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It was the downside of Sunday afternoon, Aug. 3. The sun had come out and a soft breeze had come up, and for a long while the Hall of Famers didn't want to depart. I can still see them all gathered for their official photograph on a bluff above Lake Otsego, the "Glimmerglass" that novelist James Fenimore Cooper described so admirably in The Deerslayer. Across the lawn Joe Sewell hobbled to his place in the first row, Ted Williams roughhoused with Robin Roberts, and Cool Papa Bell, with cane in hand, was led gingerly along a path by a younger man—his grandson, perhaps? In Cooperstown in August, even grandsons walk slowly.
I had come to Cooperstown with my wife to get the feel of this year's baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. We had arranged with Bobby Doerr, one of the inductees, that for three days we would see the town and the ceremonies through his eyes. Where he went, we would go.
Doerr, the former Red Sox second baseman, was elected along with Ernie Lombardi by the Veterans Committee, and Willie McCovey was voted in by the writers. Doerr had waited 35 years to make the Hall and, for most of that time, never imagined that he even had a chance. Now that he had arrived there were critics who said he-didn't deserve to be in Cooperstown; that his election, as well as that of a few others in recent years, somehow devalued the Hall.
But there would be no controversy this weekend. Just a memorable visit with Doerr, hours spent in and around the venerable Otesaga Hotel, high above the Glimmerglass, and the gradual realization that the Veterans Committee was right after all. Doerr deserved his plaque and niche.
For the weekend, they put Doerr's plaque in the center of the Hall of Fame Gallery on a small pillar topped by an oversized baseball and some red, white and blue ribbons. His bas-relief likeness is not bad, compared to the others in the Hall, although the eyebrows should have been thicker, the better to capture his piercing gaze. The plaque reads: "Robert Pershing Doerr...Quiet leader of Red Sox during 1940s. Consistent second baseman, top double play man and fine clutch hitter. Lifetime batting average of .288 with six seasons of over 100 RBIs." It goes on to note a few of his fielding records and his .409 average in the 1946 World Series but runs out of room before it can mention his nine appearances in the All-Star Game.
I never saw Doerr play, although I have seen posed snapshots of him snaring grounders far to his left, his 5'11" frame straining for the ball. Everything about him—his shoulders, his hands, his manner—is still square and correct. His black hair has turned pure white now; he has an outdoorsman's face and wears sports jackets and golf shirts, making him look a little like the chairman of a country club. In the lobby of the Otesaga on Saturday, the day before the induction ceremonies, he immediately introduced us to his wife, Monica, his 93-year-old mother, his sister and his sister-in-law. All five had arrived the day before after an unhurried nine-day drive from Junction City, Ore. Also on hand for the celebration were Doerr's son, daughter-in-law and an assortment of grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Not everyone completes a transcontinental voyage with his 93-year-old mother right on schedule, and in the lobby of the Otesaga on Friday, Hall of Fame president Ed Stack was anxious. Last March, when the Veterans Committee elected Doerr, Stack called him at his fishing cabin on Oregon's Rogue River and said, "Bobby, from this moment on, your life is never going to be the same." Now, after Doerr had pulled his station wagon behind the tall white columns of the hotel, he spotted Stack, pointed his finger and hollered, "You were right!"
Early that evening Ted Williams came by Doerr's room. Of all the players on the Red Sox, Doerr was Williams's closest friend and frequent companion. They were an odd couple that hunted and Fished together in the off-season, and on the road in summer they would go to the movies to see Westerns starring Ken Maynard, Bob Steele and Hoot Gibson. Doerr was placid, quiet and proper; Williams was tempestuous, loud and coarse. It was as though Ted was drawn to Bobby because he possessed the virtues for which Ted had always yearned.
Doerr fondly related a story about Williams's famed concentration. Once during an afternoon game at Fenway, a large cloud passed directly over home plate, prompting Ted to step out of the box just before a pitch was thrown. How peculiar, Doerr thought. But Williams explained that his chances of getting a hit otherwise would be reduced because he wouldn't have the benefit of seeing the ball in bright sunshine. "Me, I would have hit three days under the cloud before I realized there was a difference," Doerr said.
Williams, a first-year member of the Veterans Committee, helped put Doerr in the Hall with his lobbying efforts. The two have seen each other from time to time over the years, but this was the first visit to Cooperstown for Doerr since Ted's induction 20 years before. To see them together, you would have thought it was the 1940s all over again.