This article was written by Herb Crehan
The Boston Red Sox acquired second baseman Denny Doyle from the California Angels in mid-June 1975 to solidify the team’s infield defense. But Denny Doyle did a lot more for the 1975 Red Sox than just shore up their defense.
Doyle batted a career-high .298 in 1975, batting .310 in 89 games with the Red Sox, and he put together a 22-game hitting streak that topped the American League that season. Most importantly, he brought a level of intensity and preparation that helped to bring the Red Sox within one game of their first world championship in 57 years.
Interviewed in his Winter Haven, Florida, home, Doyle still remembered every detail of joining the Red Sox on June 13, 1975. “I remember when I was first told about the deal. It was so exciting to go from a last-place team where I wasn’t playing much to a first-place team where I would be a regular. I remember the writers covering the Angels asked for my reaction to the move, and I told them I was disappointed. I said I was disappointed because I couldn’t get an earlier flight to Kansas City to join the Red Sox.”1
Doyle, who was 31 years old when he joined the Red Sox, remembered being called in to meet with Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson and his coaches before his first game with the team. “Darrell said to me, ‘You are here for your defense. Anything you do with the bat is a plus.’ Then he asked me where I liked to hit in the batting order. I told him that anywhere in the first nine was fine with me. You could almost hear a sigh of relief. It was the beginning of a great relationship and a wonderful year.”
Robert Dennis Doyle was born on January 17, 1944, in Louisville, Kentucky. He grew up in the small town of Cave City, about 75 miles south of Louisville. He said he had fond memories of growing up in a warm family environment as part of a small, closely-knit community.
Sports were an important activity in the Doyle household. “My Dad was a good athlete but he had grown up working on his family’s farm so he didn’t get to pursue an athletic career. I can remember playing catch with my dad in the back yard when I was probably 3 years old.”
He said one moment with his father stood out in his memory. “My Dad was kind of soft-spoken, and when he said something you paid attention. When I was about 10 or 11, he said, ‘Son, if you are the first one there and the last to leave and you don’t let anyone outwork you in between, you will do what you want to do and you will be successful.’ I never forgot those words. That’s what I did as a baseball player and that’s what I still do today.”
Doyle played all sports at Caverna High School and he attracted plenty of interest from the professional baseball scouts. But when he graduated from high school his first love was basketball.
“I had chances to sign a professional baseball contract but they wanted to sign me as a pitcher and I didn’t want to pitch,” Doyle remembered. “And I had baseball scholarship offers from schools like Florida State and Arizona. But my dream at that time was to become the next Bob Cousy. Morehead State in Kentucky offered me a basketball scholarship and I took it.”
By the end of his senior year at Morehead, Doyle had accepted the fact that his future was not in the NBA. But he was ready to pursue a career in professional baseball. His hopes were all but dashed when he wasn’t drafted in the amateur free-agent draft of 1965.
“That was the first year of the free-agent draft for amateurs. Before that, all the clubs competed to sign prospects. Thousands of prospects were drafted, but I wasn’t one of them. I was very disappointed,” Doyle emphasized.
“I stuck around Morehead State for summer school to pick up the few credits I needed for my degree. My baseball coach at Morehead approached me and asked me if I would help him out with a two-day Little League clinic he was giving in Ashland, Kentucky. I was still disappointed about not being drafted, but I told him I would help out.
“When we got there, Mel Clark, who was a longtime scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, was there. He was surprised that I hadn’t been drafted and he told me to bring my glove the next day and he would work me out. After our workout he called the Phillies and got permission to sign me. I may be the only former major leaguer who was signed from a Little League clinic.”
Doyle’s journey from Morehead Sate to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia encompassed stops in four cities, a coast-to coast journey and almost five years. His odyssey began with the Phillies farm club in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he led the league in hits and batted .308. There he teamed up with a shortstop who would be his double-play partner for the next seven seasons, Larry Bowa, who went on to play 16 big-league seasons and manage the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies for 5½ seasons.
After a strong 1967 season with the Tidewater club in Portsmouth, Virginia, Doyle was promoted to Reading in the Eastern League. Reading was a short distance from Philadelphia, but at age 24 with two young children, Doyle was feeling a little discouraged.
“I had a good spring training in 1968, but I wasn’t sure if I was on track for the big leagues. I talked to my manager, Frank Lucchesi, and he told me to hang in there. He said I was headed to Triple-A the next season and the next stop was the big leagues.”
