Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 86-90

And onward we march. The list so far:

100. Keith Foulke, P
99. Hugh "O" 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

Let's keep moving.

90. Doc Cramer
The Red Sox still were a decade away from winning an American League title, but it's hard to dispute that the late 1930s still represented something of a glory period for Tom Yawkey's new team. After a decade of last-place finishes -- seriously, the Red Sox finished in all but one year from 1922-1930 -- the Red Sox finished second (behind the Yankees) in 1938 and 1939. It was the first time the Red Sox had shown any sign of life at all since, well, the sale of Babe Ruth.

At the center of the ascent -- along with fellow Hall of Famers Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx, of course -- was Cramer. The steady center fielder hit .302 in five seasons with the Red Sox an averaged almost 30 doubles and more than a half-dozen triples a season; he hit his first home run with the Red Sox in 1940, his final season. In 1938, Cramer hit .301 with 36 doubles; in 1939, he hit .311 with 30 doubles alongside a rookie left fielder named Ted Williams.

Cramer led the Red Sox with an even 200 hits in his final season with the Red Sox, but by then, Yawkey and the Boston press were impatient with second-place finishes and demanding a shakeup. Even Williams wasn't necessarily safe; the Red Sox contemplated trading the talented but tempermental youngster for a young pitcher coming off 14- and 15-win seasons. That deal, of course, was called off.

Cramer, though, wasn't as untouchable as Williams. The then-35-year-old was shipped to Washington as part of a three-team deal that netted the Red Sox pitching prospect Joe Dobson. The seeds of 1946 were being sown.

89. Freddy Parent
Parent could be considered an original Red Sox; the shortstop had just eight big-league at-bats under his belt before he played 138 games for the 1901 Boston Americans. Parent hit .304 and had 17 triples in the 1903 regular season and scored eight runs in the eight games of the 1903 World Series. He singled and scored in the fourth inning of the deciding Game 8, a 3-0 victory for the Red Sox.

In 1903, though, the Maine native still was just 27 and coming into his prime. He hit .291 with nine home runs and a career-best six home runs in 1904, and he was at the plate when Yankees ace Jack Chesbro threw the wild pitch that decided the pennant on the season's final day. He played steady shortstop again in 1905 before moving to the outfield on a part-time basis in 1906.

By then, though, Red Sox owner John Taylor had started to sell off spare parts -- and the 31-year-old Parent was one of those spare parts. Off he went to Chicago, where he scuffled through three seasons before hanging it up.

88. Jerry Remy
No, sports fans, Gerald Peter Remy hasn't been a color commentator for his entire life. He actually was a pretty solid player in his day -- he hit .278 with 24 doubles for the Red Sox in 1978 and turned a whopping 114 double plays at second base. At the same time, he became a speed threat for a team that so often went without one; he stole 30 bases in 1978. In fact, Remy's 98 stolen bases ranks him 13th in Red Sox history -- only Tommy Harper and Carl Yastrzemski rank higher among players from the post-World War II era.

Remy also was part of the rash of injuries that cost the Red Sox the pennant in 1978; he was hit by a pitch on Aug. 26 and missed two weeks with a crack in his wrist. But in the one-game playoff against the Yankees on Oct. 2 of that year, Remy went 2-for-5 with a double and a run scored in the bottom of the eighth, the inning in which the Red Sox drew within one run but couldn't get any closer.

The Red Sox would begin to disintegrate after that season; Rick Burleson, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant and Bill Lee all would be gone in short order. Remy, on the other hand, stayed entrenched at second base until May of 1984 and held down the fort until reinforcements -- in the form of Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens -- could arrive.

87. Walt Dropo
The Red Sox finished in second place in 1949, one game behind the New York Yankees in as disappointing a late-season collapse as the franchise had experienced to that point. It's easy to wonder what might have happened had manager Joe McCarthy handed a full-time job to Walt Dropo a year earlier.

Dropo didn't get the call until incumbent first baseman Billy Goodman broke his leg, and he didn't waste any time smoking the ball. By the end of the season, he'd hit 34 home runs and driven in 144 runs. When Ted Williams went down with an injury suffered in the All-Star Game, Dropo just kept right on hitting. When Williams returned, strangely, only then did the team's September swoon begin. Dropo earned the American League's Rookie of the Year, the first Red Sox player to do so.

Dropo looked poised to become the complementary slugger Williams and the Red Sox had been seeking for a decade. Instead, though, Dropo slumped out of the gate in 1951 and was shipped back to the minor leagues. He eventually was traded to Detroit midway through the 1952 season.

His 1950 season, though, remained the most electric rookie season the Red Sox would see for, oh, about 25 years.

86. Rich Gedman
A two-time All-Star, Gedman should have been what Jason Varitek ended up being -- the man behind the plate when the Red Sox clinched their first World Series title since 1918. The Worcester native hit 24 home runs in 1984, 18 home runs in 1985 and 16 home runs in 1986 for a Red Sox team that got within one strike of the World Series.

Gedman, in fact, hit .347 with six RBI in the American League Championship Series against the Angels; he was on first base when Dave Henderson hit the storybook home run in Game 5. His single to left in the seventh inning should have iced the game; instead, Jim Rice was thrown out at the plate and the Mets were given new life.

The wild pitch that deflected off his glove and allowed the Mets to tie the game in the bottom of the 10th inning likely still haunts him to this day. It certainly seemed to wreck his career; he hit .205 with just one home run in 1987 and never hit better than .235 again. But Gedman was the original pitcher-groomer, the man behind the plate for the ascent of Roger Clemens, the heyday of Oil Can Boyd and some of the best years of Bruce Hurst. That, more than the one pitch for which he's remembered, ought to be Gedman's legacy.

Coming up: The guy traded for the legendary Danny Cater.

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