Bobby Doerr, second base
Padres: 1936 Bobby Doerr was born in Los Angeles, and began his pro career while a high school athlete in 1934. Following his season in San Diego, Doerr played from 1937-51 with the Boston Red Sox, where he drove in one hundred runs six times and at second base set an AL record for consecutive fielding chances without an error. A Yankee opponent once called him “one of the very few men who played the game hard and retired with no enemies.” He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
[Bobby Doerr interview by Jim Smith, 23 August 1989, tape recording.]
I joined the Hollywood Sheiks in the Coast League in 1934, when I was sixteen. I left school with George McDonald, who is five days younger than me. Mr. Lane owned the team. He was a front office man. Very seldom would you see him. He had kind of a crippled right hand, had a brace. As I understand it, it was something from mining. To us, being young like that, you thought he was quite old.
Frank Shellenback managed the team in 1935, the last year in Hollywood. He was a legal spitballer, pitching back in 1919, but couldn’t go back up to the major leagues because it was outlawed. He pitched the rest of his career in the Coast League. There were slippery elm tablets he’d suck on. He would spit on a spot on the ball and it was real slick–and once in a while in the infield you’d grab the ball where that was and throw a “spitter” to the first baseman. Shellenback was one of the real class guys you’d run into in baseball or anyplace else. He was Catholic and had a big family. He didn’t discipline too much, but he didn’t have to. He had that makeup you respected.
Wrigley Field in Los Angeles was a class ballpark, like a major league park. But I never thought it was a letdown to come to Lane Field. The fans were always so great. We were a first year team and it was really a fun place to play ball. The fans were so close.
My contract had been bought with an option to be exercised in the summer of ’36. Of course my goal was to get taken by the Red Sox. I was having a good year and then Eddie Collins came out (I think in July) and I had a bad day . . . I think I made three errors. He called me out between games on Sunday and said, “Bobby, we’re gonna buy your contract. Don’t be nervous.” That was real nice . . .
I had a six-for-six day against the San Francisco Seals. Things just went good for me that year [.342]. I don’t think we had lights until the middle of the season. And it was a nice place to play–never overly hot like Sacramento. I saw Ted Williams come in for a tryout in June. Shellenback was pitching batting practice and he said, “Let the kid get in and hit a few.” The older players around the cage didn’t like this too well, as he would take up their time. Ted hit about seven or eight balls, and I think about two or three were out of the park. So everyone started to say, “Who is this kid?” One of ’em said “This kid will be signed before the week is out.” And he was.
It was fast company, but the thing is in those days you played so much baseball against those kinds of players in the winter time that you were exposed to pretty good baseball. In Southern California we had the weather . . . You learned the fundamentals of the game. Those fellows would stand around and talk about different things. You listened and absorbed what they passed on.
And Shellenback–a nice guy and still a lot of man. I remember he’d throw a “spitter,” and the best chance you had of hitting it was to hit to the opposite field. When he saw a guy doing that he had a sign: he’d pull down on the bill of his cap twice, and that meant he was going to knock the guy down.
My dad kept a scrapbook of every ball game I played in–in fact, every box score I played in San Diego.