Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 13-15

Let's look back before we keep moving:

25. Tim Wakefield, P
24. Dutch Leonard, P
23. Bob Stanley, P
22. Mo Vaughn, 1B
21. Nomar Garciaparra, SS
20. Dwight Evans, RF
19. Bobby Doerr, 2B
18. Mel Parnell, P
17. Luis Tiant, P
16. Joe Cronin, SS

15. Jim Rice
The Red Sox have had tremendous success of late in the amateur draft. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Bard -- all were drafted in either the first or second round, and all either are or are expected to be impact players in Boston.

As you know, though, that hasn't always been the case. (John Curtice, anyone?). But you might not know just how far back the Red Sox's draft woes stretch. It took quite a while for most teams to master the draft -- seven of the 20 first-round picks in 1965 never even played in the major leagues -- but it took even longer for the Red Sox to find an impact player in the early rounds.

In fact, Jim Rice was the first successful first-round pick the franchise ever made -- just check out what the Red Sox did with their first six first-round draft picks:

1965: Billy Conigliaro, outfielder, Swampscott High School. He was drafted, you have to imagine, in large part because of his last name and the way his brother had lit the city on fire. But Billy C hit a career-best 18 home runs in as a 22-year-old in 1970 but never latched on and was dealt to Milwaukee in 1971. He was sold to Oakland in 1973 and out of the major leagues by 1974.
Who they passed up: A pair of catchers: Ray Fosse, who was on his way to becoming one of the best in the game before Pete Rose steamrolled him in the 1970 All-Star Game, and Johnny Bench.

1966: Ken Brett, lefthanded pitcher, El Segundo (Calif.) High School. A journeyman in every sense of the word, George's older brother kicked around from the Red Sox (14 starts in 1970) to the Brewers to the Phillies to the Pirates to the Yankees to the White Sox to the Angels to the Twins to the Dodgers and finally to the Royals. His best season came in 1974, when he won 13 games to go along with a 3.30 ERA and he earned an All-Star nod. But that was three years after the Red Sox had traded him and Conigliaro to Milwaukee.
Who they passed up: Reggie Jackson had come off the board by the time the Red Sox picked, but Gary Nolan (18-7 with a 3.27 ERA for the Reds in 1970 and 15-5 with a 1.99 ERA two years later) hadn't.

1967: Mike Garman, righthanded pitcher, Caldwell (Idaho) High School. Garman pitched all of 56 1/3 innings for the Red Sox before being dealt to St. Louis, where he carved out a niche as a relief pitcher. In two seasons with the Cardinals, he compiled ERAs of 2.64 and 2.39, respectively.
Who they passed up: Two-time All-Star first baseman John Mayberry (255 career home runs), eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons (248 career home runs) and six-time All-Star second baseman Bobby Grich (224 home runs) all came off the board later in the first round. And the Red Sox actually passed on Vida Blue twice; they chose the immortal Danny Graham in the second round, four spots before the Athletics snagged their future ace.

1968: Tom Maggard, catcher, John Glenn (Calif.) High School. The first Red Sox draft pick never to make it to the major leagues, Maggard actually was right on the doorstep when he died from an insect bite in 1973. He never really excelled in the minor leagues; his best season mighth ave been 1972, when he hit 14 home runs at then-Double-A Pawtucket.
Who they passed up: Thanks to their Impossible Dream season, the Red Sox had to pick at the bottom of the first round and thus missed out on Thurman Munson and Greg Luzinski. But they did miss out on a first baseman who go 25th overall and who would finish his career with 2,715 hits. That first baseman? Bill Buckner.

1969: Noel Jenke, outfielder, the University of Minnesota. A sensational athlete, Jenke played football, hockey and baseball for the Golden Gophers and was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Vikings as well. He stalled at Triple-A with the Red Sox and then decided to try his hand at football, his best sport, and played four seasons in the NFL. His best season came in 1971, when he appeared in 14 games and recovered two fumbles for the Minnesota Vikings.
Who they passed up: The very next draft pick was lefthanded pitcher Don Gullett, who had a 4.34 ERA in three starts -- including 8 2/3 innings in a win in Game 5 -- in the 1975 World Series against the Red Sox. Think maybe that one draft pick could have turned the tide of franchise history? Can you imagine a Tiant-Gullett-Lee-Wise-Cleveland rotation?

1970: Jimmy Hacker, third baseman, Temple (Texas) High School. Instead of signing, Hacker opted to go play at Texas A&M and was drafted four years later by the Braves.
Who they passed up: Slim pickings here; of the final 12 draft picks in the first round, just four ended up making the major leagues. But sliding all the way into the ninth round -- meaning everyone missed on him more than a half-dozen times was a 6-foot-3 relief pitcher out of Colorado Springs, Colo., by the name of Rich Gossage.

1971: Jim Rice, outfielder, Hanna (S.C.) High School. There we go.

(George Brett and Mike Schmidt went back-to-back in the second round -- and based on the look of that year's first round, the Red Sox are the only team that can justify their decision to pass on both of them. Four teams passed twice.)

It took a couple of years for Rice to get to the major leagues; he got his cup of coffee in 1974 and finished third in MVP voting in 1975. By 1978, he was the best player in the game.

From Bill Lee: "(Rice accused) the Boston management of not bringing him up sooner because of his color. The REd Sox were something of a racist organization, but I don't believe color had anything to do with his not being brought up sooner. I think it was a tailoring problem. When he was ready to play in the majors, the club didn't have a uniform big enough to fit him. Jim was one big, solid piece of muscle.

"Once, (Dwight) Evans and (Bernie) Carbo were going at each other in right field during batting practice. ... Rice broke it up. He did this by first separating them, picking them up off the ground and holding them aloft. One in each hand. He then politely asked them to calm down. Instant serenity."

