Bobby Doerr

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Today Mr. Doerr turns 99 years old.  Playing his entire 14 year career with the Boston Red Sox (1937-1951), Doerr was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.  As of February 26, 2017, he is the oldest living former major league player and the last living person to have played in the 1930’s.

One of the most productive 2nd basemen of all time, he was a nine-time all star, batted over .300 three times and drove in more than 100 runs in six different seasons.  Defensively, Doerr capped his career with an incredible .980 fielding percentage.

Doerr served in the Army during World War II and missed the 1945 baseball season. He returned the next season, helping the Red Sox win the pennant. During the World Series against the Cardinals, Doerr batted .406 with one home run and three RBIs.

After his playing career, Doerr served as a scout for the Red Sox from 1957 to 1966 as well as a minor league hitting instructor.  Hired as the Red Sox first base coach in 1967, he would see the World Series one last time, eventually losing to the St Louis Cardinals.

The 1967 season also saw a turning point in the seven-year veteran Carl Yastrzemski’s career.  Working with Doerr that year on his hitting, he turned into a pull-hitter who belted over 44 home runs, won the Triple Crown and AL Most Valuable Player award that year.  Prior to 1967, Yastrzemski had never hit more than 20 homers in a season.

One of my favorite baseball books is Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship by David Halberstam.  The book details the lifelong friendship of four very different men who have transitioned from once great baseball icons to men dealing with the challenges of growing older.   Those men are Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Dominic DiMaggio.  As Ted Williams lay dying at his home in Florida, Pesky and DiMaggio begin a 1,300-mile road trip to visit Williams and say their last goodbyes.  Doerr, the fourth member of the group is unable to join them as he remained home in Oregon to care for his wife suffering from a recent stroke.

A clear fan of these men, Halberstam does a great job of recounting historical details and first-hand accounts about the men’s playing days and characters – warts and all.

Williams and Doerr were unlikely of friends.  Williams, was clearly the better player of the two but what he possessed in athletic ability, he equaled in character flaws. Williams always admired Doerr as he represented all of things that Ted wished he was, and had – the balance, the faith, the family life and the ability to not get overwhelmed.  For all of Williams’ volatility and explosiveness, Doerr was always willing to serve as the silent and reticent leader of the Red Sox.

The two argued frequently over the best approach to hitting a baseball both during their playing days and well after.  Whether it was over a long-distance phone call to Ted in Florida from Doerr’s home in Oregon or sitting beside each

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8×10 Signed for me by Mr. Doerr in 2015

other in a fishing boat.

According to a 2006 New York Times article, Doerr said “Ted Williams is a .344 lifetime average hitter and I’m a .288 lifetime average hitter. You can imagine who won that hitting clinic debate.”

Williams argued the best swing was a 12-degree uppercut, to meet the ball perpendicularly as it came down from the pitcher’s mound.

Doerr countered that he liked his hands a little above the ball, not chopping down, but enough to impart topspin that helped a drive carry farther.

One thing the two did agree on was fishing. Doerr said, “Ted Williams used to say for every day you fished, it added a day to your life and I kind of think that maybe it could be that”.

Here’s to many more days fishing Mr. Doerr.  Happy birthday.

 

Lou Boudreau

01211202-2This will be a quick little update here as I’m currently watching Game 1 of the 2016 World Series.

What a season it has been as we finally arrive here at Game 1 with the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians facing off.  It’s certainly great to see two teams with such dedicated…and patient fans.

Who am I rooting for?  I’m excited for both teams but at the end of the day, I think I’ll have to go with the Chicago Cubs.  Their fans have waited longer and I’m a huge fan of their catcher David Ross.  What a career he has had.  He is hanging up his cleats after this year and getting to put a World Series ring on his finger would be the perfect send off.

This past weekend I was looking through a collection of Perez-Steele Hall of Fame postcards that I have accumulated through the years and came across Mr. Lou Boudreau.  Ironically, he was the player/manager of the last Cleveland Indians team to win the World Series.  Boudreau managed the Tribe from 1942 to 1950 and lead the team to a World Series title in 1948.  As their shortstop that year, he also hit .355.  Seems fitting to write about him tonight.  I love his signature on this post card.  Simple and legible – something you don’t see in today’s players signatures.

A few interesting facts about Boudreau – 1941 against the New York Yankees, he was responsible for starting the double play that ended Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56 game hitting streak.

In 1942 during his rookie year as Cleveland’s player/manager, Boudreau is said to have not only blown his nose while suffering from a cold in the dugout, but also the game.  Not feeling well enough to play the field that day, he decided to sit in the dugout and send signals to his third base coach.  At the time, Cleveland’s sign for a double-steal was a towel to the face.

Boudreau seemed to have forgotten that sign as Cleveland runner Pat Seerey pulled up into second base.  Seerey’s nickname was “Fat Pat” and it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that ol’ Fat Pat wasn’t stealing any bases anytime soon.  First base was occupied by a Cleveland runner who was just as slow.

As you can probably imagine, Boudreau’s cold that day led him to reach for the nearest towel to blow his nose.  This set off a verrrrry slooooow domino effect of two very overweight base runners taking off from their bases and attempting to advance.

While the stadium stood in shock to watch the opposing infielders easily toss out both of Boudreau’s fat  base-runners for an inning-ending double play, Boudreau lept to his feet barking at the third base coach for putting on such a stupid play.  The third base coach was just as stunned as the fans, the 2 base runners, and the opposing team.  He told Boudreau that it was in fact HIM who had given the sign for such a stupid play and it was then that Boudreau realized that he had “blown it”.  The Indians went on to lose that game.

Boudreau is also widely credited with creating the “Boudreau Shift” with the

migratedhopes of stopping the dead-pull hitter Ted Williams.  In July of 1946 as Williams was coming off of a May where he had hit .427 and the Red Sox were coming into Cleveland for a double-header with a five-game winning streak.  In the first game, Williams smashed a grand slam in the third inning and followed that up with two more dingers. By the end of the first game, Williams had racked up four hits, four runs scored, and eight RBI’s.  The Red Sox went on to win the first game 11-10.  In his first at-bat of the second game, Williams would double and score.

Boudreau had to do something defensively drastic.  Moving nearly every defensive player to flood the right side of the field, Boudreau hoped that the carnage would stop.  In his next at bat, Williams grounded out to Boudreu who was while still playing shortstop was actually standing closer to the first baseman.  The Red Sox would go on to win the second game as well with a final score of 6-4.  Later, in his biography Player-Manager, Boudreau would go on to say that the idea of the shift was spontaneous and was probably out of desperation that day.  The infield shift has been already been covered pretty extensively online.  One of the best articles can be found here.

As I wrap up this piece, the Indians are leading in the 9th, 6-0.

I haven’t seen any infield shifts yet.