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Doerr reflects on 1954 Championship team

Former left fielder Jim Doerr recalls Missouri’s 1954 College World Series Championship.

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Jim Doerr (front row, sixth from left) poses for a photo with the Tigers' 1954 baseball team.

Courtesy of Missouri Baseball

April 2, 2013

ST. LOUIS—It may come as a surprise but in its entire athletic history, Missouri claims only one national championship in a true team sport- the 1954 College World Series.

Starter Jim Doerr, who will turn 81 in a few weeks, still holds on to memories from that team. He’s spent his retirement on Sunset Drive behind a white fence at his home. Inside, lighthouses adorn end tables and cuckoo clocks chirp every hour.

Doerr, donned in a bright green sweater with yellow pants, arranges a simple display on one of his couches. He’s collected a few framed photos, an autographed bat and some worn articles printed on computer paper. A fat, jewel-incrusted ring emblazoned with an “M” is wedged on his finger.

During that 1954 season, Doerr was a senior and the everyday left fielder. It was his first starting role on the team. Jim eases himself into an armchair and as he begins to talk, it becomes apparent that baseball, as Jim remembers it, wasn’t like it is today.

Street ball

Doerr was born in St. Louis on May 17, 1932 to Victor and Laurie Doerr. His father was a plumber. His mother stayed at home. He split time between his parents, who later divorced.

Baseball took a central role in Jim’s young life. While living in south St. Louis, Jim joined the Knothole Gang club and rode the streetcar to watch his beloved Cardinals and Browns play at Sportsman’s Park. He looked up to Cardinal greats like Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter, but also loved Vern Stephens, a sweet swinging shortstop for the Browns.

One of his favorite players, though, was actually family. Jim’s uncle by marriage, George Hausmann, played for the New York Giants from 1944-45 and 1949 after defecting to the Mexican league. Jim still has a baseball with a picture of George’s face on it.

Unlike today where kids grow up in t-ball leagues, Doerr didn’t take to organized baseball until the mid 1940s. He and his friends played softball in the streets and baseball in the lots.

“We just hung out in the neighborhood and played around,” Doerr said. “I was a pretty decent athlete. We played pickup games every summer.”

When he was 12, Doerr remembered joining a league, but only winning games when the other teams didn’t show up. The next season, his determined group of friends borrowed uniforms from the Salem Lutheran Church and won the Corey League Championship. Later, in an event sponsored by the league, Doerr met the keynote speaker, George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

Outside of baseball in the summer, Jim stayed true to his love of sports. He set pins at the St. George bowling alley, cut grass and caddied at Sunset Country Club. In the 1946 Western Open at the club, Doerr held the sign with the score for legendary golfer Ben Hogan, who won the tournament.

In his teens, Doerr was a standout athlete for Bayless High School. He played baseball in the fall, basketball in the winter and ran track in the spring. The high school was too small to field both a baseball and track team in the spring, so the school moved baseball to the fall.

“When the season came, you played that sport,” he said.

Doerr was the centerfielder for the Bronchos and decided to go to Missouri. Coincidentally, his high school at the time produced to other ball players for Missouri: Sonny Siebert and Bob Mohesky.

Freshman to Champion

College baseball in 1950 was very different from today. Although Missouri had fielded a baseball team for nearly a century, the Tigers only played 20 games a season, a far cry from the 54 regular season games the Tigers will play this season.

Outside of baseball, Doerr joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, studied civil engineering, and his first semester tuition cost a total of $55.

The ball field then was closer to campus. The diamond was built on Rollins street and included a covered wooden grandstand and a manual scoreboard. Shockingly, the field lacked a net behind home plate, exposing the fans to foul balls.

During his first fall at Missouri, freshmen couldn’t play varsity sports. So, Jim joined the freshmen team, where they played intersquad games when they could get enough players together. The rule was changed the next season.

“When the big guys weren’t playing (on Rollins field), we’d have practices amongst ourselves,” Doerr said.

As a sophomore Jim made the varsity team. Legendary coach John “Hi” Simmons (481-294-3) was the skipper at the time and was already in his 13th year of coaching. Doerr remembered him as a heck of a coach.

Jim pinch ran and pinch hit for Missouri and did not join the team on road trips. The Tigers finished the season as Big Seven champions and as the runner up in the CWS.

That season, Jim also recalled playing against Earl Woods, father of Tiger Woods, who started for Kansas State and broke the Big Seven color barrier in 1951.

Doerr emerged with a larger role on the team in 1953 and then finally earned his starting left field position in 1954. On his senior year team were three Major League baseball signees, including Norm Stewart, who later coached basketball at Missouri.

The Tigers went 22-4 that season, winning the Big Seven and earning a trip to the CWS at Rosenblatt Stadium. During the series, Missouri worked its way through the loser’s bracket and defeated Rollins College in the final game to take the crown.

“(It wasn’t like) the excitement they show nowadays,” Doerr said. “I think we grabbed ahold of (winning pitcher) Ed Cook and put him on our shoulder and walked off. We didn’t have the hullabaloo you see nowadays.”

The team, which Jim stressed was filled with many great ballplayers, all went their separate ways after the series. Only a handful of guys stuck around for the return trip back to campus. Outfielder Jerry Schoonmaker actually traveled to New York to marry his wife over the radio.

When the victorious players reached downtown Columbia, the athletic department and Joe Machens Ford organized cars and drove the players through the streets for a victory parade.

“As far as hordes, no, there weren’t any,” Doerr said. “But there were a lot of people. That part was very good.”

The next Monday, Jim rode back to St. Louis and started work with a summer construction job. Although the St. Louis Cardinals expressed interest in him, Doerr decided not to pursue professional baseball because there wasn’t a lot of money in it.

Settling down in St. Louis, Doerr married his wife Mary and later served in the US Navy for six months in 1957. He had four children: Jim, John, Laura and Mary Beth, and now has 16 grandchildren.

Outside of his large family, Jim had a successful career as a civil engineer and was a long-time season ticket holder with the St. Louis Cardinals. He also frequented Missouri football games.

In 1997, Doerr won the St. Louis Senior Olympics in the 50 and 100-yard dash. A few years later, he was elected into the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, along with earning a spot in the University of Missouri Hall of Fame.

With the national championship, a big family and long life spent watching and playing sports, when asked about his it all, Jim summed it up in three words.

“It’s been wonderful,” he said.  

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