Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 22-24

We're in elite company now:

34. Jason Varitek
33. Jackie Jensen
32. Rico Petrocelli
31. Johnny Pesky
30. Bill Lee
29. Dom DiMaggio
28. Harry Hooper
27. Fred Lynn
26. Dick Radatz
25. Tim Wakefield

Onward and upward:

24. Dutch Leonard
Red Sox fans should have had a gripe when the NCAA Tournament selection committee left St. Mary's College of California out of the field; there aren't many schools who have groomed for the Red Sox the type of players St. Mary's did in the early part of the century. Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper came out of St. Mary's in 1904 and 1907, respectively -- and Dutch Leonard came right out of St. Mary's in 1912 (after striking out 23 in one college game) and was in Boston just a year later.

And a year after that, he pitched perhaps the greatest single season in Red Sox history. (OK, considering the time period, it might be the second-greatest. We'll get to the greatest in about a week or so.)

In 1914, Leonard allowed 24 earned runs in 224 2/3 innings -- an ERA of 0.96, still a Red Sox record. His ERA+ was 279, an astounding mark that wouldn't be bested by a Red Sox pitcher for almost nine decades. He lost twice in April by identical 1-0 scores, but he ended up winning 19 games to go along with his sensational ERA.

A year later, his ERA skyrocketed all the way up to 2.36 -- fourth-best on what was probably the greatest pitching staff in Red Sox history. And in Game 3 of the World Series that year, he tossed a complete-game three-hitter, earning a 2-1 win when Lewis singled home Hooper with the winning run -- probably as proud a moment for St. Mary's as any college baseball team could ever have.

23. Bob Stanley
Before there was Derek Lowe, there was Bob Stanley -- wild pitch or no wild pitch, the greatest two-way pitcher the Red Sox have ever had. Stanley started at least 10 games four times and saved at least 10 games seven times; he ranks eighth in franchise history in wins (115, just two behind Joe Wood and Pedro Martinez) and first in saves (132, though Jonathan Papelbon is likely to pass him this season).

And while his legacy is the pitch that got away in Game 6 in 1986, his best season came in the other most heartbreaking season in Red Sox history -- 1978.

Stanley was just 23 years old then, coming off a 1977 season in which he'd tossed three complete games and earned three saves -- a perfect debut for a player who would do plenty of both in his career. Unlike the rest of his team, Stanley got off to a rough start in 1978 -- he blew a save in the 11th inning of an April game against Cleveland by surrendering three runs, all with two outs. (The go-ahead run was scored by none other than Duane Kuiper, the boyhood hero of the best sportswriter in America.)

But from that point on, Stanley was close to untouchable. He went 14-1 with a 2.49 ERA doing just about anything the Red Sox asked of him. In a late May game against Toronto, Bill Lee was knocked out after two-thirds of an inning -- and while Stanley allowed a run-scoring single to the first batter he faced, he then pitched 8 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

And as the Red Sox started to fall apart down the stretch, Stanley only got better. He threw 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief against Cleveland on Aug. 8; he earn a win in five straight appearances over a two-week span. He then threw 6 2/3 innings of relief against Oakland on Sept. 3 as the Red Sox turned an early 5-5 tie into an 11-6 win.

From Sept. 1-16, while the rest of the pitching staff was going 1-13 with a 4.54 ERA, Stanley went 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA. His worst outing might have been his Sept. 10 relief stint against the Yankees in which he surrendered three runs in three innings -- but given the way the Yankees had pounded Red Sox pitching to that point (35 runs in three games), three runs in three innings doesn't look all that bad.

And in a Sept. 29 game the Red Sox needed desperately to keep pace with the Yankees, Stanley drew the start -- and threw seven shutout innings to earn his 15th win of the season. Just two days earlier, he'd thrown two-thirds of an inning to earn his 10th save.

Just one other pitcher since World War II has done what Stanley did in 1978 by earning 15 wins, 10 saves and making at least a couple of starts: Joe Black of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. Black pitched in the World Series in 1952. Stanley did almost everything he could to get the Red Sox to the World Series in 1978.

22. Mo Vaughn
Of all the acrimonious departures from Boston in the last couple of decades -- Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs -- none seemed as much a shame of that of the "Hit Dog."

Vaughn grew up in Connecticut and spent every Thanksgiving in Roxbury, Mass.; he was a local guy. He also was a black guy, a big thing for a franchise that has had more issues with race than any other. Even while Vaughn was on his way up through the system, the soft-spoken Ellis Burks was on his way out -- which was almost a relief, given how much he'd felt like an outsider in his years in the Red Sox clubhouse.

But Vaughn seemed to be different. He received a huge standing ovation when his name was announced before his first game; he did what he could to get involved with the community and with charities, to teach young black kids the basics of growing up like writing a check and signing a lease on an apartment.

"He had a history," Sports Illustrated's Leigh Montville wrote. "That was the thing. He was all Boston. He was a civic monument set somewhere on the Freedom Trail, among the Old North Church and the swan boats and a good pot of baked beans. You hear stories all the time about black athletes who cross Boston off their list of places to play, citing its reputation for troubled race relations. Vaughn loved the city. He had been going there all his life."

It helped that he could flat-out smoke the ball -- he hit .297 with 29 home runs and 101 RBI in 1993, and his slugging percentage never again would dip below .500 while he wore a Red Sox uniform.

In 1995, he hit. .300 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI and won the American League's MVP award. In 1996, he one-upped himself in every category -- he hit .326 with 44 home runs and 143 RBI, and he even walked a career-best 95 times. (Thanks in large part to his team's third-place finish, he received no first-place votes in MVP voting.)

But while Burks and Jim Rice tended to be quiet and distant as a way of dealing with being one of the only black faces in the locker room, Vaughn went with the Oil Can Boyd approach -- he made sure his voice was heard. He criticized management for not signing Roger Clemens, for firing Kevin Kennedy, for suggesting he go get an evaluation after a couple of off-field incidents related to late-night activities.

After the 1998 season, he was gone -- and along with him the .936 OPs that ranks him fifth in team history, behind only Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.

"There is a miserableness that surrounds the Red Sox and their fans, all of those years without a World Series, all of the pressure," said Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina, a New England native, in 1999. "Mo was caught in the middle of it."

Coming up: Your votes start determining the order.

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