“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Joe Dobson hailed from Oklahoma, born in the south-central farm town of Durant on January 20, 1917.
He was helping his dad with carpentry outside of school when he read in the town newspaper that a team in Tucson was looking for boys who would like to play baseball. He tried out and was added to the team.
When Joe won the first game of a doubleheader during the July 1936 Arizona state tournament in Phoenix, he was approached by the Cleveland Indians and signed him to a contract with New Orleans, an Indians farm club in the Southern Association.
His first year in the Cleveland system was spent in Alabama with the Troy (Alabama) Trojans in the Alabama-Florida League. His work earned him a quick promotion all the way to the Class A Southern Association, where he pitched in 1938 the New Orleans Pelicans. He made it to the major leagues to stay in 1939, beginning a career that took him right into the 1954 season.
He was hardly a sensation in Cleveland, though, appearing in 35 games, but largely in relief. He pitched an even 100 innings in 1940, and showed some improvement. The first game he started and won came against the Red Sox in July at Fenway Park. He threw a complete-game, 2-0 shutout, and his work that day made an impression on Boston manager Joe Cronin.
He had a shot with the 1941 Red Sox. For the 1941 season, Joe were second on the team with a dozen wins. It had taken him a while to get established, but he became a regular in the rotation and at one point reeled off a string of seven straight victories, something always sure to impress.
Entering 1942, Joe was one of the three starters on whom the Sox built their hopes. Joe won 11, lost 9, and had a 3.30 ERA. With World War II under way, players were starting to leave for military service. He’d spent the winter working construction in his wife’s hometown of Nashville. The work kept him in shape and he had another good season on the mound with a 3.12 ERA.
The 1943 season started poorly, but after a tonsillectomy in midseason, he came on strong and won six of his eleven decisions after the All-Star break.
He was also a good defensive player. It was only in that final September 29 tie game, the last appearance in his fifth season in major-league ball, that he made the first error of his career, in his only chance of the game. The old American League record had reportedly been Ted Lyons with 88 games. Joe set the new record with 156 games and 153 chances.
As soon as the 1943 season ended, Joe took up defense work at the Bethlehem-Hingham shipyard in Hingham, Mass. He was inducted into the Army in December, and reported to Fort Devens, Mass, in January 1944. He was the 17th ballplayer the Red Sox had lost to the armed services in World War II.
After early basic training, he was transferred to Camp Wheeler, near Macon, Georgia, where he spent the balance of the war. He pitched in 1944 and 1945 for the Camp Wheeler Spokes, and managed the team as well. Though most of Camp Wheeler shipped out to Europe late in 1944, Joe was one of the more fortunate ones and remained on the base.
In June 1945, Joe and other players at Camp Wheeler helped conduct a training camp in Macon, Georgia, for young local ballplayers. The team traveled some, playing other bases as far away as California. He twice in early 1945 took detours to Fenway Park.
Joe was discharged in February 1946, without having seen overseas duty, but just in time to join the Red Sox for spring training. He was one of the last to arrive, but the pitching during the war had kept him in good shape and he was ready to contribute a very good year to a very good Red Sox team.
Fresh out of his Army baseball uniform and into a Red Sox one again, Joe made his first start in an intrasquad game in March and set down the nine batters he faced, striking out three. For the season, he started 24 games, and relieved in eight more. By season’s end, Joe had posted a very strong 13-7 record with a 3.24 ERA, doing his part to bring the team into its first World Series in 28 years, against the St. Louis Cardinals. During the Series itself, he threw one inning of hitless relief in the Game Two loss, righted the Red Sox ship with a complete-game, four-hit, 6-3 win in Game Five and threw 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief in the middle of Game Seven. They were the only World Series games in which he appeared, and he couldn’t have acquitted himself much better.
The Red Sox looked ready to repeat in 1947, and Joe was now seen as one of the Big Four. He’d shaken the reputation of a “dazzling spring box operative who faded in early summer.” As it transpired, he turned out to be the only starter on the Red Sox that year who didn’t seem to come down with a dead arm. The others all had one problem or another during the course of the season, one that failed to fulfill its promise almost from the get-go. Joe had what might have been his best year. He won a career-high 18 games as part of an 18-8, 2.95 season. He had another near-no-hitter in September on a blooper of a seventh-inning single to right and settled for a one-hit, 4-0 shutout of the Browns.
Thanks mainly to additional struggles from its pitchers in 1948, the Red Sox were in seventh place at the end of May. A month later, Joe had nine wins and was named to the All-Star team, but at the end of July, with 13 wins under his belt, he was hit in the hand by one of Bob Feller’s pitches. He didn’t miss a start, nor did he when another Indians pitcher, Satchel Paige, hit him in Augusth, but he didn’t win a game in four straight starts.
