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Bobby Doerr’s Hall of Fame character


Friday, December 01, 2017

Good morning!

Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr died on Nov. 14, five months shy of his 100th birthday and was the last surviving big leaguer from the 1930s. “Top double play man and fine clutch hitter,” his Hall of Fame plaque reads at Cooperstown.

Ted Williams called him the team’s “silent captain.” In 1946, he batted .409 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and his No. 1 is on the right field roof alongside Joe Cronin’s and the five other Red Sox immortals.

Doerr was Boston’s hitting coach in 1968, and Greenfield’s Steve Kramer was a struggling 16-year-old on the Deerfield Academy JV. “The jump from eighth grade baseball in Greenfield to hitting against high school and prep school pitching was tough,” recalled Kramer, who was teammates with fellow townies Chet Conant and Dave Zewinski.

Desperate to find his swing before Dick Cobb demoted him to JV Reserve, Kramer wrote to Doerr in care of the Red Sox. Two weeks later, an envelope postmarked from Minneapolis arrived in the family’s mailbox on Overland Road. Kramer noted the air mail stamp cost a dime, and the return address said only, “Bob Doerr, Red Sox, Boston, Mass.”

The two page letter was written on Hotel Leamington stationery, the same hotel where President Eisenhower and the Beatles had stayed. “I am sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your hitting,” wrote Doerr. “It is hard to give any help not getting to see you hit, but sounds like you’re committing your body too quick and your hands are going with your body. You have to try to keep your hands back.

“Hit some fungoes at the infielders as hard as you can and this is the swing you should have when you go to the plate. Hope things change for you and good luck.”

According to baseball-reference.com Doerr earned $221,300 in 14 seasons, but he never regretted not playing after free agency drove up the salaries. “I think we had more fun,” he said.

It was indeed an era when a big-leaguer had time to help a hitter stay in the lineup. “Not many would help some kid who couldn’t hit JV pitching,” said Kramer. “Hands back, line drives up the middle… worked for the next eight years.”

A trio of NMH alumni butted heads at the Mullins Center last night. Senior captain Derek Pratt and sophomore Ben Freeman skated for UConn and freshman Ollie Chau was on the ice for the Minutemen.

Pratt was UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh’s first recruit after he left Boston College for Storrs. Last night was his 124th game on the point for the Huskies. His father Tom Pratt played at St. Lawrence and coached him at NMH, and his uncle Kent Carlson played 113 games in the NHL for Montreal, St. Louis and Washington.

Freeman, of Falmouth, Maine, was named UConn’s top rookie last season. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound playmaker’s first collegiate goal was a year ago against UMass.

The diminutive Chau graduated from NMH in 2016 and played last season in Canada. He was named the Alberta Junior Hockey League Rookie of the Year, and at this writing had six goals and seven assists for UMass.

Fresh off a 20-point win against Michigan, the No. 3 Notre Dame women’s basketball team (7-0) tips off against top-ranked UConn (5-0) on Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford. Notre Dame’s backcourt tandem of Arike Oqunbowake and Jackie Young are averaging 36.6 points and helped topple defending champion South Carolina last Sunday.

Earlier this week tickets were selling on StubHub for as high as $550 for seats three rows behind the UConn bench.

The Sports Hub’s Jim Murray claimed Aqib Talib dissed Michael Crabtree to the extreme by yanking his chain. “I’ve listened to enough rap that I feel confident in saying that there is nothing more symbolically deflating or disrespectful than snatching another man’s chain,” said Murray.

On his Monday show, Sirius XM’s Ross Tucker voiced what’s become painfully obvious about the non-competitive AFC: “When I saw the Chiefs lose and the Jags lose and the Titans lost, it just reaffirmed it’s gonna be a Steelers-Patriots AFC Championship game. Then, watching last night the mistakes the Steelers made, whattya think Tom Brady’s going to do with that?”

Meanwhile in the NFC, Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz are blossoming into a younger version of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. At the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book, the odds the Eagles will win Super Bowl LII have dropped from 60-1 in August to 9-2 this week. The Patriots are listed at 5-2 and the Steelers at 7-2.

SQUIBBERS: Kudos to the Springfield Republican’s Garry Brown, whose “Hitting to all Fields” column marked its 45th anniversary last week. … After another long gain by BC running back AJ Dillon during BC’s blowout win last week, Syracuse commentator Chris Gedney exclaimed, “That was like the windshield meeting the fog.” … Hockey East must be in a down year if ninth-ranked Providence is the only team ranked in USCHO’s top 10. .. NMH hockey hosts Deerfield in Mount Hermon on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. … Sources say Jim Rice got into it with David Price this summer. The former Red Sox slugger was tired of Price’s reactions to perceived slights by the media. The left-hander’s 23-12 record works out to $2.6 million a win. … Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s nickname is the Amish Rifle. … cbssports.com projects UMass tight end Adam Breneman to go in the third round of the 2018 draft.  … Michael Crabtree telling a San Francisco Chronicle reporter why he stands for the national anthem: “I just play football. I ain’t no Martin Luther King.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.