Lucchesi proved to be as good as his word. The following season Doyle, Bowa, and Lucchesi were all promoted to Eugene, Oregon, the Phillies’ top minor-league club. At Eugene, Doyle led the Pacific Coast League in hits and was named both the league’s Rookie of the Year and its Most Valuable Player.
Doyle had the distinction of playing for the 1970 Philadelphia Phillies in their last year at ancient Shibe Park, which had been renamed Connie Mack Stadium. He also played for the Phillies in their first year at Veterans Stadium, 1971. Best of all, he played both seasons as their regular second baseman. Connie Mack Stadium was showing its age, but Doyle remembered the well-manicured infield. “The stadium wasn’t much but they still took care of the infield. It reminded me of Fenway that way.” Doyle and Bowa formed an outstanding double-play combination for Philadelphia.
On July 18, 1972, San Diego Padres pitcher Steve Arlin had a no-hitter in progress when Doyle stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning. Padres manager Don Zimmer pulled in his third baseman to guard against the possible bunt. Doyle placed a ball right over the third baseman’s head and Arlin’s date with destiny was over.
Doyle spent four solid seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. As Christmas 1973 approached, the Doyles were comfortably settled in their Laurel Springs home in southern New Jersey. Then on December 6, Denny learned that he had been traded to the California Angels.
“That was tough,” Doyle reflected. “We had three little girls and we were happy in the area. You know it can happen any time in baseball, but to get traded to the other coast in a new league. That was hard.”
The following season with the Angels, Doyle played a career-high 147 games, and batted a respectable .260. But the team finished a disappointing sixth in the American League West. Despite musical chairs with the manager’s seat, the Angels managed only 68 wins.
The 1975 Boston Red Sox were considered a contender in the American League East, but they were not the favorites. That honor went to the Baltimore Orioles,who had captured the division the two previous years. And the New York Yankees, who had finished two games behind the Orioles the previous year, were more highly rated than the Red Sox.
The Red Sox had a poor April, finishing the month with a 7-9 record and a fifth-place position. But the team improved in May, and a 6-0 win over the Angels on May 24 at Fenway Park put the Red Sox in first place in the division. Boston’s pitching was better than predicted, and the “Gold Dust Twins,” Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, were off to a great start.
For Doyle, who was in the visitors’ clubhouse with the Angels that day, the season was off to a terrible start. He had lost his starting job at second base to a rookie from Somerset, Massachusetts, by the name of Jerry Remy. “It was a tough time for me,” Doyle recalled. “The Angels were playing very poorly and I was hardly playing. It was not a good situation.”
The Red Sox compiled a record of 16-9 for May and held on to first place in the East. The team continued to play well into June, and it became clear that the Red Sox were a legitimate contender in their division. General manager Dick O’Connell concluded that they needed an upgrade from the injury-prone Doug Griffin at second base in order to compete with the Orioles and Yankees. On June 14 the Red Sox acquired Denny Doyle from the Angels.
“I remember walking into the lobby of the Red Sox hotel in Kansas City and Don Zimmer said to Darrell Johnson, ‘I told you he would be here.’ Apparently Darrell had speculated that I would take some time to look after personal business. I was so happy to be joining a winning team and getting a chance to play, there was no way I was going to miss a minute.”
And Denny Doyle didn’t waste any time making an impact on his new team. He made a game-saving defensive play in his first game and hit a key home run in his second game.
“In my first game there was a ball hit up the middle and I dove for it and came up with it. I threw the runner out from my knees,” he recalled. Asked if he remembered the home run, Doyle responded, “I only hit 16 home runs at the big-league level so I remember them all. That one came on a hanging slider from Dennis Leonard. It was nice to contribute right away.”
The Red Sox rattled off six straight wins after Doyle was inserted in the lineup, and he felt comfortable right away. “That was a great team and it was easier for me to hit being surrounded by great players. I was batting second with hitters like Yaz, Fisk, Lynn, and Rice behind me. It made me a better hitter. They let me put the hit-and-run on myself, and there was one point where we made that work seven times in a row.”
It took Doyle a while to get used to the passion of the Red Sox fans. “I had heard about it, and I had read about it. But until you play in front of those fans day after day you don’t realize how much they care about their team. Red Sox fans are just unbelievable.”
