Monday, March 16, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 76-80

Are we having fun yet?

100. Keith Foulke, P
99. Hugh Bedient, P
98. Rick Ferrell, P
97. Butch Hobson, 3B
96. Lee Smith, P
95. Jesse Tannehill, P
94. Mike Timlin, P
93. Herb Pennock, P
92. Dick Stuart, 1B
91. Sammy White, C
90. Doc Cramer, OF
89. Freddy Parent, SS
88. Jerry Remy, 2B
87. Walt Dropo, 1B
86. Rich Gedman, C
85. Heinie Wagner, SS
84. Everett Scott, SS
83. Sparky Lyle, P
82. Billy Goodman, 1B/2B
81. Oil Can Boyd, P

The interesting thing about a list like this is that the Red Sox are enjoying the the greatest run of success in their history right now. Players from the 1950s and 1960s have that historic aura around them, but there's a reason the Red Sox have won two World Series titles this decade after going almost nine decades without one.

The point is: Yes, there will be contemporary players on this list. Just not yet. Some of those contemporary players, after all, are pretty darn good.

80. Dave "Boo" Ferriss
The Red Sox lost almost their entire roster to military service during World War II. Hitters Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio all went into the service, and the pitchign staff wasn't spared, either: Ace Tex Hughson and mainstays Joe Dobson and Charlie Wagner likewise got the call midway through the war.

Ferriss, meanwhile, served from 1942-1945 but was discharged early thanks to asthma -- a tremendous stroke of luck for the Red Sox. He was just 23 years old when he made his debut at Fenway Park -- and he was an instant hit. He went 21-10 with a 2.96 ERA in his first season, and he made 31 starts and finished with 26 complete games, including five shutouts. He finished fourth in American League MVP voting behind Detroit pitcher Hal Newhouser.

And when the end of the war brought the heart of the Red Sox roster back to Boston, Ferris got even better. The 24-year-old righty went 25-6 with a 3.25 ERA and six complete-game shutouts; his seventh-place finish in MVP voting is perhaps even more impressive given that Williams, Doerr, Mickey Vernon, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg all had returned from the service.

The Red Sox cruised to the pennant in 1946, outpacing Detroit by 12 games and the third-place New York Yankees by 17 games; it was their first pennant in almost 30 years. And while the World Series against St. Louis ended in defeat, the Red Sox ace did more than his part. In Game 3, Ferriss tossed a four-hit shutout to give the Red Sox a one-game lead in the series. In Game 7, he surrendered a run through four innings but was knocked out of the game in the fifth thanks to a three singles and a double; the Cardinals went on to win thanks to Enos Slaughter's race around the basepaths in the bottom of the eighth inning.

A year later, the 750-plus innings Ferriss had thrown in three seasons finally caught up with him. In July of 1947, he felt his shoulder go numb on a full-count curveball that got him out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh inning. He went out and finished the game, even winning 1-0 on home run by Doerr in the ninth inning, but he never did recapture the sinking fastball that had won him all those games. He was out of the major leagues by 1950.

If not for Slaughter's dash and a couple of bad breaks, though, he could have been the pitcher who lifted the Red Sox to a World Series title.

79. Mike Andrews
The 6-foot-3 second baseman had all of 18 big-league at-bats under his belt before the 1967 season; he hadn't yet turned 24 years old. But when incumbent second baseman George Smith tore cartilage in his knee in spring training, Andrews suddenly had himself a full-time job.

He took it and ran with it, hitting .263 with 79 runs scored in perhaps the most memorable season in Red sox history; he hit .342 with six doubles and 12 runs scored in the month of September alone. In the game that put the Red Sox in first place for good, a Sept. 30 win over Minnesota, he went 2-for-3 and was standing on second base when Carl Yastrzemski hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning. He didn't start the season's final game the next day, but he turned a double play in the ninth inning to thwart a potential rally.

Andrews saw veteran utilityman Jerry Adair play in his place in each of the first four games of the World Series against St. Louis, but Andrews got the start in each of the final three games; he went 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI in an 8-4 win in Game 6. Like everyone else, though, he could muster little against Bob Gibson in a Game 7 defeat.

Andrews only got better in the years to come. He hit .271 with 77 runs scored in 1968, an even more impressive feat considering that the average American Leaguer hit .230 that season. He then went to his only All-Star Game thanks to a .293 average and 15 home runs. He followed that up with a .253 average and a career-best 17 home runs in 1970 before the Red Sox traded him to the Chicago White Sox. By then, Yastrzemski was pretty much the only survivor from the Impossible Dream team; the groundwork was being laid for a revival in the mid-1970s.

