Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 96-100

So it was just last week in Fort Myers that WalkoffWalk's Kris Liakos and I were talking about the top 100 players in the history of the Los Angeles Angels. The blog Halos Heaven has put together a list of the top 100 players in the history of its beloved franchise -- and the pickings there are so slim that both Adam Kennedy and Doug DeCinces both are among the top 25. (Ever.)

We're fortunate, Kris said, to follow a team that has enough history not to have to put our mediocre infielders in the top 25.

I started thinking about who might land around No. 25 in Red Sox history and suggested Dwight Evans -- a notion to which my new friend took immediate offense because Dwight Evans happens to be his favorite Red Sox player of all-time. (Evans did, in fact, land higher on the list than No. 25 on this list. But I digress.)

The difference still is stark; Evans is the type of player who, while not a real Hall of Fame candidate, is someone who you can't automatically dismiss. Kennedy, on the other hand, hit a few home runs in one American League Championship Series and otherwise matches up pretty well with former overpaid Red Sox infielder Mike Lansing.

Here, then, is the start of a sporadic series that ought to take us through Opening Day:

100. Keith Foulke
With time, perspective is starting to kick in; the backlash from the closer's "Johnny from Burger King" exit has started to fade and the reality of what he did for the franchise in his one full season has started to rise back to the surface. (For many, it never faded -- but if you remember the boos that showered down on Foulke during a season in which he had a 5.91 ERA in 45 2/3 innings, you know what I'm talking about.)

Now, of course, we're more aware of just why Foulke had a 5.91 ERA in 2005 -- he all but threw out his arm during the Red Sox's World Series run in 2004. He appeared in 11 of the Red Sox's 14 games; he pitched 14 innings in a span of three weeks, including a 2 2/3-inning stint in his team's dramatic Game 4 win against the Yankees in the ALCS. He pitched in every game of the World Series, including a 1 2/3-inning stint in Game 1.

In that span, he surrendered just one earned run (for an ERA of 0.64) and saw opponents hit .140 against him. The only run he allowed was when he entered with a 4-0 lead in Game 3 of the World Series abd Larry Walker hit a one-out home run. Foulke then retired Albert Pujols on a fly ball to left field and struck out Scott Rolen to end the game.

David Ortiz's game-winning hits are the lingering memory from that spectacular postseason, but there's no way the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004 without Keith Foulke.

99. Hugh Bedient
If only he'd pitched in the modern day, some enterprising sportswriter would have dubbed him "O" so that we could have called him "O" Bedient. Just another missed opportunity. (Get it? "O" Bedient?) (Crickets.) (OK, moving on.)

Anyway, Bedient went 20-9 with a 2.92 ERA for the 1912 World Series champion Red Sox. In the World Series, he surrendered just one earned run in 18 innings pitched; he threw a complete-game three-hitter in Game 5, outdueling Christy Mathewson in the process.

Here's a sign of the times: Bedient's 19 regular-season complete games weren't enough to lead the team in that category. They weren't even enough for him to rank second. Then again, there's a reason he was out of baseball by the time he was 26 years old. (A few years earlier, while he was with a semipro team in New York, he had struck out 42 in a 23-inning complete game.)

He won 15 games with a 2.78 ERA (and threw 15 complete games) in 1913 before things started to fall apart; by 1915, he was pitching for Buffalo in the Federal League. He went 16-18 that season with another 16 complete games (and a whopping 269 1/3 innings pitched), but that would be it for his career. He wasn't even 26 years old.

98. Wes Ferrell
He's not in the Hall of Fame like his brother Rick, but maybe he should be -- in fact, many believe that the only reason Rick is in the Hall of Fame is because voters confused him with Wes. Rick was a decent catcher in his four seasons with the Red Sox; he hit .312 with eight home runs in 1936. But Wes hit .347 with seven home runs in 1935 -- an even more remarkable feat given that he was a pitcher.

Wes Ferrell twice won 20 games for the mid-1930s Red Sox; in 1935 and 1936, he was the ace of a staff that also featured an aging Lefty Grove. In 1935, in fact, he finished second in Most Valuable Player voting behind Hank Greenberg and ahead of Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane. In 1937, he and his brother both were traded to Washington; he would bounce around the league until 1941.

In his career, he hit 37 home runs -- still a record for a pitcher. His most enduring legacy, though, might be his temper. "I saw him get so mad after losing a game of poker that he tore the deck of cards in half with his bare hands," one teammate said.

97. Butch Hobson
"Butch didn't play baseball," Bill Lee wrote in his book. "He played roller derby on spikes. On pop flies near the dugout, he would dive headfirst into the bat rack. He was never concerned with making the catch. For Butch, it was the crash that was more important. From the dugout, you could see him thinking, 'Hmm, let's see how badly bruised I can get on this play. How far can I dive into the ground without killing myself?'"

Young Red Sox fans -- and, yes, if you look at that picture over there, you'll see that I fall into that category -- mostly just remember Hobson as the manager who led the Red Sox to three straight sub-.500 finishes from 1992-94 before Kevin Kennedy took over and won a division title in 1995. (It helped, of course, that Kennedy had a resurgent Tim Wakefield, a resurgent Erik Hanson, a resurgent Troy O'Leary, a resurgent John Valentin and a Mo Vaughn who played so out of his mind that he even stole 11 bases.)

Before that, though, Hobson was a power-hitting third baseman who earned MVP consideration for a 1977 season in which he hit 30 home runs and drove in 112 runs. His fielding, though, wasn't so hot; he committed an astounding 43 errors in 1978. He hit 28 more home runs in 1979 and 11 more in an injury-marred 1980 season before he was traded to California; he finished his career tied with Ellis Burks for 28th in Red Sox history in home runs (94).

96. Lee Smith
Smith retired in 1997 as the big leagues' all-time leader in saves (478), a record he held until Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006. The Red Sox acquired Smith -- who already had four 30-save seasons under his belt from his years with the Cubs -- for Al Nipper and World Series scapegoat Calvin Schiraldi, and he paid immediate dividends. OK, maybe not immediate dividends -- he gave up a 10th-inning home run to Alan Trammell in his first start in a game the Red Sox lost by a 5-3 score.

But after that, he did just fine; he finished the year with 29 saves and a 2.80 ERA. (A year earlier, Schiraldi and fellow closer Wes Gardner combined for a 4.93 ERA in 109 appearances.) In 1989, Smith had 25 saves and a 3.57 ERA. In 1990, though, the Red Sox traded Smith to St. Louis for Tom Brunansky in a move that helped lift them to an American League East title. (Free agent signee Jeff Reardon by then had assumed the closer role.)

Coming up: Nos. 91-95, including a man named Herb!


dbhammel said...

This should be interesting to read, I wonder where active players end up (especially Manny).

J.D. Enright said...

Don't hate on Doug DeCinces, one of my favorite Halos and Orioles ever! And Butch was something to see in that '77 season. Yes, 30 homers, and you weren't sure if the ball he threw would wind up in Boomer's glove or 20 rows back. One of the most fun players I have ever watched.