On July 12, just before the All-Star break, Doyle hit safely against the Texas Rangers in a 10-4 Red Sox win. That began a hitting streak that saw him hit safely in 22 games. During his streak the Red Sox won 17 times and lost only five. Doyle downplayed this personal streak: “It was nice, and I’m proud of it. But it doesn’t really mean anything because we didn’t reach our goal that season. If we had won the World Series then it would really be something to talk about.”
The Red Sox continued their hold on first place and played consistent winning baseball throughout August. When the team returned to Boston in early September after a disappointing road trip, Doyle was shocked to see a sports-page headline that read, “Choke Again!”
“I went into the clubhouse the next day and I said to Pudge [Fisk], ‘Am I in the right city?’ I showed him the headline and told him they couldn’t be talking about us. He said, ‘You’ll get used to it. That’s just how they are here.’”
A more pleasant memory for Doyle was the time he spent with Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. “I was always in the clubhouse early and he was usually around, so we got to talk. What a gentleman. He was a ‘man’s man.’ I really enjoyed him.”
The Red Sox overcame the fears of the press and their fans, clinching the Eastern Division title despite a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on September 27; Baltimore lost a doubleheader to the Yankees, eliminating them as competition. The Red Sox then prepared to meet the West Division-winning Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.
Oakland had won three straight world championships, and after winning 98 games to lead the American League West the Athletics were heavily favored to defeat the Red Sox. But Boston won the first two games in Fenway Park, and hung on for a 5-3 victory in Oakland to sweep the A’s in three games.
Doyle wasn’t surprised by the team’s “upset” of the defending world champions. “We had a team that never thought we would lose. We went into every game expecting to win. The fans might have been surprised that we swept Oakland, but we weren’t.”
Doyle had three hits during the three-game series. But his scouting report on Oakland pitcher Ken Holtzman may have been his biggest contribution. Holtzman, who had won 18 games for the A’s, was the losing pitcher in Games One and Three.
“I watched him when I thought we might face him in the playoffs. And I had faced him in the National League. I noticed that when he was going to throw a curve to a left-handed hitter, he flared his glove during his windup and delivery. I passed that on to Yaz, Lynn, Carbo, and Cooper. It helped all of us.”
The 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds ranks high among Series classics. The teams split the first two games at Fenway Park, with the Red Sox winning the opener behind a Luis Tiant masterpiece, while the Reds came from behind to win Game Two, 3-2.
The Reds won Game Three at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, but Tiant threw 163 pitches for a 5-4 Game Four win to tie the Series. A 6-2 Reds win in Game Five brought the Red Sox home to Boston with their backs against the wall.
Game Six featured Carlton Fisk’s dramatic 12th-inning home run that has become baseball’s most watched video clip. But Doyle was involved in a ninth-inning play that allowed the game to get to the 12th. The score was tied, 6-6, and the bases were loaded with no one out when Fred Lynn lifted a fly to short left field. When Reds left fielder George Foster made the catch, Doyle, at third, tagged up and attempted to score the winning run. He was thrown out at the plate and the stage was set for Fisk’s subsequent game-winning home run. After the game, Zimmer told the press, “I was yelling, ‘no, no, no’ and with the crowd noise he thought I was saying, ‘go, go, go.’’
Asked for his memory of the daring ninth-inning dash for victory, Doyle replied thoughtfully. “First, let me say that Don Zimmer was the best third-base coach I ever had. He and I teamed up over the last months of the season, and we were able to run on a number of outfielders with weaker arms. In Game Six, I was the runner and it was up to me to pick up the third-base coach’s direction. I didn’t do that. There really isn’t anything more to say.
“Except when I see Pudge [Fisk], I tell him, ‘You ought to thank me. If I had scored the winning run you wouldn’t be nearly as famous.’ It’s almost as if it was meant to be.”
After taking a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, the Red Sox eventually bowed to the Reds, 4-3. In a World Series that included five future Hall of Fame players, Denny Doyle was the only player on either team to hit safely in all seven games.
Like most of his teammates, Doyle was bitterly disappointed by the loss, but he was comforted by the Red Sox’ prospects for future success. “That was a great team,” he said. “And we had a nucleus for years to come. We all thought we would get another chance in the World Series.”
