Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 51-55

Here's where we've been over the last couple of days:

65. Rube Foster, P
64. Trot Nixon, OF
63. Marty Barrett, 2B
62. Johnny Damon, OF
61. Jonathan Papelbon, P
60. Frank Sullivan, P
59. Jim Lonborg, P
58. Tony Conigliaro, OF
57. John Valentin, SS/3B
56. Rick Burleson, SS

And here's an obligatory transitional sentence meant to get us from the above list to the below capsules, which is really what we're all here for:

55. Pete Runnels
Five players since World War II have won more than one batting title in a Red Sox uniform: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Nomar Garciaparra and Pete Runnels. That's not bad company. Runnels hit .320 in his five seasons with the Red Sox, a mark that ranks him fifth in franchise history behind only Williams, Boggs, Garciaparra and Tris Speaker. (Jimmie Foxx also hit .320 in his 6 1/2 seasons in Boston.)

The second baseman was acquired in a 1958 trade with Washington and promptly finished second in the American League in batting average; his mark of .322 trailed only Williams' .328. A year later, he hit .314 while splitting time between first base and second base to make room for Pumpsie Green, the first black player in the history of the franchise. In 1960, he hit .320 and won his first career batting title.

Runnels, though, had the misfortune of playing for a Red Sox team with zero identity and zero hope of going anywhere. Williams was on his way out and Yastrzemski on his way in, but the Red Sox still failed to win 80 games in any of Runnels' five season. The Red Sox, in fact, failed to win 80 games in every season between 1958 and 1967. After Runnels won his second batting title in 1962, the Red Sox shipped him to Houston.

54. Joe Dobson
You hear all the time about people who blow fingers off their hands to avoid military service. Dobson blew two fingers off his left hand when he was a nine-year-old boy playing with explosives, and not only did he serve two years in the military, but his 106 career wins ranks him ninth in franchise history, one ahead of Lefty Grove.

Dobson was traded to the Red Sox as part of a three-team trade featuring Doc Cramer; at that point, he was a 23-year-old coming off a 3-7 season in which he'd compiled a 4.95 ERA. A year later, though, he already was one of the stalwarts of the Red Sox rotation. And after he returned from military service that cost him the 1944 and 1945 seasons, he blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the American League.

Boo Ferriss and Tex Hughson anchored the pitching staff all season long for the 1946 Red Sox, but neither outpitched Dobson in the World Series against St. Louis. Dobson tossed a complete game in Game 5 and came out of the bullpen in Games 2 and 7; all told, in 12 2/3 innings, he surrendered zero earned runs and struck out 10.

And a year later, Dobson led the Red Sox staff in wins (18), ERA (2.95) and complete games (15); a year later, he earned the only All-Star nod of his career in going 16-10 with a 3.56 ERA.

In 1949, though, he had to fight through injury to compile his 14-12 record and 3.85 ERA; he and former ace Tex Hughson both had to battle soreness, and that gave manager Joe McCarthy an excuse to almost exclusively ride the right arm of Ellis Kinder and the left arm of Mel Parnell. Dobson, like the rest of the team's pitchers, rarely appeared in any important situations. That's what made it almost unfair when McCarthy called upon Dobson to pitch in relief on the second-to-last day of the season; the result was a game-winning home run that lifted the Yankees into a tie for first place in the division. A day later, the Red Sox would lose again and fall into second place on the last day of the season.

Dobson pitched one more season in Boston -- he went 15-10 with a 4.18 ERA in 1950 -- before he was traded to Chicago.

53. Vern Stephens
It's tough to be overshadowed much more than Vern Stephens was in Boston. The power-hitting infielder hit 29 home runs in 1948, 39 home runs in 1949 and 30 home runs in 1950 -- and accompanied those with at least 135 RBIs in each of those seasons. In 1949, in fact, he drove in an incredible 159 runs to go along with a .290 batting average (and a .391 on-base percentage thanks to his 101 walks).

But here's what American League MVP voting looked like in those three years:

1. Lou Boudreau; 2. Joe DiMaggio; 3. Ted Williams; 4. Stephens
1. Williams; 2. Phil Rizzuto; 3. Joe Page; 4. Mel Parnell; 5. Ellis Kinder; 6. Tommy Henrich; 7. Stephens
1. Rizzuto; 2. Billy Goodman; 3. Yogi Berra; 4. George Kell; 5. Bob Lemon; 6. Walt Dropo; 7. Vic Raschi; 8. Larry Doby; 9. Joe DiMaggio; 10. Vic Wertz; 11-20. A whole bunch of guys; t-21. Williams; t-24. Stephens

When you play with Ted Williams, after all, it's tough even to be the top vote-getter on your own team. Stephens outproduced Williams by a huge margin in 1950, thanks mostly to an injury Williaums suffered in the All-Star Game that summer, but he still finished behind his Hall of Fame teammate in the voting.