78. Troy O'Leary
Here's the best part of Troy O'Leary's ridiculous night against the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the 1999 American League Division Series: In the top of the ninth inning, with the Red Sox up by an 11-8 score, the Indians elected to pitch to Nomar Garciaparra (he doubled home a run) and walk O'Leary intentionally.

They really had no choice. In the two of the three previous trips through the order, they'd walked Garciaparra only to see O'Leary -- a waiver-wire pickup four years earlier -- hit home runs. His first was a grand slam in the top of the third inning to give the Red Sox a 7-5 lead in a back-and-forth game; his second was a three-run home run in the top of the seventh inning to give the Red Sox an 11-8 lead.

Both times, the Indians had opted to put Garciaparra on base rather than give him anything to hit. Both times, O'Leary jumped on the first pitch he faced and deposited it in the right-field seats.

Those home runs were all the more unlikely given the way O'Leary had played to that point. In four ALDS games against Cleveland in 1998, the soft-spoken left fielder went 1-for-16. In the first four games of the ALDS in 1999, he'd gone 2-for-16. And in the first inning of Game 5, after Garciaparra put the Red Sox ahead with a home run, O'Leary struck out to end the inning.

Not in the third. Not again. Not after a season in which he'd hit a career-best 28 home runs and driven in 100 runs. And not with a trip to the American League Championship Series -- his team's first since the expansion of the postseason five years earlier -- on the line.

"It's the biggest night of my life," he told reporters after the game.

No, really?

77. Ray Collins
Here's how good the Red Sox pitching rotation was in 1915 -- Collins, coming off a 19-win season in 1913 and a 20-win season in 1914, was relegated to the bullpen. He made just nine starts that season and didn't appear in the World Series; he was out of baseball by the next spring.

Before that, though, Collins was a force. He pitched for the Red Sox for six full seasons, throwing 19 shutouts in the process; his 2.51 ERA still is good enough for ninth on the all-time list, just ahead of a guy named Pedro Martinez. (Even if you adjust his ERA for the time period in which he pitched, he's still among the top 30 in team history -- ahead of Josh Beckett, Bill Lee, Sonny Siebert and Bill Monbouquette.)

He tossed 7 1/3 solid innings in Game 2 of the 1912 World Series, going toe-to-toe with the New York Giants' Christy Mathewson in a game that would end in a 6-6 tie. He then came back and pitched seven shutout innings in relief in Game 6 after the Giants knocked Buck O'Brien from the game after just the first inning. The Red Sox would lose that game and Game 7 but win Game 8 to clinch the World Series championship.

Collins' best seasons, though, were yet to come. He went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA in 1913 and threw three complete-game shutouts; he went 20-13 with a 2.51 ERA in 1914 and threw six complete-game shutuouts. (His 19 career shutouts rank him seventh in team history in a tie with Tex Hughson.) Arm trouble and the rise of a youngster named Babe Ruth kept him out of the rotation in 1915, and he was all but finished after that.

76. Mike Boddicker
The 5-foot-11 righthander already was on the back nine of his career when the Red Sox acquired him in July of 1988 in exchange for Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling. He'd won 20 games in 1984 and at least 10 in each of the next three seasons after that. He was 6-12, though, when the foundering Orioles shipped him to Boston.

Two months later, he was pitching in the playoffs for the first time in five years. He had a 2.56 ERA in his 14 starts down the stretch, including a complete-game shutout against Cleveland on Sept 29 that clinched a share of the American League East title for the Red Sox. (He then was blitzed for six runs in 2 2/3 innings by the Oakland A's in Game 3 of the ALCS.)

Boddicker won 15 games to go along with a 4.00 ERA in 1989, but he was outstanding yet again in 1990 -- not coincidentally another year in which the Red Sox won a division title. He went 17-8 with a 3.36 ERA for the season, but he was 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA after Aug. 1. Boddicker's most important win wasn't his prettiest; the Red Sox were one game up on Toronto in the American League East with one game to play, and he surrendered just one run in seven innings of work to beat the White Sox and fend off the pesky Blue Jays.

Boddicker would depart as a free agent after the season and sign with the Kansas City Royals, where he'd all but play out the string. But his two and a half seasons with the Red Sox were enough to earn him a spot in the Red Sox record books -- his ERA (3.49) ranks him 31st all-time, and his ERA+ (118) ranks him 21st all-time -- as well a spot in Red Sox lore.

Coming up: The greatest relief-pitching performance ever.

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