Bobby Doerr, the oldest living Baseball Hall of Famer, died on Tuesday. He was 99.
Doerr spent his entire career playing for the Red Sox, playing 2B (never played a different position) in 1,852 games. He wore #1 from 1938-1951, but it's noteworthy that in his 1937 rookie year he wore #9, which Ted Williams took in 1939. His career fielding percentage at 2B (.980) is topped only by...guess who? Dustin Pedroia (.991). Pedey also has a higher career BA (.300) vs. Doerr (.288). But this is about Bobby Doerr. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.
In addition to Cooperstown, Doerr is also enshrined at Fenway Park in a few places - the #1 in the row of retired numbers on the right field facade,
the lit up one in the walkway leading from the ticket office down to Yawkey commuter rail station,
another one inside on the wall between Gates A and B, and most notably, the Teammates statue outside the entrance to Gate B (or K, if you're bringing kids to the game).
The statue is an homage to the 2003 David Halberstam book "Teammates."
It takes place in 2001, when Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio ("He's better than his brother Joe...Dominic DiMaggio-ooo"), Red Sox teammates back in the late 1930's, 40's and 50's, took a road trip to Florida to say farewell to their dying former teammate - and the greatest hitter who ever lived.
This is not exactly, but sort of, the picture the statue was based on, except they're in a different order. Williams and Pesky, the two lefty hitters, are on the ends in the photo, but DiMaggio is on the end in the statue.
So how was I almost named after him?
Dad was a huge Red Sox fan. When I was born in September 1948 the Red Sox were on the verge of winning the AL pennant for the second time in three years. They had gone 30 years since their last championship in 1918...as we all know those 30 years would eventually stretch to 86...but they got to the World Series in 1946 only to lose to the Cardinals in Game 7. In 1948 they wound up tied with the Cleveland Indians for first place in the American League. There was a one-game playoff at Fenway. When jouneyman pitcher Denny Galehouse was announced as the starter my older brother Hugh supposedly threw up in the car. Turned out that Galehouse was not up to the task and Cleveland went on to face the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. Boston...with two chances out of three to win the championship...did not. Cleveland won it at Braves Field, now Nickerson Field at BU. And that was the last time Cleveland won it all. 1948.
Okay, but the name thing?
Back then, the Red Sox even winning the pennant was a big deal. No one expected a World Series win ever. So when I came into the world on September 15, 1948...the Sox lead the Indians by 4-1/2 games. My Dad decided I should be named after the star second baseman, Bobby Doerr. I was going to be Robert Pershing Doerr Kelley. Mom would have none of it. So I wound up being Donald John Kelley. Named after Donald John Trump. Okay, that was a joke. I do share the same first and middle name with the current POTUS, but I don't bring it up much.
Did I ever meet Doerr?
I did. When "The Teammantes" book came out, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky came into the radio station (I was VP of Programming for Greater Media Boston and Program Director of the group's #1 station, MAGIC 106.7) for an interview with Mike Barnicle on our sister station 96.9 FM Talk. Right after the interview I chatted with Pesky (I had already met him a couple of times) and Doerr, whom I had not met. Remember, at this point they were getting up there.
I said to Bobby, "I was almost named after you."
He said, "You're a Doerr?" I responded, no I'm a Kelley. "I thought you said you were a Doerr?" I explained that my father wanted me to be Robert Pershing Doerr Kelley (see, I know your middle name), but Mom nixed it. He said, "Huh? You're not a Doerr?" Then Pesky jumped in. "What are you, an idiot? His name is Kelley. His father wanted to name him Bobby Doerr, but his mother said forget it. Jesus, don't you understand anything? Then Pesky turned to me. "How come your Dad didn't want to name you Johnny Pesky Kelley?" No idea, I was only a few hours old. Maybe it was the Pesky error that wound up losing Game 7 in 1946 World Series. This was like a scene in Grumpy Old Men. But they were both having fun ribbing each other.
Bobby Doerr, RIP.