14. Carlton Fisk
Red Sox fans take catching for granted these days. The uproar over Jason Varitek and his .220 batting average of a season ago makes that obvious. But it's hard to blame them. For Red Sox fans around 50 years old, outstanding catching is all they've ever known.

Before Varitek was Rich Gedman, who sat behind the plate for 857 games from 1980-90, backstopping the Red Sox to a World Series and three playoff berths. And before Gedman was Fisk, the greatest catcher in the history of the franchise. We barely even need to go into Fisk's Hall of Fame credentials -- no player has caught more games in the major leagues, and only Mike Piazza has hit more home runs as a catcher. The home run he hit in Game 6 in 1975 remains perhaps the most famous home run in baseball history.

But the way Fisk anchored that position for the Red Sox in the 1970s was far more extraordinary than the success of Gedman and Varitek makes it seem. The New Hampshire native hit .300 twice and hit 20 home runs four times; he went to the All-Star Game an incredible seven times. He was something the Red Sox had never seen before.

Don't think so? Here's a sampling of the Red Sox catchers that preceded Fisk:
* Duane Josephson (1971-72): Hit 10 home runs and 14 doubles in his only full season.
* Jerry Moses (1965-70): Had 300 at-bats just once -- in 1970, when he hit .263 with 35 RBI.
* Russ Gibson (1967-69): Hit above .225 just once in his three seasons in Boston.
* Mike Ryan (1965-67): Hit above .200 just once in his three seasons in Boston.
* Bob Tillman (1962-67): Hit 17 home runs in 1964, by far his best season.
* Jim Pagliaroni (1960-62): Hit 16 home runs in 1961, his only full season.
* Russ Nixon (1960-65): Consistently hit around .280 but never more than five home runs.

Before that, Sammy White laid claim to the position for eight years; he hit at least 10 home runs four times and made the All-Star team in 1953. Birdie Tebbetts backstopped the Red Sox through their near-miss years of 1948 and 1949. Rick Ferrell caught for the Tom Yawkey-bought Red Sox from 1933-37 and later was inexplicably elected to the Hall of Fame. And Bill Carrigan caught off and on from 1906-16, but his primary duty was being the best manager the Red Sox had in the 20th century.

But that's it. That's what the catching position looked like in Red Sox history. It wasn't Fisk, Gedman and Varitek; it was Bennie Tate, Charlie Berry, Fred Hofmann and Val Picinich.

That's what made Fisk so remarkable. It wasn't that he played catcher for the Red Sox for a long time. It's that he was great.

13. Wade Boggs
You want to talk about a guy who was ahead of his time?

Wade Boggs was ahead of his time.

On-base percentage is growing rapidly in terms of acceptance and understanding in the baseball world; it's still misinterpreted once in a while as an overemphasis on walks, but it's getting there. Still, though, the idea of on-base percentage comes up all the time in Hall of Fame discussions -- and it's still often dismissed as being a new stat that you can't apply to past generations. When critics bring up Andre Dawson's career on-base percentage of .323, for example, other

"Failing to vote for Dawson for the Hall of Fame because of his low career on-base percentage is like criticizing an old comedian for being politically incorrect," FOX's Ken Rosenthal wrote just this year.

"To me, it's a ridiculous statistic," Dawson himself said. "It's no indication of the big picture."

Actually, it's a complete indication of the big picture.

To quote Dawson nay-sayer Joe Posnanski, "On-base percentage is simply the core of baseball, the very heart of it since the first ball hit the first stick. It is about how many times a batter gets on -- and, conversely, how many times he makes outs. It is what the game is all about."

And that's what makes the career of Wade Boggs -- not a power hitter, and not a Brooks Robinson-type defensive player, either -- so remarkable. Boggs' career defines what on-base percentage is all about.

Boggs won five batting titles between 1983-88. He hit over .300 13 straight times. In doing so, he collected 200 hits seven straight times. Only Ted Williams has a higher career batting average than Boggs.

But Boggs managed to walk, too. He wasn't "feared" like teammate Jim Rice, but he still managed to walk. And in a game in which power hitters walk and singles hitters are allowed to hit singles, well, that's really, really impressive. And in Red Sox history, here's the all-time on-base percentage leaderboard:

1. Ted Williams, .482
2. Jimmie Foxx, .429
3. Wade Boggs, .428
4. Tris Speaker, .414
5. Manny Ramirez, .411

Four of those five are power hitters. (Speaker played in the Dead Ball Era, but he's as much a power hitter as any of the other three.) The fifth is Boggs, who hit more than eight home runs in a season just twice in his 18-year career.

Let's look at it another way. Five players in baseball history have had at least 200 hits and 100 walks in the same season at least twice in their careers. Those players -- and their home run totals in each of those seasons:
* Lou Gehrig: 34, 37, 41, 46, 47, 49, 49
* Babe Ruth: 41, 46, 59
* Stan Musial: 30, 36
* Todd Helton: 33, 42

And then there's Boggs: 3, 5, 8, 24.

First of all: It's remarkable that not even Ruth went 200-100 as many times as Boggs did. Second of all: How does a guy who hits just three home runs in a season, the way Boggs did in 1989, walk 100 times? That's amazing.

That's what on-base percentage is: Finding a way to get on base as often as you can. Boggs got on base at least 300 times six times in his career; only Gehrig, Musial, Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ted Williams can say the same thing.

All six of those players hit at least 450 career home runs. Boggs hit 118.


Coming up: You might be surprised who falls outside the top 10.

1 comment:

floydiansea said...

I have a handful of Carlton Fisk cards. I always liked his name. I knew nothing of him as a player when I got the cards.

I know this comment was awesome and very useful.