Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 36-40

The last 10 on the list:

50. Larry Gardner, 3B
49. Reggie Smith, CF
48. Curt Schilling, P
47. Ellis Burks, CF
46. Bill Monbouquette, P
45. Tex Hughson, P
44. Mike Greenwell, LF
43. Duffy Lewis, LF
42. George Scott, 1B/3B
41. Frank Malzone, 3B

As a side note: The more you look at these old Red Sox teams, particularly those from the 1950s and 1960s, the more you have to realize how blessed the Red Sox have been this decade. Normally, when the Red Sox have holes they need to fill, you're talking about a starting second baseman or a third starter or an eighth-inning reliever. Not this year.

40. Buck Freeman
Exactly one player drove in 100 runs in every year from 1901-03, the first three years after the American League split off from the National League. It wasn't Honus Wagner. It wasn't Nap Lajoie. It was John Frank Freeman, who drove in 114, 121 and 104 runs in the first three years of the existence of the Red Sox franchise.

Freeman played two seasons with the Washington Senators and one with the Boston Beaneaters before jumping to the American League with Jimmy Collins and Chick Stahl. In 1899, thanks in part to a short right-field fence, he hit a then-astonishing 25 home runs. In 1901, playing first base for the brand new Boston Americans and hit .339 with 12 home runs and 114 RBI. A year later, he hit .309 with 11 home runs and a league-high 121 RBI.

And in 1903, he hit .287 and drove in a league-high 104 runs; with his 39 doubles, 20 triples and 13 home runs, he led the American League in total bases.

In the 1903 World Series, Freeman had hits in six of the eight games -- including triples in each of the last two games, both Boston wins. His final hit of the series was a leadoff triple in the fourth inning; he scored on a single to center field with the eventual game-winning run.

In his career, Freeman ranks 10th in Red Sox history in adjusted OPS+ (130, just behind Nomar Garciaparra's 133). He, Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx are the only pre-World War II players among the top 10 in franchise history in OPS+.

39. Bruce Hurst
Here's the club's membership: Mike Lowell. Manny Ramirez.

Here's the club: Red Sox World Series MVPs.

Hurst, though, should have been its charter member.

The lefty won 13 games to go along with a 2.99 ERA despite a pulled groin that sidelined him for six weeks. In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against California, he allowed 11 hits but just one earned run in a complete-game win. In Game 5, he allowed three runs in six innings and watched from the dugout as Dave Henderson hit his home run in the top of the ninth and his sacrifice fly in the 11th to win it for the Red Sox.

And then, in the World Series, Hurst really got going.

He tossed eight shutout innings to beat the Mets by a 1-0 score in Game 1; he allowed four hits and walked four, but he wiggled out of a couple of jams. In the sixth inning, with Keith Hernandez on second and Gary Carter on first, he got Ray Knight to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. In the seventh inning, with Wally Backman on second base with one out, Hurst struck out Kevin Mitchell and induced a Mookie Wilson groundout to escape unscathed.

Five days later, he went the distance to beat the Mets in Game 5. He again worked in and out of trouble; he struck out Lenny Dykstra with runners on second and third and one out in the fifth, and he struck out Dykstra again after Rafael Santana had singled home a run with two outs in the top of the ninth, this time to end the game.

Two nights later, with the Red Sox one strike away from a championship, Hurst was voted World Series MVP by the writers. But we all know what happened after that.

38. Ellis Kinder
One of just two pitchers with 80 wins and 80 saves in a Red Sox uniform, "Old Folks" missed out on the prime of his career thanks to World War II. He made his big-league debut with the St. Louis Browns at the age of 31, going 11-18 in two seasons thanks in large part to lousy run support from a team that finished seventh and eighth in those two seasons.

After that, though, he was traded to the Red Sox with stars Vern Stephens and Jack Kramer in time for 1948 -- and two of the most dramatic seasons in Red Sox history. Little did anyone know that Kinder, even more than Stephens, a perennial All-Star -- would be right at the center of those two fateful pennant races.

Kinder won 10 games to go along with a 3.74 ERA in his first full season; with Kramer, Joe Dobson and Mel Parnell, he'd taken his place as a stalwart in the rotation of what looked to be a playoff-bound team. Kramer and Dobson both beat the Yankees on the last weekend of the season to draw the Red Sox even with Cleveland -- all they had to do was beat the Indians in a one-game playoff, and they'd be back in the World Series for the second time in three years.

