Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 41-45

Here's the company through which we're moving; it's getting more and more elite by the day:

55. Pete Runnels, 2B
54. Joe Dobson, P
53. Vern Stephens, SS
52. Carl Mays, P
51. Josh Beckett, P
50. Larry Gardner, 3B
49. Reggie Smith, CF
48. Curt Schilling, P
47. Ellis Burks, CF
46. Bill Monbouquette, P

And onward we press:

45. Tex Hughson
Pitching a baseball was a tenuous venture back in the days before pitch counts and ligament replacement surgery; just ask Cecil Hughson.

The Austin, Texas, native won 22 games with a 2.59 ERA as the ace of the Red Sox staff in 1942; the Red Sox won 91 games and finished second in the American League before losing Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky to the armed forces. Two years later, with Bobby Doerr perhaps the only other recognizeable name left, Hughson went 18-5 with a 2.26 ERA and threw a pair of complete-game shutouts before being called into the military.

Hughson remained in uniform through the end of the war in 1945. (Like many of his fellow players, he wasn't exactly on the front lines. "I fought World War II with a bat and glove," he later said.) But in 1946, with everyone back, he won 20 games with a 2.75 ERA for a team that finally put it all together.

Hughson already was fighting issues with a sore arm; in 1946, though, everything felt good. He struck out a team-best 172 to go along with just 51 walks; he tossed six shutouts among his 21 complete games. His most memorable game might have been the three-hit shutout he threw against Cleveland in mid-September to clinch the pennant and the Red Sox's first trip to the World Series in almost 30 years.

He got the start in Game 1 of the World Series against St. Louis, tossing eight solid innings in a 3-2 win. He then was shelled on three days' rest in Game 4, lasting just two innings and allowing six runs (though a pair of Red Sox errors didn't help the cause). Still, though, he was in position to start either Game 6 or Game 7 after Joe Dobson's four-hitter in Game 5 put the Red Sox in position to clinch a title.

Instead, though, Cronin started lefty Mickey Harris, saying he would save both Hughson and Boo Ferriss for a possible Game 7. (The Cardinals didn't argue the decision: "I don't want to have to face Hughson again," manager Eddie Dyer said.) Harris, though, gave up five hits in the fourth inning of Game 6 and had to be yanked. In came Hughson, who tossed 4 1/3 shutout innings to keep the Red Sox in the game. It was the last meaningful performance of his career -- and, as it turned out, it came in a lost cause. The Red Sox lost Game 6 and then lost Game 7 when relievers Bob Klingler and Earl Johnson couldn't hold a one-run lead in the eighth inning.

A year later, the wear and tear of the 1946 season caught up to Hughson. He made 26 starts and threw 13 complete games, but he had to fight arm trouble all year. And in 1948, after a trade for slugger Vern Stephens launched the Red Sox into the thick of another pennant race, Hughson had almost nothing left. When he got into a critical game against the Yankees on the final day of the 1949 season, he'd gone a month without pitching. The three-run double he surrendered was a rough way to go out for the pitcher with the 11th-most wins (96) and 11th-best ERA+ (125, tied with Babe Ruth and Mel Parnell) in franchise history.

44. Mike Greenwell
Left field is to Boston what center field always seemed to be to New York -- a spot reserved for the elite of the elite, the best of the best, every generation's once-in-a-generation hitter. Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice all are in the Hall of Fame; "The Gator" appeared to be on his way there after his spectacular debut in 1987 and his MVP-caliber season in 1988.

In those two seasons, Greenwell put up some spectacular numbers for a team that still was making the playoffs every other year:
1987: .328, 19 home runs, 89 RBI (in 412 at-bats)
1988: .325, 22 home runs, 119 RBI

It was an arc that had fans once again envisioning Yaz, envisioning a guy who could play left field for World Series contenders for years. But Greenwell -- who still wasn't 26 years old -- seemed to plateau after that. He hit 14 home runs in 1989 and 14 more in 1990; he then hit just nine home runs despite a full season's worth of at-bats in 1991. He even fought with rising star Mo Vaughn around the batting cage in August. And in 1992, he landed on the disabled list in mid-June and never emerged.

He never grew into Yaz. He wasn't even Jason Bay. But on a team with underachievers up and down the lineup (Jack Clark, anyone?), he was a perennial threat to hit .300 with 15 home runs and 30 doubles; among players with at least 4,000 plate appearances in a Red Sox uniform, his .303 career batting average ranks him ninth. He ranks among the top 10 in franchise history in hits (10th) and doubles (ninth), and only 12 players have driven in more runs or delivered more extra-base hits.

