SABR

Ray Dobens

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Left-handed pitcher Ray Dobens graduated as a bachelor of philosophy from Worcester, Massachusetts' College of the Holy Cross on June 19, 1929 and signed a Boston Red Sox contract that same day. Eighteen days later, he broke in with the Boston Red Sox. College teammate Bots Nekola signed with the Yankees and had to wait nine more days for his first game. They each appeared in 11 major-league games.

Dobens debuted in the first game of the July 7 doubleheader in Cleveland, taking over for Red Ruffing and retiring the side 1-2-3. Unfortunately for Ruffing, the 4-2 loss dropped his record on the season to 2-16. With a record like that, one never would have guessed he'd make baseball's Hall of Fame. Moving from the perennially last-place Red Sox to the typically first-place New York Yankees of the era could do that. Dobens never did lose a game - but he didn't win one either. The one start of his career came in his last game, on September 25, 1929 in Fenway Park. The opposing pitcher? Bots Nekola. Both pitchers excelled - at the plate. Dobens was 2-for-2 and Nekola was 2-for-3. On the mound, though, neither lasted into the seventh. Ray went 5 2/3 innings, giving up seven earned runs. Nekola went six and gave up four. Neither got the win and neither got the loss; the game went to 11 innings and wound up an 11-10 win for New York.

Dobens was born in Nashua, New Hampshire on July 28, 1906. Of Irish descent, his father Frederick worked in shipping at a brass foundry. His mother Annie Sullivan Dobens was born of Irish parents but was herself a New Hampshire native. Ray had a brother, Frederick, 11 months older; he later became a sports editor and had a son himself, named Raymond. Factory work could have been Ray's fate; at age 14, he was already working as a "helper" in the foundry. He did, however, make it through all 12 grades of the Nashua public school system and, as we have seen, completed his degree at Holy Cross.

He was stocky, listing himself as 175 pounds while standing 5-foot-8. He both pitched and batted left-handed. Even the summer before he started college, he was playing ball, pitching for the Nashua Millionaires of the Boston Twilight League. The Boston Globe said the team's moniker came due to the "lavish manner in which they were supported by the owners." [1] The Eastern League champions from Waterbury challenged Nashua to play for the title of champions of all New England, but the Nashua team had disbanded before the challenge came in. Ray’s son Bob reports, “During Dad's tenure with the Nashua Millionaires, there was a young bat boy Dad befriended and the two became lifelong friends:  Birdie Tebbetts.”[2] Bob’s brother Peter recalls, “As a kid, Birdie lived a block away from my father. Birdie said he learned his craft by catching for my father every day after school. Birdie was an usher at my parents’ wedding.”[3]

For Holy Cross, Dobens played all four years, one of his first wins as a freshman being a 17-0 four-hitter against Boston University on April 28, 1926. When he wasn't pitching, he often played right field, though while describing his two-hit shutout of Yale in May 1927, the Hartford Courant wrote that Dobens "can play any position on the field." [4] He gained a little additional experience pitching in exhibition games against the Boston Braves and Meiji University of Japan. The Crusaders were a strong team under former major-leaguer Jack Barry during this period and won the Eastern Championship in 1926 and from 1928-1930. The players were presented championship rings, but Dobens later lost his “outside of a hotel when the Red Sox were on the road. The doorman that found it, kept it for years. In the 1950s, someone in his family asked Holy Cross to track down the owner and it was returned to my father.”[5]

Once joining the Red Sox, Dobens acquitted himself reasonably well, pitching 28 1/3 innings (0-0, with a 3.81 earned run average) and hitting .375 (3-for-8). Ray's ERA was well under the team's 4.43, and one of the lower ones on the squad.

When the season was over, Dobens shipped out - literally. He and Holy Cross teammate Con Hurley took work as ordinary seamen on the liner President Garfield and embarked on a cruise around the world, leaving New York City in late October. The trip was scheduled to hit 22 ports en route. It was while they were in Shanghai that Ray learned of the death of his mother at age 41 from leukemia.

Dobens took 1930 spring training with the big-league club, but after the first week of April manager Heinie Wagner felt that Ray would be better served by spending some time in the minor leagues and sent him to the Eastern League's Pittsfield (MA) club, the Hillies. He didn't fare well, 2-9 with a 4.86 ERA in an even 100 innings. Later in the year, he headed west and pitched for the Denver Bears, going 3-4 in Western League play.