All that was left was for manager Joe McCarthy to choose a starting pitcher. Parnell had a 3.14 ERA in his 35 appearances (27 starts), but he'd been roughed up a little on three days' rest on Sept. 30 and would have had to come back on three days' rest again to pitch in the playoffs. Furthermore, he was left-handed; the heart of the Indians' lineup hit right-handed. The final strike against him was his youth; at 26, he was by far the youngest pitcher in the Red Sox rotation.

That left Kinder and well-traveled veteran Denny Galehouse. McCarthy chose Galehouse -- and his decision has been second-guessed for six decades.

Not everyone was surprised, though.

"The story of why he picked Denny Galehouse is so locial and clear that I just don't understand wh yit hasn't been explained by some of these so-called expert journalists who are some completely dependent upon statistics," catcher Birdie Tebbetts wrote in his posthumously published memoirs. "I will say this: I have written the reasoning of Joe McCarthy in my diaries, and they are there to be read and pondered after I'm gone, if anyone cares. But his decision was so completely rational I don't understand why nobody has figured it out."

And when Galehouse was interviewed by author Glenn Stout in 1988, he said, "Mr. McCarthy sent another player around to ask several players how they felt about pitching. ... I'm not at liberty to say anything and never will about who was asked, but they all had some little reason maybe why they thought they weren't able to do it. They shall remain nameless. I was the only one who said, 'If he wants me to pitch, I'll pitch.' I was the only one who answered that way.'"

(That player, Stout writes in his book Red Sox Century, was Tebbetts.)

Tebbetts and Galehouse certainly seem to hint toward a reluctance on the part of Kinder. Another factor, though, might have been the 1.50 ERA Galehouse compiled in tossing two complete games in the 1944 World Series. Galehouse had pitched in big games; Kinder still was in just his third year in the league and was in the midst of his first pennant race.

Galehouse, of course, was shelled; by the time McCarthy summoned Kinder from the bullpen, it was 4-0 in the fourth inning and the game was all but over.

A year later, Kinder went 23-6 in 43 appearances (30 starts) with a 3.36 ERA and found himself right in the middle of another controversial finish to the season. But that's a story for another day.

37. Bill Dinneen
36. Jimmy Collins
The best position player and second-best pitcher of the 1903 World Series champion team, Collins and Dinneen were two of the most prominent players to make the leap to the Boston Americans in 1901 and 1902.

Collins was the trailblazer -- the first player to make the jump, and quite possibly the first player ever to tell reporters, "I like to play baseball, but this is a business." (He also was the first third baseman ever to figure out how to field bunts barehanded and, in many ways, the best third baseman in the first two decades of the game's history.) He'd hit 15 home runs for the Nationals in 1898; he'd driven in at least 90 runs in every season between 1897 and 1900. He was the star the new league needed to be seen as legitimate.

But he wasn't just brought on board to play. He was named the first manager of the Boston Americans as well; he would serve in that capacity until he and the team both came unglued a little bit in 1906.

And after Collins made the jump, he set about recruiting his buddies -- and that included Dinneen, a 25-year-old up-and-comer who had just won 20 games for the first time in his career. Dinneen, though, opted against making the jump because he thought his old team still had "some moral right to my services." A year later, though, after his contract expired, he skipped across town to join Collins with the Americans.

Dinneen compiled a 2.93 ERA in his first season with the Americans; a frequent lack of run support, though, handed him 21 losses to go along with 21 wins. Part of the reason for that was the fact that Collins and a couple of other stalwarts in the lineup missed significant time with injuries; Collins drove in just 61 runs in 1902, his lowest total in six years.

A year later, though, Collins was back on the field; the 33-year-old third baseman hit .296 with 33 doubles and 17 triples. Dinneen, the clear No. 2 starter behind Cy Young, won 21 games again to go along with a 2.26 ERA and 148 strikeouts; he threw a three-hit shutout in a key August game against Philadelphia that all but knocked the A's out of the pennant race.

And come the World Series, it again was Dinneen who came up back. After Pittsburgh won Game 1 -- under questionable circumstances; many believe Boston threw the game to make some money -- Dinneen threw a three-hitter and struck out 11 to win Game 2. He got knocked around in Game 4 and Game 6, but he came back in Game 8 of the best-of-nine series to throw another complete-game shutout despite taking a line drive off his pitching hand in the third inning. With his finger still bleeding, he struck out Honus Wagner in the top of the ninth inning to win the first World Series for Boston.

Coming up: The Heathcliff Slocumb trade.

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