boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe
Kevin Cullen

Diamond character

The hands that once handled 414 straight ground balls, line drives, and pop-ups without an error are still steady. But the bad back that prematurely ended his career 56 years ago is acting up, and so this is it.

When Bobby Doerr, Hall of Famer, steps on the field at Fenway Park today, it will be the last time, because his 89-year-old body simply can't take the transcontinental flight from Oregon anymore.

Yesterday, Doerr walked slowly but steadily into the EMC Club, overlooking the Fenway diamond, ostensibly for lunch and to watch a film his buddy Dick Flavin made on his life. But it was really to say goodbye.

"I never get tired of looking at this," Doerr said, surveying the verdant, manicured outfield, the just-watered chocolate infield.

He nodded approvingly at the tourists in the Monster seats.

"Everybody should come to Fenway once," he said, almost to himself.

Bobby Doerr came to Fenway for 14 seasons. He was a nine-time All Star. He was, as Ted Williams once put it, "the silent captain," the glue of the 1946 team that ended a 28-year pennant drought, then lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals when Enos Slaughter never stopped running and beat Johnny Pesky's throw home.

"Johnny didn't hold the ball," Bobby Doerr said defensively. "I don't know why people keep saying that."

Johnny Pesky, the old shortstop, was sitting at the next table. Unfortunately, another teammate, Dominic DiMaggio, was not. He was home in Marion, his 90-year-old legs failing him.

"I wish Dom could be here," Doerr said. "But -- "

In his book, "The Teammates," David Halberstam captured the remarkable friendship of Doerr, Pesky, DiMaggio, and Williams, a tie that the revolving door of free agency makes impossible today. The other three leavened the mercurial Williams, and forgave his outbursts.

Halberstam was killed in a car accident in California in April. "He," Doerr said, "was a very decent man."

Which is what everybody says about Doerr. While he was one of the finest-fielding second basemen ever, his .288 career batting average isn't exactly eye-popping. But he did little things that don't make it into a box score: running hard, giving himself up to advance a runner, making everyone around him better. He was the quintessential teammate.

Pesky was a lowly clubhouse attendant when he first met Doerr. The other players hardly looked at Pesky; Doerr thanked him when he picked up a dirty uniform.

In the 19 years since they retired Doerr's No. 1, an honor bestowed on only four other Sox players, countless youngsters have pointed to the right-field grandstand where the numbers are mounted and asked, "Who was that?"

"The kids can look up the statistics, but that won't tell them who Bobby was," Pesky said. "Tell them about Monica."

Monica and Bobby Doerr were married for 65 years. In 1947, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 1967, when Bobby was a coach of the pennant-winning Impossible Dream team, Monica was forced into a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Doerr became her primary caregiver. He took her fishing. He wheeled her everywhere. Even as his own health declined, he refused to put her in a nursing home.

When Flavin piled Pesky and DiMaggio into a car to visit a dying Williams in Florida, -- the scene that begins Halberstam's book, Doerr begged off, because Monica needed him. She died four years ago. "She was never a burden," he said. "I was lucky to have her."

Pesky was married to his Ruth for 61 years before she died in 2005. Emily is still tending to DiMaggio, after 59 years of marriage.

"We all got queens," Doerr said.

Bobby Doerr doesn't dwell on the World Series he didn't win or the money he didn't make. A boy of summer in the winter of life, he is sure of only one thing.

"I'll see Monica again, someday," he said. "And I take great comfort in that."

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES