Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 81-85

To recap:
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

(If you're wondering why the list is so pitcher-heavy thus far, well, let's just say this: It isn't going to stay that way once we get into the top 30 or 40.)

Without further ado:

85. Heinie Wagner
You know what was fantastic about baseball in the pre-World War II era? At one time or another, the league featured all of 22 players either named or nicknamed "Heinie." Imagine the big-time advertising possibilities for a certain Dutch brewing company if only big-time advertising had existed back in those days. (Picture it now: Groh, Manush, Peitz, Reitz and Schuble all passing around a green bottle as part of a "Share the Good" commercial. Or maybe guest-starring with Austin Powers. There are so many ways you could go.)

The best Heinie the Red Sox ever had was Wagner, who hit .274 with 75 runs scored and 68 RBI for the 1912 World Series championship team. In his career, Wagner hit 47 triples -- tied for 19th in Red Sox history with Wade Boggs and one ahead of Johnny Pesky. While his career numbers (.250 batting average with 10 home runs in 12 seasons, including 11 with the Red Sox) aren't spectacular, some of that is a product of the period in which he played; he had an OPS+ of 100 or better in four straight seasons starting in 1909.

After his playing career ended, he took his place as a coach on the bases; in Game 2 of the 1918 World Series, he even stormed the Chicago Cubs dugout to exchange punches with a coach who had been harassing Babe Ruth throughout the series. All indications are that Wagner kicked his, well, Heinie.

84. Everett Scott
Casual fans know the answers to trivia questions; diehard fans know the questions before they're even asked. Here's one of those examples. If you really know your baseball history, you know the trivia question to which Everett Scott always will be the answer. (Hey, it's like Jeopardy!)

The question: Whose record did Lou Gehrig break when he played in his 2,130 consecutive games?

The answer, of course, is Scott, who played in 1,307 consecutive games for the Red Sox from June of 1916 until May of 1925. But while his career doesn't exactly rival that of Gehrig or fellow shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., Scott did do enough to etch his name in Red Sox history. He was the starting shortstop for three Red Sox championship teams, for example; no other player has started at shortstop for a Red Sox championship team more than once. He ranks 19th in Red Sox history in games played, just ahead of Manny Ramirez, Carlton Fisk and Tris Speaker. He ranks 23rd in Red Sox history in at-bats, just ahead of Fisk, Jackie Jenson and Mo Vaughn.

But he didn't just show up. He has more hits with the Red Sox than Fred Lynn, David Ortiz, Marty Barrett and Trot Nixon. He hit .278 in 1919, and he hit .269 with 12 triples and four home runs in 1920. Out at shortstop, he finished with a fielding percentage above .970 every year from 1918-1921 -- at which point he was traded to the Yankees with Bullet Joe Bush and Sad Sam Jones in another of Harry Frazee's cost-cutting deals.

83. Sparky Lyle
The second great closer in Red Sox history, Lyle's 69 saves from 1967-1971 ranked third in Red Sox history at the time and still are good enough for seventh on the list today, just ahead of Tom Gordon's 68. Lyle had a sub-3.00 ERA in four of his five seasons with the Red Sox; his best year likely was in 1969, when he went 8-3 with a 2.54 ERA in a whopping 71 appearances (and 102 2/3 innings pitched).

Lyle, of course, was dealt to the Yankees for first baseman Danny Cater in an absolutely ridiculous spring-training deal in 1972. Cater hit a grand total of 14 home runs in his three seasons with the Red Sox and never drove in more than 40 runs in a season. Lyle became a star with the Yankees, of course; he won the Cy Young Award in 1977 thanks to his 2.17 ERA and 26 saves in 137 innings pitched, and he won a pair of World Series rings with Billy Martin's Bronx Bombers.

Lesser known, though, is the role Lyle played for the storybook 1967 Red Sox. Called up in July, Lyle immediately became a regular part of Dick Williams' bullpen and finished the season with a 2.28 ERA in 43 1/3 innings.

He earned his first career save with 3 2/3 innings of relief against Detroit on July 16 -- he struck out Norm Cash with a runner in scoring position in the top of the seventh and again to end the game in the top of the ninth.

He earned his first career win with a scoreless 10th inning in a July 27 game in which the Red Sox had rallied with three ninth-inning runs; Lyle surrendered three singles in the 10th inning and only survived because Carl Yastrzemski threw out a runner at the plate, and he earned the win when Reggie Smith tripled and scored on an error in the bottom half of the inning.

And his most important effort down the stretch came at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 27, when he threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning; the Red Sox would win by a 3-0 score. From Sept. 4 on, he allowed just one earned run in 8 2/3 innings of work; the Red Sox won five of the six games in which he appeared.

Lyle didn't pitch after Sept. 20 or in the postseason; closer John Wyatt pitched in two games, and starters Jose Santiago, Gary Bell and Gary Waslewski each came out of the bullpen at least once. But in a pennant race as tight as the one in 1967, you can't overlook the work done by a 22-year-old just learning how to pitch in the major leagues.

82. Billy Goodman
As versatile a player a player as the Red Sox have ever had, Goodman played at least 300 games at three infield positions and more than 100 other games in the outfield. He also did something few other players ever could: He made Red Sox fans think they could win without Ted Williams.

Goodman lost his job at first base early in the 1950 season thanks to an injury as well as the spectacular play of rookie Walt Dropo. When Goodman returned to the field, he saw time at third base and in the outfield -- until, that is, Ted Williams broke his elbow in the 1950 All-Star Game and missed most of July and August after undergoing surgery. Goodman took over in left field and finished the season with a .354 batting average -- good enough to win the American League batting title. Williams returned in September only to see his Red Sox lose six of their last eight and finish four games out of first place. Red Sox fans, who had seen their team come up agonizingly short in 1948 and 1949 as well, began to turn on Williams; it was easy to point to the play of the Goodman-led Red Sox in July and August as evidence against the slugger.

Williams, of course, stayed, and that meant Goodman had to find a spot elsewhere. He played 62 games at first base and 44 games at second base in 1951; in 1953 and 1955, he played second base full-time. He even was elected the American League's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game in 1953. He eventually was traded to Baltimore in June of 1957; in December of that year, he then was traded to Chicago in a deal that also included 24-year-old outfielder Tito Francona.

In a Red Sox career that spanned 9 1/2 seasons, Goodman hit .300 five times. His .306 average with the Red Sox, in fact, ranks him 11th on the team's all-time list -- just behind Manny Ramirez and Fred Lynn and just ahead of Mo Vaugh and Mike Greenwell.

81. Oil Can Boyd
Yeah, he went 16-10 with a 3.78 ERA for the 1986 Red Sox. Yeah, his 60 career wins in a Red Sox uniform ranks him 36th all-time (in a tie with Mike Torrez). Yeah, his control was outstanding; his strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked him among the top five or six in the American League for three straight years starting in 1984.

Really, though, the best reason to include Boyd on this list is the opportunity to list some of the greatest things ever to come out of his mouth. Among those:

(upon learning he was not selected for the 1986 All-Star Game despite an 11-6 record, a 3.78 ERA and five complete games)
"I want my reward, and I want it today. ... I've got a good mind to go back to Mississippi. I have had it with this town. ... I'm an angry young man."
(Boyd was suspended for his tirade but apparently got over it; he threw five more complete games in the second half and walked just 15 hitters in 85 2/3 innings.)

(to Bo Jackson before one spring training at-bat)
"I am The Can, and I am going to come right at you with my best (expletive), and if you can hit it, I want to see how far Bo Jackson can hit The Oil Can."
(Jackson hit the next pitch 515 feet.)

(after a game in Cleveland was postponed due to fog)
"That's what they get for building a park on the ocean."

And who knows? It might not be over. Even now, Boyd still is angling for a spot in a big-league spring training camp and declaring that with one 15-minute session in the bullpen, "they'll see that I can compete again at the highest level. I'm ready. I don't care about money or fame. I just want to get back."

Coming up: Who can? Boo can!

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