Monday, March 23, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 46-50

After a day off to recoup -- someone caught a head cold or something here at OneIf headquarters -- we're back on track and moving into the top 50 Red Sox players of all-time. The last 10, just for some context:

60. Frank Sullivan, P
59. Jim Lonborg, P
58. Tony Conigliaro, OF
57. John Valentin, SS/3B
56. Rick Burleson, SS
55. Pete Runnels, 2B
54. Joe Dobson, P
53. Vern Stephens, SS
52. Carl Mays, P
51. Josh Beckett, P

50. Larry Gardner
Looking at the numbers, Larry Gardner didn't do much in his four trips to the World Series. He hit .179, .235 and .176 in three Fall Classics with the Red Sox and .208 in a return trip with the Cleveland Indians in 1920. It was a far cry from a career in which the Vermont native hit .289 (including .282 with the Red Sox) with 301 doubles and 129 triples. His 87 triples with the Red Sox are good enough for fifth in franchise history, behind only Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker, Buck Freeman and Bobby Doerr.

But you don't have to get a hit to make an impact -- and in the biggest at-bat of Gardner's career, a sacrifice fly was more than enough.

It was Game 8 of the 1912 World Series; the Red Sox and New York Giants had won three games apiece with darkness having ended Game 2 in a tie. (Gardner's ground ball to shortstop scored Duffy Lewis with the run that sent that game into extra innings.) Hugh Bedient and Christy Mathewson had dueled for seven innings; when Bedient was pulled, Mathewson and Joe Wood had dueled for three more. It was the bottom of the 10th inning -- and the Giants had taken a 2-1 lead in the top half.

Wood, who had taken a line drive off the hand in the top of the 10th, as lifted for pinch-hitter Clyde Engle. Engle's routine fly ball, though, eluded the grasp of Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass; the first hitter of the inning ended up on second base. Hooper then hit a fly ball to center field to advance Engle to third. Steve Yerkes then walked. Tris Speaker hit a weak pop fly along the first-base line, but it fell between first baseman Fred Merkle and catcher Chief Meyers; given a reprieve, Speaker singled to right to score Engle and move Yerkes around to third. Mathewson then walked Duffy Lewis intentionally to load the bases with one out.

Gardner was next. He'd hit .160 through the first seven games of the series but already had a double to his credit in Game 8. (He'd been thrown out trying to take third.) The last time hed stepped to the plate with men on base, though, he'd never had a chance to swing the bat. Yerkes had been picked off third. This time, though, Yerkes stayed where he was -- and Gardner hit a long fly ball to right field. It was more than enough to score Yerkes with the game-winning run.

49. Reggie Smith
In history, nothing ever happens just once. Here's one for you: A power-hitting prospect who didn't reach his potential with the Minnesota Twins, his first organization, broke through with the Red Sox and had a huge season in a season in which the Red Sox got closer to a championship than they had in more than a decade. Also, in that season, that particular power hitter also stole 16 bases.

OK, so it's not a perfect analogy.

But Smith, like David Ortiz in 2003, was a guy who helped rocket the Red Sox to new heights with his first real breakthrough season. He hit .210 in April, .214 in May and .187 in June of his first full season -- while Tony Conigliaro was capturing the imagination of a city, Smith was still trying to find his way. So too were the Red Sox, in many ways, despite their imagination-gripping success.

At the end of the day on July 8, the Red Sox were seven games out of first place. The next day, they lost the first game of a doubleheader against Detroit when Gary Bell and Jose Santiago both were shelled in the early innings.

In the second inning of the second game of the doubleheader, though, Smith hit a two-run home run to lift the Red Sox to a 3-0 win. Over the next two weeks, Smith hit .340 and scored eight runs as the Red Sox won 12 of 13; he went 5-for-8 with three runs scored in a doubleheader sweep of Cleveland that pulled the Red Sox within half a game of first place. He then hit three home runs and drove in six runs in a doubleheader sweep of California on Aug. 20 to keep the Red Sox in the race.

Smith then hit a pair of home runs in the World Series; he even went back-to-back with Rico Petrocelli in the fourth inning of Game 6.

But Smith just kept blossoming after that 1967 season. He hit 25 home runs in 1969 and 30 home runs in 1971; he even stole 10 or more bases in five of six seasons from 1967-72. By the time he was traded to St. Louis in October of 1973, he'd hit 149 home runs, which ties him for 17th in franchise history.

48. Curt Schilling
Sitting at the bar at a restaurant in Randolph, Mass., today, two guys were watching a SportsCenter feature on Schilling. One spoke up during a discussion of the injuries that had forced the righthander's retirement: "Who cares about his shoulder? Tell us if he's going to get into the Hall of Fame!"

Well, then. Let's take a look.