But the 1976 Boston Red Sox never regained the magic of the 1975 season. The team started poorly and manager Darrell Johnson was fired in midseason. Don Zimmer replaced Johnson, but failed to turn the team around. The Red Sox won only 83 games and finished a distant 15½ games behind the division-leading Yankees.
In 1977 the Red Sox improved to 97 wins, but tied for second in the East Division with the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees topped the East and went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers for the world championship. Doyle had played capably as the starting second baseman in both years, but the Red Sox were determined to make some moves in the offseason.
When Doyle reported to spring training in Winter Haven, Florida, for the 1978 season, there was a familiar face contending for the second-base job. The Red Sox had acquired Jerry Remy from the Angels the previous December. The Red Sox released Doyle on March 28, 1978.
Asked how it felt to lose his starting job to Jerry Remy twice, Doyle replied, “The only feeling I have is wishing that he [Jerry] never had that knee injury. He had a nice career. But it would have been an even better career, and a longer career, if he had never been hurt.”
“I was devastated when I was released by the Red Sox,” Doyle acknowledged. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew I could teach high-school science and I had some discussions about coaching in the minors. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to start a baseball school with my bothers.”
Doyle’s twin brothers, Brian and Blake, were also professional baseball players. Blake had been drafted by the Orioles and was playing in the minor leagues. Brian was in his rookie year with the Yankees. The Doyle Baseball School caught its first break when Brian, playing in place of injured Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph, had a sensational World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Brian went 7-for-16, with a number of key hits, and just missed being named the Series MVP. During a telecast, announcer Joe Garagiola mentioned that the Doyle brothers were starting a baseball school in December. The timing couldn’t have been better.
“When our first session started in Winter Haven, Florida, we had 150 to 175 youngsters at our camp. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that we would touch over 750,000 youngsters, coaches, and parents over the next 27 years [as of 2005].”
As of 2014, Doyle Baseball was headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, but its reach extends far beyond. “We have trained so many instructors in our approach, that at any time in the spring there might be 15 to 20 sessions going on around the country that are part of our program,” Denny and his wife, Martha Carol Doyle, are longtime residents of Winter Haven, Florida.
Of his Red Sox teammates, Doyle said, “Luis Tiant was just a great pitcher, a great competitor. And I always enjoyed playing behind Bill Lee. He worked fast and he always had an idea of what he was trying to do.
“And we had a whole lineup of great hitters. We had quiet leaders like Yaz and Rico, and a not-so-quiet leader in Pudge Fisk. And Rick Burleson was one of the most competitive guys I ever played with. He and Larry Bowa [Phillies shortstop] were in a league of their own when it came to intensity.”
But Doyle ranked the Red Sox fans right up there along with his memories of his teammates. “I remember one game when there was a long rain delay. When they started to play again, there were only a few thousand fans left. They made an announcement inviting the remaining fans to move down to the front row.
“Well, there were these three fans in the front row down the right-field line who were really giving it to me. They just wouldn’t let up. There was a pop fly beyond first base and I caught it on the run. But I didn’t stop; I kept running straight at them. When I got there, I took the ball, gave it to the loudest one, and said, ‘You guys are great.’ Years later I got a note in the mail from the guy. He said, ‘About 12 years ago you gave me a ball and I just want you to know that it is still sitting up on my mantle.’”
One memory of Red Sox fans particularly stood out. “It was during the World Series and my whole family was in town. We went out to dinner together to a nice restaurant on Newbury Street after the game. When we got there the place was packed and I wasn’t sure if we could get seated. But I knew the maître d’ and he took us right away. When he was leading us to our table everyone in the room got up and gave us a standing ovation. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
Reflecting on his years with the Red Sox, Doyle offered, “You know, when I joined the Red Sox I was in my 10th year of professional baseball. I had played in the National League and the American League. But I never felt like I had played in the major leagues until I played for the Red Sox in front of those fans in Fenway Park. Red Sox fans are in a class all by themselves.”
Last revised: August 27, 2014
Interview with Denny Doyle on July 15, 2005.
1976 Red Sox Press-Radio-TV Guide.
Stout, Glenn, and Richard A. Johnson, Red Sox Century (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000).
Portions of this article originally appeared in Red Sox Magazine and the permission of the Boston Red Sox to use this material is gratefully acknowledged.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations attributed to Doyle come from an in-person interview conducted on July 15, 2005.