Reflecting on Bobby Doerr, the Last Player Who Played in the 1930s

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Wednesday, November 15th, 2017
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Bobby Doerr, second baseman for the Boston Red Sox, and the oldest living Major League Baseball Hall of Famer died Monday at the age of 99.  Incredibly, Doerr was the last player alive to have played in the 1930s.

Doerr enjoyed a 14-year career in Boston that saw him hit .288 with 2,042 career hits and was an All-Star in the final nine seasons he played.  Doerr had to retire early due to a back injury and also missed the 1945 season while overseas during World War II.

The truly remarkable information about Doerr’s career comes when one delves into the details of his longevity in life.  Doerr made his debut in 1937 as the Red Sox leadoff hitter on opening day against the Philadelphia Athletics, who were managed by Connie Mack.  His double play partner that day was Joe Cronin, who had made his debut at the age of 19 with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a teammate of players like Pie Traynor and Paul Waner.

Doerr’s first career hit came in his second at bat on opening day of the 1937 season when he singled off Harry Kelly, a pitcher who made his debut in 1925 pitching against the New York Yankees six weeks before Lou Gehrig famously usurped Wally Pipp as the Yankees first basemen.  At one time, Kelly was a member of the starting rotation for the Washington Senators at the same time as Walter Johnson.

Doerr’s second Major League game came against a Yankees team that featured Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing and Bill Dickey.  Doerr went 2 for 5  that day to support a 37-year old Lefty Grove who was on the mound for the Red Sox that day.

The names that populated the game when Doerr made his debut in 1937 are astounding.  Immortals like Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott and Johnny Mize had their names all over the league leaders while other legends were winding their careers down.  The oldest player to play in the Major Leagues that year was Jesse Haines, the Hall of Fame pitcher from the Dead Ball Era who made his debut in 1918.  It is absolutely incredible that someone alive in 2017 once played in the same season as someone who was a Dead Ball Era star.

Perhaps the most stunning link between Doerr and the game’s early immortals is Rogers Hornsby, who was wrapping up his iconic career while Doerr’s was just getting started.  Hornsby began playing in 1915 and by the time Doerr was rookie, Hornsby was a 41-year-old utility player for the St. Louis Browns.  Hornsby’s Browns faced the Red Sox twice in 1937, but Doerr did not play in those games.

Although Doerr missed out on playing at the same time as Babe Ruth by two years, Doerr was active when Ruth was hired as a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938.  Doerr was also the last surviving teammate of Jimmie Foxx.  The two played together for six years in Boston.

Playing six degrees of baseball separation with Doerr is an exercise in rattling the ghosts of the origins of the game.  Doerr is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from a time when pitchers threw underhand and base runners cut corners when umpires weren’t looking.  Doerr was teammates with Rube Walberg, who was teammates on the 1923 Athletics with Tillie Walker.  Walker was teammates on the 1898 Philadelphia Phillies with Kid Elberfeld, who was teammates with Hall of Famer Sam Thompson.  Thompson’s career began in 1885 as a right fielder with the Detroit Wolverines.

Doerr’s links to the game’s early days are simply astounding.  When he made his debut in 1937, Doerr was teammates with four players who were born in the 1800s.

Now that Doerr has passed, the oldest living Major League Baseball Hall of Famer is Red Schoendienst, who is 94 years old.  The oldest living former Major Leaguer is Chuck Stevens, who is 99 years old and made his debut in 1941.  Stevens and Fred Caligiuri, both of whom had very short careers, are the only players alive who played during the 1941 season.

The accomplishments of Doerr’s career can easily be seen in his statistics.  A great friend of Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky, Doerr received MVP votes in eight different seasons, including a third place finish in 1946.  He drove in 100 runs six times in his career, a rarity for second basemen of that era.  In his one World Series, Doerr batted .406 when the Red Sox lost to Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the famous “Mad Dash for Home” by Enos Slaughter. 

Doerr was elected to the Hall of Fame alongside Willie McCovey and Ernie Lombardi.  In his speech he mentioned a plaque that Sparky Anderson kept on his office door.  It read, “Every 24 hours the world turns over and someone is sitting on top of it.”  Doerr may have not had the lofty career accomplishments as some of his contemporaries, but he certainly did have his time on top.

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.

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