Schilling finished his career with 216 wins, 146 losses and a 3.46 ERA. His career ERA+ (adjusted for era and ballpark) is 127.

One good place to start is Schilling's comparables on Among them:
* Kevin Brown (211-144, 3.28, 126)
* Bob Welch (211-146, 3.47, 106)
* Orel Hershiser (204-150, 3.48, 111)
* John Smoltz (210-147, 3.26, 126)
* Don Drysdale (209-166, 2.95, 120)
* Catfish Hunter (224-166, 3.26, 104)

Brown, Welch and Hershiser aren't in the Hall of Fame and never will be. Drysdale and Hunter are in the Hall of Fame; Smoltz will be as soon as he calls it quits and his five-year window is up.

Just looking at the ERA+ numbers, Schilling is at the head of that group. He's got a better ERA+ than any of them. His ERA+, in fact, ranks him in the top half of the 58 pitchers in the Hall of Fame; Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver each have an ERA+ of 127; Jim Palmer has an ERA+ of 126.

The downside for Schilling is that he was never considered one of the dominant pitchers of his era. He never won a Cy Young Award (though he finished second three times between 2001 and 2001 and 2004); he didn't win 20 games until he was 34 years old, and by then, he was teamed with Randy Johnson and later Pedro Martinez and Josh Beckett.

The upside for Schilling is his postseason track record. In 19 playoff starts, Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, striking out 120 and walking 25. He pitched a complete-game shutout in the 1993 World Series for Philadelphia, he teamed with Johnson to win the 2001 World Series in Arizona (1.69 ERA in 21 1/3 ERA in), and he pitched the "Bloody Sock" game to get the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004. No one with as many as 15 postseason starts has a better ERA.

That ought to be enough. It might not be on the first ballot, but he'll get in.

47. Ellis Burks
A year after the Red Sox came within one strike of a World Series title, Ellis Burks won the starting job vacated by the departed Tony Armas. In what otherwise was a lost year for the fifth-place Red Sox, Burks hit 20 home runs and stole 27 bases; he was just the third Red Sox player ever to go 20-20 in a single season.

A year later, Burks played in every game of the "Morgan Magic" run in July and August; he hit .310 and drove in 13 runs as the Red Sox won 19 of 20 games to leap from fourth place, 8 1/2 games behind Detroit, to a tie with Detroit, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Two and a half months later, the Red Sox were in the playoffs.

At that point, with Burks still just 24 years old, Red Sox had visions of Fred Lynn Redux in center field. As with Lynn, though, injuries took a bite out of Burks' potential. He had to undergo shoulder surgery in 1989, costing him a month and a half in the middle of the season; he played in just 97 games. Three years later, he played in just 66 games thanks to an assortment of knee and back injuries; he left as a free agent after that season.

By then, though, he'd put together a resume that ranks him in the top 50 in Red Sox history in almost every offensive category, including 15th in stolen bases (with 95, tied with Jackie Jenson and ahead of Nomar Garciaparra).

46. Bill Monbouquette
A cult hero thanks to his local roots and his unwieldy last name, Monbo broke through in 1960 and pitched at least 200 innings for six straight seasons after that. He went to three All-Star Games. He won at least 13 games five times he threw at least 10 complete games five times.

He just had the misfortune of pitching for some brutally mediocre Red Sox teams.

In 1960, Monbouquette finished the season with a 3.64 ERA and three complete-game shutouts, including a one-hitter against the Detroit in May and a five-hitter against the Tigers in July in which the Red Sox gave him one measly run. A year later, he dropped his ERA to 3.39 and threw struck out 17 in a mid-May start against Washington, breaking the Red Sox single-game record. (In that game, he even drew a bases-loaded walk to drive home the game-winning run.)

In 1962, Monboquette threw a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox, outdueling Hall of Famer Early Wynn -- but even that only improved his record to 9-10. That game, though, started a stretch in which he went 7-3 with a 1.68 ERA in August and September. The stretch run didn't mean much, though, for a Red Sox team that finished eighth in the American League.

(Here's a fun story from that no-hitter, in his own words: "I had (Luis) Aparicio, 0 and 2, and threw him a slider off the plate. He tried to hold up, and I thought he went all the way. The umpire, Bill McKinley, called it a ball, and as I was getting the ball back from the catcher, someone shouted from the stands, 'They shot the wrong McKinley.' I had to back off the mound because I had a little chuckle to myself. The next pitch, I threw him another slider and he swung and missed. They say white men can't jump, but I did. It's about the biggest thrill I ever had.")

A year later, Monbouquette won 20 games for the first time; he threw two complete games in April and a three-hit shutout in July, and he struck out at least 10 hitters three times.

The Red Sox, though, still finished seventh. Story of his career.

Coming up: My dad's autographed baseball.

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