In 1931, Dobens started with Denver (0-3) but also pitched for Norfolk and New Haven in the Eastern League, accumulating four wins and four more losses. It was his last season in organized baseball.

From baseball he became a Special Investigator with the United States Department of the Treasury working in the Alcohol Tax Unit, where he served for 25 years both before and after World War II. He spent 47 months in military service during the war, becoming a Lieutenant Commander in Naval Intelligence, notably serving a director of a police school in Chungking, China teaching American police methods to "Chinese guerrillas" as his wife Pauline Cecile (Martel) Dobens described his work after his passing. [6] The couple had married on Valentine's Day 1942, five months before he had entered military service.  

Fred Dobens, Ray's brother, turned up in the news in April 1946 when, as president of the Nashua ballclub - now an New England League team - he took on Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, both assigned to Nashua by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Fred Dobens declared that Brooklyn "is carrying its plan to give deserving Negro players a chance to make good in organized baseball down through its farm clubs." [7] Ray’s son Peter Dobens reports that Fred asked Ray to run the baseball operations of the Nashua Dodgers. The team became the first minor-league team based in the United States to integrate (Jackie Robinson played that year for the Montreal Royals). “When Branch Rickey selected Nashua for the Dodgers, it was only after he met with Uncle Fred and was convinced that he had the support of the Nashua Telegraph editorial board. The community, which had a very small black population, embraced Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella.”[8] Fred was later managing editor of the Nashua Telegraph newspaper, and was later its editor as well as the head of the Chamber of Commerce.

After his work as a T-man, Dobens worked as a recreation supervisor for the Veterans Administration. On the side, he scouted for Cincinnati for five years during the 1950s, and several other teams at the request of Birdie Tebbetts.  In addition to Tebbetts, Dobens was a lifelong friend of Neal Mahoney, long-time minor league director for the Boston Red Sox. Son Peter says, “He tried to convince the Red Sox to look at a kid from Manchester, but the Red Sox passed on drafting future Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan.”[9]

Ray’s sons inform us that Ray also worked as a Recreation Specialist for the Defense Department (US Air Force) initially at Grenier AFB, and then at the New Boston NH Satellite Tracking Station. “Dad also was an agent of the IRS for a short time and owned the Willys Overland Jeep dealership in Manchester right after WWII.” [10]

He finally retired from government service in 1967 for reasons of health, which his wife reported were "complications resulting from his overseas Naval duty." [11] For a while, he had his own real estate business. And he kept active with sports, particularly coaching for St. Joseph's Catholic High School in Manchester as well as Henry J. Sweeney Post # 2 American Legion. He also served as the on-field director for many State, Regional and National American Legion tournaments held in Manchester, NH. [12] In 1969, he briefly became vice-president in charge of operations for the Eastern League's Manchester Yankees, but he and a colleague resigned after a couple of months. [13] Even during this brief tenure, however, an interesting development occurred: “the experiment”. The inaugural Manchester Yankees game in 1969 was the first in which the designated hitter was used in organized baseball. One of the players in the game was Ron Blomberg, and he was the first DH when the designated hitter was first introduced into the American League in 1973.[14]

Dobens maintained a residence in Manchester. He died on April 21, 1980 in Stuart, Florida of a collapsed lung which had become cancerous, reported his widow. The couple had six children.


Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.






[1] Boston Globe, September 24, 1925


[2] E-mail from Bob Dobens, September 20, 2010


[3] E-mail from Peter Dobens, October 7, 2011


[4] Hartford Courant, May 29, 1927 


[5] E-mail from Peter Dobens, op. cit.


[6] Player questionnaire in the National Baseball Hall of Fame


[7] Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 1946


[8] E-mail from Peter Dobens, op. cit.


[9] Ibidem


[10] E-mails from Bob Dobens and Peter Dobens, op. cit.


[11] Player questionnaire in the National Baseball Hall of Fame


[12] E-mail from Bob Dobens, op. cit. The Sporting News (August 31, 1968) notes him as on-field director of that year’s American Legion World Series.


[13] The Sporting News, July 12, 1969. The announcement of his appointment to the position had come in the April 26, 1969 issue.


[14] Thanks to Peter Dobens for this information.
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