He'll always be remembered for what he wasn't. What he was, though, was pretty good.

43. Duffy Lewis
The greatest outfield in Red Sox history? You can have Lynn-Rice-Evans. You can have Williams-DiMaggio-Whoever happened to be playing right field. You can have Ramirez-Damon-Nixon. You can have them all.

Not before or since have the Red Sox seen an outfield like they had from 1910-15: Harry Hooper in right field, Tris Speaker in center field and Duffy Lewis in left field.

Lewis was the youngest of the three. He's also the only one not enshrined in Cooperstown. But in his eight seasons in Boston, he carved out a more than respectable career for himself. He won three World Series titles; he even became the second Red Sox player in history to drive in more than 100 runs in a season when he drove in 109 in 1912.

And never more was his run-producing ability more critical than during the 1915 World Series. Lewis had driven home a team-best 76 runs that year to go along with his 31 doubles, seven triples and two home runs; his .291 batting average ranked him second to Tris Speaker among regulars. But he really got going during the World Series:

* In Game 1, he drove in the only Red Sox run in a 3-1 defeat.
* In Game 3, he singled to right field to plate the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-1 Red Sox win. ("The crowd came out of the stands, over the fences, and they carried me off," he said later. "They were so excited that they almost broke my back.")
* In Game 4, his double to left in the sixth inning provided the margin of victory in a 2-1 Red Sox win.
* And in Game 5, he hit a two-run home run to center field in the eighth inning to tie the game at 4 and set up Harry Hooper's go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth.

All told, Lewis went 8-for-18 (.444) with five RBI in the series; Hooper was the only other Red Sox player to drive in more than one run in the five games.

42. George Scott
Before there was Kevin Youkilis, there was George Scott.

"Everyone knows what a great first baseman he was," Bill Lee once wrote, "but he was also the best third baseman I'd ever seen. He played a lot of third the year I came up (in 1969), and he was awesome. The only reason he wasn't used there regularly was because he was an even better first baseman. George deserved every Gold Glove he ever won.

"Once Bert Campaneris, while he was still a shortstop with Oakland, bunted the ball on me down the first-base line. He pushed it, but he didn't quite get it past me. I came in and made the play in one motion, but I got off a bad throw, skipping the ball through Campy's legs. George went inside the bag on the foul side of the line and picked the ball cleanly from between Campy's legs for an out. That was remarkable."

Oh, and he could really hit, too. He hit 27 home runs as a rookie first baseman in 1966, including two home runs apiece in back-to-back games on a road trip in early May. In 1967, he was benched for a week in August to send a message about his growing waistline -- only to hit three home runs in a two-game span immediately upon his return. On the second-to-last day of the season, with the Red Sox and Twins tied at 2 in the sixth inning, Scott hit his 17th home run of the season to put his team ahead for good.

"Boomer" saw his numbers tumble in 1968, but he bounced back to hit 16, 16 and 24 home runs over the next three seasons before he was traded to Milwaukee. He was reacquired by the Red Sox in 1977 and hit 33 home runs that year; his 154 career dingers in a Red Sox uniform ranks him 16th all-time.

41. Frank Malzone
Autographs just weren't treasured in the 1950s the way they're treasured today -- or, at least, not by my dad. After a family friend brought him over to the Red Sox third baseman's Needham, Mass., house to get a baseball signed, Dad took the ball out into the backyard of his family's home to play with it. Sure enough, the ball rolled into the woods behind the house. He never found it.

Too bad. Not only could he sell the baseball online to make a quick $50 or $60, if he wanted, but he'd also have possession of a baseball autographed by perhaps the second-best Red Sox third baseman of all-time.

Malzone hit .276 in his 11 seasons with the Red Sox; he broke through in 1957 with a .292 batting average to go along with 15 home runs and 103 RBI, earning him an All-Star nod and the only Rookie of the Year vote that didn't go to New York's Tony Kubek. (For what it's worth, Malzone finished seventh in MVP voting with 58 points; Kubek finished 26th with one point.)

The Red Sox finished in third place that year and again the year after that. They wouldn't finish over .500 again, though, until 1967.

Malzone's best year came in 1962, when he hit .283 with 21 home runs and 95 RBI -- one more RBI than 22-year-old left fielder Carl Yastrzemski. He finished his career with 1,454 hits in a Red Sox uniform -- ninth-best in franchise history.

Coming up: The quintessential player-manager.

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