In some respects, Bobby Doerr has been a great beneficiary of circumstance.
The 97-year-old and oldest living Hall of Famer was something of a product of Fenway Park, where his career OPS was over 200 points higher than it was on the road. Doerr’s also forever tied to his Red Sox teammate and lifelong friend Ted Williams, with David Halberstam featuring them in two books. Rumor has it Williams even had a hand in Doerr’s induction to Cooperstown in 1986 when he served on the Veterans Committee.
But in another respect, Doerr was slightly before his time. Among Hall of Famers, in fact, Doerr is more or the less the last of his kind. Because his career spanned 1937 to 1951, it’s fairly difficult to find Bobby Doerr baseball cards.
What’s generally accepted as his first baseball card comes with a little mystery. You’ll see most sellers offering a 1936 Goudey Premium with many referring to that issue as his rookie card but Doerr wasn’t in the big leagues and wouldn’t play a full season until 1938. It’s likely the Doerr card from that set wasn’t made until at least 1937–and more likely, ’38. Goudey Premiums were also issued in Canada and that may be its origin.
It’s different with Doerr than it is now. Baseball cards packed with bubble gum began to soar in popularity in the 1950s, with sets like 1953 Bowman and Topps adding a level of art and value to cards never before seen. They really took off in the 1980s and ’90s when cards flooded the market, one reason it will never be that difficult to find mementos for the likes of Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, or so many other inductees from recent years.
With Doerr and any player before, though, cards can be found. Your options are just a little more limited. Here’s a sampling. Click the links to see them on eBay:
It’s weird to think of a 75-year-old baseball card featuring a living player, not to mention one who was already in his fourth season in the majors and had staked his place.
On a team that was something of an offensive juggernaut, scoring 872 runs and featuring the likes of Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Joe Cronin among others, Doerr held his own. He hit .291 with 22 homers and, like the other three players just mentioned, topped 100 RBIs. His 3.3 Wins Above Replacement rate fairly well historically for 22-year-old players.
Doerr wasn’t an All Star that season, with perpetual rival Joe Gordon getting the start and Ray Mack of the Cleveland Indians coming off the bench, but Doerr maybe should have been.
A person could look at Doerr’s still relatively boyish features in this card or his 1951 stats and, not knowing the story, wonder why he walked away.
Doerr’s biography at SABR.org tells of the back injury he suffered in August 1951 and his decision to call it quits after sitting out the remainder of the year. The bio notes:
He’d played 14 seasons in the majors and had a good career. Though only 33, he didn’t want to risk more serious injury and decided to retire to his farm in Oregon. Over time, the back fused itself in some fashion and he found himself able to lift bales of hay and sacks of grain.
Thus, in his final baseball card, Doerr remains eternally young.
One thing that’s often striking about older baseball cards is how picturesque they appear. Doerr’s 1941 offering looks as though it could’ve been painted by Norman Rockwell. It’s different than many of the high-gloss cards of recent years, which flash and dazzle but make no great artistic statement. This one is almost pastoral.
That said, Doerr may have one of the nicer cards in the set, with Williams’ featuring a fairly mundane head shot and Joe DiMaggio’s card highlighted by a misspelling of his last name and a comic book-like illustration. [It’s worth noting, by the way, the Williams or DiMaggio’s cards from their iconic 1941 season aren’t all that more expensive than Doerr’s.]
4. 1950 Bowman
The classic 1975 offering The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book lists 1951 as the year that Topps “reinvented the baseball card, thus insuring their niche in boyhood immortality. Other companies had produced sporting cards before the– Bowman and Goudey Gum, most notably– but none with such all-encompassing voracity, or with anything approaching Topps’ brand of evangelical dynamism.”
Still, for a card that technically was produced before the revolution, this one looks pretty nice.
The Hall of Fame noted that Doerr became the oldest Hall of Famer ever in June and is the last living player from the 1930s. It wouldn’t be inconceivable to get a card from the decade signed by Doerr, who still responds to fan mail.
Doerr is far from the most expensive player in this funky series, with DiMaggio typically bringing thousands. Foxx has a card in the big-headed issue, too. Even long-forgotten All Star Rip Radcliff makes an appearance.
Considering this is probably Doerr’s first widely distributed baseball card, it’s probably one worth owning.
Doerr also appears in the 1939 Play Ball, 1941 Double Play, 1949 Leaf, 1949 Bowman, 1950 Drake’s and 1952 Berk Ross sets. You’ll also find him on Exhibit cards.