for 5 and scored a run in the Sox 11-5 win. The next two games, against the Yankees, he went 2-6, with a double and run scored and 1-4 with a home run and two RBI’s. At the end of his first three games in the Big Leagues, he was 6 for 15 or .400.
A few games later, he got hit in the head with a pitch and missed a few games. When he came back, he was not hitting as well and didn’t play much in June, July and August but got back in on a regular basis in September. He played in a total of 55 games that year, hitting just .224.
He won back his starting position in 1938 and hit .289 and had 80 RBI’s in 145 games, batting in the sixth and seventh position. In 1939, he increased his average to .318 with 73 RBI’s batting mostly lead off.
In 1940, he hit .291 with 22 homers and 105 RBI’s in 151 games batting all around the lineup. This was the first of six times he would drive in over 100 runs in a season.
He made his first All Star Team in 1941, with a .282 average and 93 RBI’s. He would make the All Star Team nine times from 1941 to 1951, missing only 1945 when he was in the Army and 1949.
He averaged .290 and .270 in 1942 and 1943 with 67 doubles, 31 homers and 177 RBI’s, making the All Star Team both years. He played in 299 games those two years.
Bobby had his best year at the plate in 1944, hitting .325 with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 15 homers and 81 RBI’s and led the league with a .528 slugging percentage. He also made the All Star Team again and was seventh in the Most Valuable Player voting. In his first eight seasons, the Sox had finished second four times and never better than fourth the other four.
He spent 1945 in the United States Army and returned to the Sox in 1946. The Red Sox won the pennant that year, winning 104 games and losing 50 but lost the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Doerr hit .271 with 18 homers and 116 RBI’s in 151 games. He was named to the All Star Team and came in third in the MVP voting behind teammate Ted Williams who hit for a .342 average, with 38 homers and 123 RBI’s and Tigers’ pitcher Hal Newhouser who was 26-9 with a 1.94 ERA.
The Sox were ahead in the World Series three games to two going to the last two games in St. Louis but Harry Brecheen pitched a complete game against them giving up just one run for the 4-1 win. In the final game, Brecheen pitched the last two innings, in relief, shutting out the Sox while his team won 4-3. Brecheen had pitched a complete game shut out in Game 3, winning 3-0 for three wins in the Series. Doerr went 9-22 in the Series, his only post season appearance.
In 1947, the Sox slipped to third place, Doerr hit .258 in 146 games and made the All Star Team again. On May 13, 1947, he hit for the cycle for the second time to become the first Red Sox player ever to do so twice in a career.
In both 1948 and 1949, the Red Sox went to the last game of the season tied for first place. In 1948, they were tied with Cleveland and were playing the last game of the season against Cleveland at home and lost the game and the pennant 8-3. In the sixth inning, with the Sox down 6-1, Doerr hit a two run homer but that was all the scoring for the Sox as they finished in second place.
In 1949, they were tied with the Yankees and were playing the last game of the season against the Yankees in New York and lost 5-3. In the ninth inning of the game, with the Sox down 5-0, Doerr hit a triple scoring two runs and scored on Billy Goodman’s single but the rally fell short and the Sox finished in second again.
He hit .285 with 27 homers and 111 RBI’s and made the All Star Team in 1948 and .309 with 18 homers and 109 RBI’s in 1949 but didn’t make the All Star Team for the only time in his last 10 playing years.
With the Sox falling to third in 1950, he batted .294 with 27 homers, tying his output in 1948 for his highest career mark, and 120 RBI’s and led the league in triples with 11.
He played in 106 games in 1951, batting .289, before a major back problem forced him to retire after playing his last game on September 7. Despite the back problem, he was named to the All Star team for the ninth time.
He was a fine defensive player, playing every game of his entire career at second base for Boston. His Hall of Fame page says ‘Defensively, he led the AL 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—414. “I never saw him misplay a ball, and he had the best backhand of any second baseman I ever saw,” said Red Sox teammate Johnny Pesky.
After his retirement as a player, he worked as a Scout for the Red Sox from 1957 to 1966 and as a first base coach from 1967 to 1969. He was the hitting coach with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1977 to 1981.
He had a career batting average of .288, with 2,042 hits, 223 homers and 1,247 RBI’s. He played in 1,856 games, had 7,093 at bats and a .362 career on base percentage. In the field, he had a .980 fielding percentage, handling 10,638 chances with just 214 errors and was involved in 1,507 double plays.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1986 and the Red Sox retired his uniform number 1 that year. As of this writing, March of 2017, he is the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If he hadn’t been forced to retire because of his back problems at age 33, there is not telling what he might have accomplished. An all around gentleman with a great reputation in the game, New York Yankees rival Tommy Henrich said “Bobby Doerr is one of the very few who played the game hard and retired with no enemies.”