Seasons in Boston: 1937-1944, 1946-1951
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, His number 1 was retired by the team on May 21st 1988, 9x All-Star
Red Sox Numbers: .288/.362/.461, 223 HR, 1094 R, 1247 RBI, 54 SB, 115 wRC+, 53.3 fWAR
Signature Season (1942): .290/.369/.455, 15 HR, 71 R, 102 RBI, 4 SB, 127 wRC+, 6.0 fWAR
Choosing between Bobby Doerr and Dustin Pedroia for the starting job on my all-time roster was one of the three most difficult choices that I made when creating the list. Doerr was an exceptional player whose number one has adorned Fenway’s right field porch since 1988. More than just a number on the right field porch, however, Doerr was a fixture with the Red Sox even after his playing days were over, serving as the team’s first base coach from 1967-1969. He came back for many team events during his retirement before passing away on November 13th, 2017.
Nicknamed the “silent captain” by teammate Ted Williams, Doerr was known as not only an exceptional ballplayer, but also an exceptional leader. Like many of his contemporaries, the second baseman served in World War II, missing both the pennant race of 1944 as well as the entirety of the 1945 season.
Following his return from the war effort, the Red Sox won the pennant and ended up playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1946 World Series. This would mark the only time in Doerr’s career that he was able to play postseason baseball, and he made the most of it slashing .409/.458/.591 with a double, a home run, and three RBI during that series. They unfortunately lost in seven games.
Had the gold glove award existed during Doerr’s time in the league he’d be a lock to have an entire room full of hardware. By all accounts he was a sure handed defender who rarely made an error. As his SABR bio notes, by the time he retired he was the all-time MLB leader in among second basemen with a career .980 fielding percentage. Pedroia, in contrast, is the current all-time leader in second base history in fielding percentage at .991. Comparing what Doerr was able to do on defense vs what Pedroia was able to do is very difficult. From everything I’ve read it seems Doerr had less range than Pedroia, but had exceptional hands and rarely made mistakes.
At the plate Doerr was an RBI machine. He spent the majority of his career batting fifth while also spending a substantial amount of time at the cleanup spot and the sixth spot. To me it was clear that the team trusted him to deliver when it mattered. Doerr had six seasons during his career where he drove in more than 100 runs, including a run from 1946-1950 where he averaged 110 RBI per year. In this area he was undoubtedly more productive than Pedroia who spent most of his career batting second. Doerr also did something that Pedroia was never able to do,hitting for the cycle twice during his career on May 17,1944 and May 13, 1947.
Doerr was never much of a factor on the bases with his ten-steal season as a 22-year-old representing his peak. Due to his relative lack of speed and lineup position he eclipsed 100 runs scored just once in his career at age 32. Pedroia was able to eclipse that mark four times.
What it comes down to for me in choosing between the two players is peak. Dustin Pedroia won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, the AL MVP in 2008, the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013, while also playing a key role on two World Series winners. Pedroia was elite almost from the moment he stepped foot in the MLB. Doerr became the player he would ultimately become after debuting at 19 years old, three years younger than Pedroia was when he debuted. His early seasons were not elite.
For Doerr it was his back that acted up leading to the end of his career at 33 years old. For Pedroia it was his knees that has, for all intents and purposes, ended his career as a productive player also at 33 years old. Doerr was the steadier player of the two in terms of durability and driving in runs. Pedroia had the more spectacular peak and I believe he was the better defender and a slightly better hitter, even though they finished with identical 115 wRC+ marks. Both are unforgettable Red Sox and this team wouldn’t be complete without their inclusion.