When it came to the last scheduled game of the year, and the Sox needed a win over the Yankees to have a shot at the pennant, manager Joe McCarthy gave Joe the start. He kept the game close enough, and the Sox won, and found themselves in a tie with Cleveland, necessitating a single-game playoff tiebreaker that the Indians won.
All the Red Sox needed was to win one more game to take the pennant in 1949. Joe got off to a lackluster start but he began to come around and won 14 games by year’s end. The Sox entered Yankee Stadium to play the final two games on the schedule. All Boston had to do was win either game and the pennant was theirs. Mel Parnell started the Saturday game and had a 4-0 lead, but gave up two runs in the fourth and two in the fifth. Dobson pitched four innings in relief, but lost the game on a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth and the Sox lost the next game, too. Joe finished 14-12, his ERA having climbed to 3.85.
Joe finally got a no-hitter late in 1949. It was a postseason exhibition game with the Mickey Harris All-Stars, and he shared the win with Warren Spahn, the two having split the duties to beat the Hartford Chiefs, 7-0.
Joe won 15 games in 1950, the seventh of the eight seasons with the Red Sox, that he posted double-digit win totals. He was part of a good staff led by Mel Parnell, Ellis Kinder, and Chuck Stobbs, fronting a powerful team that set any number of records on offense, dampened only when Ted Williams broke his elbow during that summer’s All-Star Game.
Joe missed a couple of starts at the end of July, and was sent back to Boston after being hit hard in the side by a line drive. He relieved in a dozen games in addition to his 27 starts, but his ERA increased for the third year in a row, to 4.18. He finished the year 15-10, and the Red Sox finished four games out of first place.
In December 1950, almost exactly 10 years after he’d been traded to the Red Sox, Joe was dealt to the White Sox.
Training in Pasadena, California, provided one unexpected bonus; a photograph in the Sporting News showed Joe strolling arm in arm with Marilyn Monroe with two other White Sox on Marilyn’s other arm in the posed publicity shot.
He appeared in 28 games and put up a 7-6 record with a 3.62 ERA. It was the first time since 1946 that he hadn’t won at least 13 games.
The following year, 1952, might have been his best season of all. He showed up early for spring training in El Centro, California, and worked hard. Joe finished 14-10, with a very strong 2.51 ERA, ranking fifth in the American League.
After the season was over, Joe took a position as the regional sales manager of a tire distributing company based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and did a weekly radio sportscast on Tuesday nights on WBRK.
He began to transition a bit in the spring of 1953 when he helped serve as an instructor in spring training. It turned out to be a disappointing season, for him. Joe finished only three of his 15 starts, even though the White Sox won every one of his final four starts. Age was beginning to take its toll and Chicago cleared a roster spot by placing Joe on unconditional waivers in August.
The Red Sox offered Joe a last hurrah in 1954, announcing his signing of a free agent contract in January. Joe didn’t really have enough left. He got into two games, long enough to record eight outs but gave up five hits and two runs and a walk and one final strikeout, finishing his career just shy of 1,000 with 992 K’s. The Red Sox released him in May, offering him a coaching contract at the same time. He thought it over for a couple of days and agreed, but then resigned a little over seven weeks later, in early July. He’d worked largely as a “special observer” sitting in the stands and taking notes.
Joe decided to end his playing career, though he coached for the White Sox in 1955. By October, he was living in Munsonville, New Hampshire (population 231), and spending 12 hours a day, seven days a week operating Joe Dobson’s Store, a village general store about 10 miles north of Keene. The store also rented cabins and boats, sold gas, and Joe served as the town’s postmaster and head of the volunteer fire department.
By 1967, as the Red Sox embarked upon their Impossible Dream season, and Joe was the manager and golf pro at the Kearsage Valley Country Club in North Sutton, New Hampshire. The year before, Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio had earned the club some extra publicity, appearing at a benefit there. He worked at Kearsage for seven years and then in February 1972 moved to Winter Haven, Florida, where he became general manager of the Red Sox complex there and business manager of the Winter Haven Red Sox through 1978.
After retiring from his work for the Red Sox, Joe and his family moved to his sister’s ranch outside Tombstone where he helped with ranch work, fixing fence posts and looking over a herd of 40-50 cattle. In the late 1980s, he moved to Jacksonville and truly retired. It was in Jacksonville that he died of cancer at the age of 77 on June 23, 1994.