On Saturday evening we went to a reception at the Hall, which is on Main Street, a few blocks away from the lake. Fans stood behind barricades in front of the building watching the Hall of Famers arrive in long cars under the glare of klieg lights, lending an Academy Awards atmosphere to the evening.
Doerr entered the building guiding Monica's wheelchair. She has had multiple sclerosis since 1947, when she was 34, and it was a good thing Doerr retired when he did in 1951, for he has had to be at her side ever since. She sometimes walks with the aid of a walker, and in the winter on the Rogue River back in Oregon, when they go fishing together, he carves out small steps for her in the snow with a shovel.
The Hall of Fame Gallery was crowded with about 400 people when Doerr arrived, and Monica, seeing the crush, told her husband she didn't think she could stay. He whispered to her that they would leave after he wheeled her one length of the room where his plaque would be. In one corner, though, Stan Musial and his wife, Lillian, cleared room for the wheelchair and the Doerrs stayed with them, out of mind and almost out of sight of the rest of the crowd.
I asked Doerr how surprised he was over his election, and he conceded that he had figured he had a chance when shortstops Pee Wee Reese and Luis Aparicio were elected in the last few years. Before then he had never really given the Hall of Fame a thought; the most votes he had received during the baseball writers' balloting was 78 in 1971. (If Doerr's career had begun after 1945 that total would have fallen 22 short of the votes needed to be eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee.) "This is like waiting on line two or three hours for a good movie," he said. "Once you get in, you find out it's worth it. You just hope you don't wake up and find out you were dreaming."
After half an hour, Jane Fonda, who was there as a guest, sought out Doerr to congratulate him. Imagine that, the antiwar activist of the '70s and the patriotic veteran named after Black Jack Pershing, the American general from World War I, shaking hands like two old Army pals. Fonda said she had always wanted to meet Bobby Doerr, and she introduced him to her young son, Troy. Doerr signed a few more autographs—he signs them Bob, not Bobby—and then came back to our earlier discussion.
About the criticism of his election he said, without resentment, "What are you going to do? Are you just going to have outfielders and catchers and first basemen and third basemen playing in a ball-game? People say you cheapen it: 'How can you put a Doerr in there with Gehrig and Ruth?' Well, I understand that, too. I have a hard time thinking of myself in a class with those guys. But you've got to have second basemen and shortstops." Doerr is the ninth second baseman among 170 members of the Hall. Surprisingly, he hit more home runs than all of them except Rogers Hornsby, and he has the best fielding percentage of all but Jackie Robinson. Doerr's credentials are in order.
On Sunday afternoon, it was threatening showers when the Hall of Famers gathered on the broad verandas of the Otesaga, which was built in 1909, the same year Shibe Park and Forbes Field opened their gates. Many of the more recent inductees were there—Enos Slaughter, Bob Lemon, Al Lopez, Reese. Then the group went in cars to the ceremonies, which were held in a park in front of the Hall of Fame Library. As the Hall of Famers filed onto the stage, it began to sprinkle and a few people in the crowd put up umbrellas. Doerr, dressed in a bright blue blazer, dark red tie and white shirt, spoke first. He is not a comfortable speaker and was fearful he would forget his opening lines, but he thanked everyone—Monica for helping him, the Veterans Committee for electing him, God for allowing him to grow up in America and even his coach at Fremont High School in Los Angeles. "To stand here and see all these Hall of Famers," he said, nodding to the likes of Lefty Gomez, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron, who was dressed in a business suit and yellow running shoes, "I feel like a boy, not a man 68 years old."
Then something almost corny happened, something that would only happen in a Hall of Fame ceremony. As Doerr thanked the late Joe Cronin for teaching him how to relax ("He used to have a saying: 'Have fun, sing a song' "), the rain stopped and the sun broke through. The crowd looked around, the umbrellas came down and everyone sat back comfylike for the rest of the ceremony. Doerr didn't seem to notice the change in the weather and went right on, even making a stab at some humor. "One day Ted gave me some suggestions he thought were going to help me with my hitting," he recalled. "I said, 'Ted, I just don't feel comfortable hitting that way.' He threw up his hands and walked off and said, 'O.K., if you want to be a lousy .280 or .290 hitter, go ahead and hit your way.' " Williams, who was sitting behind Doerr, laughed at the story. But the truth is, Ted is still a bit annoyed with Bobby for opening his stance and thinking too much about the inviting leftfield wall at Fenway.
The annual Hall of Fame Game, played the day after the ceremonies at Doubleday Field, a little patch of paradise hidden a block away from the Hall, was an anticlimax. Doerr was unrecognized by most of the Rangers and Royals who were there for the exhibition, and he was called "Mr. Doerr" by the others. Instead of staying for the entire game, he and Monica left halfway through the fifth inning and returned to the Hall's exhibit rooms, which they had not had time to see earlier. A few fans were about, but not many of them knew who he was, so, accompanied by a red-jacketed Hall attendant, the Doerrs had what amounted to a private tour.
Doerr had sent the Hall the ridiculously small glove he had used while setting a record of 73 games without an error back in 1948 and the bat with which he had hit the homer that won the '43 All-Star Game. They were displayed on the first floor. But that was about it for Doerr memorabilia. He wheeled Monica past the cases of uniforms and catchers' masks and finally came to a photo montage of the All-Star Games of the '40s. It included blowups of newspaper stories about the games, and he looked up "Doerr, 2b" in the box scores. The old names seem to set him thinking.