Stephens never did win that elusive MVP award, but he did finish his career ranked ninth in slugging percentage in Red Sox history, right in between Jim Rice and Tony Conigliaro. Not bad company, either.

52. Carl Mays
Here's yet another member of one of the greatest pitching staffs in the history of baseball: The 1918 Red Sox.

Check out this staff:
Joe Bush: 2.11 ERA in 272 2/3 innings; seven shutouts
Carl Mays: 2.21 ERA in 293 1/3 innings; eight shutouts
Babe Ruth: 2.22 ERA in 166 1/3 innings; one shutout
Sam Jones: 2.25 ERA in 184 innings; five shutouts
Dutch Leonard: 2.72 ERA in 125 2/3 innings; three shutouts

You want workhorses? The entire rest of the Red Sox staff pitched all of 78 innings that season. For every nine innings the team played, one of those five guys pitched 8 1/3. That's not particularly exceptional in the context of 1918 -- Mays' 293 1/3 innings pitched only ranked him fourth in the American League. But it's still pretty remarkable.

Come World Series time, that staff kept right on dealing. Mays, who went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in the 1916 World Series against Brooklyn, tosssed two complete games and gave up a grand total of two runs. In Game 3, he allowed seven hits in a 2-1 win over the Cubs at Comiskey Park; in Game 6, he allowed three hits in a 2-1 win that clinched the Red Sox's fifth World Series title.

Mays pitched just as well in 1919; through July, he had a 2.47 ERA and only was 5-11 because the Red Sox couldn't seem to score to save their lives. His hard luck eventually brought out his hot temper. After a loss in Chicago on July 13, he left the field between innings and jumped a train back to Boston before the game even was over. He told one reporter, "I'll never pitch another game for the Red Sox. ... I have pitched better ball than ever before. The entire team is up in the air and things have gone from bad to worse, ... so I am getting out."

He eventually was sold to -- who else? -- New York. But unlike the sale of Ruth, which was less than a year away, this was less of a desperate grab for money than an attempt to get rid of an unhappy player at the best possible price. Mays would never again finish a season with a sub-3.00 ERA, but he'd win 26 and 27 games in the next two seasons thanks to the run support he'd always craved.

51. Josh Beckett
For a change of pace: Here's something to consider this spring as the hype surrounding San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg continues to build: Josh Beckett has had the best career of any pitcher selected among the top three picks in the draft in the last two decades -- and it isn't even close.

Here's the list:
1989: 1. Ben McDonald; 3. Roger Salkeld.
1990: None.
1991: 1. Brien Taylor.
1992: 2. Paul Shuey; 3. B.J. Wallace.
1993: 2. Darren Dreifort; 3. Brian Anderson.
1994: 1. Paul Wilson; 3. Dustin Hermanson.
1995: None.
1996: 1. Kris Benson; 3. Braden Looper.
1997: 1. Matt Anderson.
1998: 2. Mark Mulder.
1999: 2. Beckett.
2000: 2. Adam Johnson.
2001: 2. Mark Prior.
2002: 1. Bryan Bullington; 3. Christopher Gruler.
2003: 3. Kyle Sleeth.
2004: 2. Justin Verlander; 3. Philip Humber.
2005: None.
2006: 1. Luke Hochevar; 2. Greg Reynolds.
2007: 1. David Price.
2008: None.

That's remarkable. Mulder finished second in Cy Young Award voting after going 21-8 in 2001, and Verlander had back-to-back top-10 finishes in 2006 and 2007 before suffering a setback. But that's pretty much it.

Beckett, on the other hand, pitched the Marlins to a World Series title in 2003, tossing two complete-game shutouts and compiling a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. He then went 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA for the Marlins in 2005 before being swapped for Hanley Ramirez in the offseason. And then in 2007 with the Red Sox, he went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting; in the playoffs, he went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA en route to another World Series title.

That's a first-round pick. The rest of the list, though? Not so much.

Coming up: The man with the bloody sock.

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