By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
FAREWELL, BOBBY DOERR
And then there were none.
Bobby Doerr’s passing is truly the end of an era. He was the last living connection to the
great Red Sox teams of the post World War II years, the teams that won only one pennant
and no World Series but left their mark on Red Sox and baseball history nevertheless.
He was the favorite player of the vast majority of kids growing up in and around Boston
back then, the one with whom they most identified (almost no one picked Ted Williams;
he was in a category apart from the others and, while we all recognized his greatness, we
couldn’t identify with his outsized talent, personality or flaws; I was a Dom DiMaggio
acolyte - we near-sighted guys have to stick together you know). Bobby was an ideal
choice for a role model; he led an exemplary life back then and in later years. He was the
man all of our parents wanted us to grow up to be like
One of his most ardent fans was my friend Dick Dorr who, as a kid, used to try convince
people he was a cousin of Bobby’s even though their names were spelled differently.
Dick absolutely worshipped Bobby Doerr. Some years ago I found a wonderful picture of
Bobby standing betweeen Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio on the steps of the Red Sox
dugout in their uniforms. There was a golf tournament being held on Cape Cod at which
all three were present, so I had Ted and Dom sign the picture and then had Bobby sign it,
“To my cousin, Dick.” Then I had it framed and left it on Dick Dorr’s doorstep. Some
years later Dick’s house was being threatened by a wildfire and his wife, Sally, instructed
him to, “Quick, put the valuables into the car.” Dick sprang into action. When the danger
passed, Sally went out to the car to retrieve the jewelry and china and found instead the
picture signed by Bobby, Ted and Dom and Dick’s Frank Sinatra record collection.
Another friend who was a Bobby Doerr disciple was Ed Fouhy. Ed had a geat career in
broadcast journalism; he was vice president of CBS News in the Walter Cronkite years,
in charge of all hard news broadcasts, and he also held major executive positions at NBC
and ABC. He was used to dealing with presidents and international leaders, historical
figures, but he was tongue-tied when I introduced him to Bobby Doerr.
When Ted Wiliams and Bobby were just kids playing for the San Diego Padres Ted was
like an uncaged animal; he’d really had no upbringing as a child, His father was an
absentee parent and his mother was totally consumed by her dedication to the Salvation
Army. Bobby, on the other hand, was the product of a loving family and had a very even-
keeled personality. Ted leaned on Bobby as a calming influence, especially when things
seemed about to go off-track – which happened often back then and even more often
when they reached the Red Sox and Ted found himself in the unforgiving spotlight of
public attention. He always credited Bobby for keeping him from going over the edge.
Bobby never swore or uttered a cussword. He wasn’t sanctimonious about it, didn’t walk
off in a huff when the conversation of others got a little graphic - he just didn’t participate
in that kind of talk. His friend Ted, on the other hand, was the undisputed world
champion of colorful invective – especially when the color was blue. When Dom
DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and I were visiting Ted on the trip made famous by David
Halberstam’s book, The Teammates, Ted was greatly diminished physically but his
language was as profane as ever – and it became somewhat contagious. At one point
Dom said, “Gee, I wish Bobby was here,” and Johnny replied, “Yeah, but we couldn’t
talk this way if he were.”
Bobby loved telling the story of going golfing with Ted once when Ted was visiting him
in Oregon. Ted didn’t have his clubs with him so they rented a set of left-handed clubs
from the pro shop. There were three woods in the set, a driver, a three-wood, and a five-
wood. Ted got to the second hole and sliced his drive into the woods. He let loose with a
tirade of invective and slammed the driver into the ground with such force that the
clubhead became totally detached from the shaft. So he was reduced to teeing off with the
three-wood. A few holes later he sliced another one into the woods and repeated the same
act, including the beheading of the club. He was now down to using the five-wood. You
guessed it. He sliced another one, paused for a second while he thought about the
ramifications of executing the five-wood, then slammed it into the ground with the
predictable result. For the rest of the round he teed off wth a three-iron.
Back at the pro shop he apologized profusely to the club pro and wrote a personal check
which was more than enough to cover the cost of a new set of woods. He was always
very generous with the checks he wrote because he knew they’d never be cashed – they
would instead be framed and hung on the wall as incontrovertible evidence that the Great
Williams had been a patron of the establishment.
Bobby’s last visit to Boston was in April, 2012 for the centennial celebration of Fenway
Park. He was ninety-four years old then and confined to a wheel chair. The three
thousand mile trip from Oregon had become too much of an ordeal, and I knew this
would be the last time. I was blesssed to be with him and Johnny Pesky in one of the
luxury suites watching the game. At one point I left to recite some poems in one of the
other suites and when I returned, he was gone. I raced to the players’ parking lot to say
goodbye, too late. I never got the chance to tell him how much he had meant to my life
and to the lives of thousands like me. I will always regret that.
For older men of my generation the passing of Bobby Doerr means the loss of the last
vestige of our boyhood. The sun will come up tomorrow and life will go on, but it will
never again be quite the same.
Requiescat in pace.