It’s a trivia question that stumps even the most avid Blue Jay fans.
Who was the first player, manager, coach or executive associated with the Jays to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
Phil Niekro or Dave Winfield are the most common responses, but the answer is Boston Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr.
Doerr, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, served as a part-time hitting coach with the Jays from 1977 to 1981. In Larry Millson’s book, Ball Park Figures: The Blue Jays and the Business of Baseball, Doerr, who was comfortably retired and living in Junction City, Oregon, says that when the Jays initially approached him, he wasn’t interested in the job. He had been out of baseball for eight years and wanted to stay out. But after calls from Jays president Peter Bavasi and manager Roy Hartsfield, he reconsidered.
“I began to think, gosh, I’ll go to spring training, then visit Toronto three or four times when the club’s in town. Spend 10, 12 days, then catch them on their road trips to the West Coast. So I called and said this is the only way I would be interested,” Doerr recounted in an interview with Millson.
He enjoyed his role with the club more than he thought he would.
“It was fun,” he told Millson of his Jays tenure. “I’ve got some pleasant memories of those kids, the Barfields and Upshaws and Mosebys.”
His gig with the Jays was actually his second as a coach in Toronto. He also served as a hitting instructor for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs when Dick Williams managed the club in 1965 and 1966.
Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Doerr was a sure-handed, heavy-hitting second baseman for the Boston Red Sox from 1937 to 1951. Suiting up alongside Ted Williams, Doerr recorded six 100-RBI seasons and hit over .300 three times. In 1944, he led the American League in slugging percentage and finished second in batting average. For his efforts, he was named American League Player of the Year by The Sporting News.
After missing the 1945 campaign due to military service, Doerr, dubbed the Red Sox “silent captain” by Ted Williams, hit .409 in his only World Series appearance in 1946. Unfortunately, the Sox would lose that series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. The nine-time all-star enjoyed another standout season in 1950, when he led the American League in triples (11) and knocked in a career-high 120 runs.
The modest, workmanlike Californian was also arguably the finest fielding second basemen of his era. He led the American League in putouts four times and finished his career with a .980 fielding percentage.
A back injury forced Doerr to retire when he was just 33. In 14 big league seasons, he hit .288 and registered 2,042 hits, 223 homers and 1,247 RBIs. After hanging up his spikes, he scouted for the Red Sox, before becoming a coach for Dick Williams with Boston’s Triple-A affiliate in Toronto. When Williams was hired to manage the Red Sox in 1967, Doerr was added to his big league staff.
Acting as the Red Sox unofficial hitting coach, Doerr revamped Carl Yastrzemski’s swing and helped convert Yaz into a power hitter who pulled the ball more frequently. Under Doerr’s tutelage, Yastrzemski would belt 44 homers in 1967 and win the Triple Crown. Doerr would resign from his coaching position when Williams was fired in 1969.
After being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, Doerr’s No. 1 was retired by the Red Sox on May 21, 1988. Now 92, Doerr still resides in Junction City, Oregon and is the oldest living player that has been inducted into the Hall of Fame.