Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 16-18

28. Harry Hooper, RF
27. Fred Lynn, CF
26. Dick Radatz, P
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

Isn't baseball great?

18. Mel Parnell
Remember the story of Ellis Kinder and Denny Galehouse and Joe McCarthy and the final game of the 1948 season? Let's keep going with that.

A year after the Red Sox lost in a playoff to the Cleveland Indians to miss out on their second World Series berth in three years, they were right in the thick of things again in 1949. A big reason for that was the pitching of Kinder and Mel Parnell, who combined to throw 46 complete games for the Red Sox. Pitchers like Boo Ferriss and Tex Hughson got hurt; others, ineffective early in the season, were buried in McCarthy's doghouse. Kinder, Parnell and Joe Dobson were the only pitchers to take anything resembling a regular turn in the rotation throughout the season.

McCarthy had heard all year about how he'd chosen the wrong pitcher in 1948 by skipping over Parnell and Kinder for the playoff game. Almost out of spite, it seems, McCarthy had the two make a combined 63 starts and 19 relief appearances -- including almost every meaningful inning down the stretch. By the time the Red Sox had pulled from 12 games back on July 4 to 1 1/2 games back on Aug. 26, one or the other was pitching almost every day. (It was like Arizona in the 2001 World Series, only for an entire season.)

As they should have been, one could argue. After all, they were the best the Red Sox had. Parnell, in fact, would finish his career ranked second all-time in wins by a Red Sox pitcher. (He since has been passed by Roger Clemens and Tim Wakefield.) And when Kinder tossed a shutout on Sept. 24 and Parnell tossed a four-hitter on Sept. 25, the Red Sox claimed a share of first place for the first time all season.

But that's when it began to catch up with them.

Jack Kramer won at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 26 as the Red Sox took a one-game lead in the American League standings; Joe Dobson won a day later at Washington to keep that lead at one game.

A day later, the Red Sox got an outstanding start from Chuck Stobbs -- eight innings of shutout baseball. But when Stobbs ran into trouble, giving up three hits and a run in the bottom of the ninth, McCarthy went right back to his aces. Kinder surrendered a hit to load the bases; McCarthy promptly yanked him and gave the ball to Parnell -- who had pitched three days earlier and who would pitch again three days after that. Parnell uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the winning run to score and the team's one-game lead in the standings to evaporate.

Two days later, the Red Sox once again were leading by a game with two left to play -- both at Yankee Stadium. Parnell got the ball for the first game; Kinder was scheduled to start the second.

The Red Sox gave Parnell a quick 4-0 lead thanks to a pair of bases-loaded walks in the third inning. That ought to have been plenty. But that, it appears, is when the workload began to catch up to the Red Sox's lefthanded ace. Joe DiMaggio, who could barely stand up during a pregame ceremony to honor him, led off the fourth with a double and came around to score; Yogi Berra singled to center in the fifth to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Parnell was finished. Joe Dobson was waved in, but he, too, had little left in the tank -- he'd thrown 212 2/3 innings despite early-season arm injuries. When Johnny Lindell hit a home run to left field in the eighth inning, it handed the Yankees a 5-4 win.

The next day, Kinder got the start and pitched well; other than a Phil Rizzuto triple that led to a run, he allowed almost nothing through seven innings. Going into the eighth, the Red Sox trailed by a 1-0 score. When McCarthy had to pinch-hit for his pitcher, though, he gave the ball to Parnell for the fourth time in six games. He'd given himself no other choice. The only pitchers in whom he had any faith were his two aces, and his two aces had nothing left.

Parnell surrendered a leadoff home run to Tommy Henrich to make the score 2-0. By the time the inning ended -- even McCarthy had to realize Parnell was finished at that point and went to Tex Hughson -- the Red Sox trailed by a 5-0 score.

Those insurance runs proved critical when the Red Sox scored three times in the top of the ninth inning. But instead of winning in come-from-behind fashion, the Red Sox came up short yet again. Parnell had turned in two of the most brilliant seasons in franchise history in 1948 and 1949 -- and his team had nothing to show for it.

17. Luis Tiant
The funny thing about El Tiante's 1975 season -- he won 18 games to go along with a 4.13 ERA and struck out 142 -- is that it wasn't his best season in a Red Sox uniform. It wasn't his second-best, either -- or his third-best. It probably wasn't his fourth-best, either.

That's what lands the Cuban with the spinning-top pitching motion so high on this list. He's best known for his part in the run to the pennant in 1975, but he wasn't a bolt of lightning like Jim Lonborg in 1967. Instead, after working his way back from injury, he blossomed into the best Red Sox pitcher of the decade.

Tiant already had won 21 games in 1968 with the Indians, but a sore shoulder in 1969 and a fracture in his shoulder blade in 1970 threw his career into a tailspin. He lost 20 games in 1969 and was traded to Minnesota, released by Minnesota and released by Atlanta before the Red Sox signed him to a deal. He was 30 years old and on the same career track as a guy named Al Mamaux.

After extensive work on his leg strength to ease the burden on his arms, though, Tiant began to re-emerge as a star. He began the 1972 season pitching mostly out of the bullpen, but a string of four straight shutouts from Aug. 19 to Sept. 6 landed him in the starting rotation for good. From Aug. 19 on, in fact, he went 9-2 with a 0.96 ERA as the Red Sox climbed into first place and stayed there for much of September. By the end of the year, he'd done enough to earn himself a first-place vote in the Cy Young race and even a little MVP consideration.

A year later, he went 20-13 with a 3.34 ERA. A year after that, in 1974, he went 22-13 with a 2.92 ERA in a remarkable 311 1/3 innings pitched. (No other Red Sox pitcher has thrown 300 innings in a season since World War II.)

In one June game, in fact, he went the distance in a 15-inning loss to the Angels, surrendering just three runs through 14 innings before Denny Doyle doubled home Mickey Rivers in the bottom of the 15th. Five days later, he went the distance in a 10-inning win over the A's, surrendering only an eighth-inning home run in a 2-1 win.

With so much firepower coming up through the system, the Red Sox needed themselves a horse. They couldn't have found one who was much better -- and that's why, in 1975, it all came together.

16. Joe Cronin
Yeah, we all know sportswriters sometimes try to be funny and aren't funny. But it's hard to beat this line, written after Washington Senators sold Joe Cronin, his starting shortstop and son-in-law, to the Red Sox for a quarter of a million dollars in 1934:

"I wish I could sell my son-in-law for $250,000. Any bidders?"

Cronin was coming off five straight seasons in which he'd driven in 100 runs, but his batting average had dwindled from .346 in 1930 to .284 in 1934 and his run-scoring totals dwindle from 127 in 1930 to 68 in 1934.

But Cronin wasn't brought on board just to play shortstop and hit. The 28-year-old was brought on board to manage a Red Sox team that had finished eighth in every year but one between 1922 and 1930 and then lost 43 games in 1932. But they'd finished fourth in 1934 behind a big season from Wes Ferrell and, with Tom Yawkey throwing his fortune into the team, they looked poised for a leap forward.

The cornerstone to that leap was Cronin. He had some issues in the field (37 errors in 1935, which isn't actually bad compared to the 62 errors he committed in 1929) but saw his batting average begin to climb again -- from .295 in 1935 to .325 in 1938, a season in which he hit 17 home runs and a career-best 51 doubles.

Not coincidentally, 1938 was the season in which the Red Sox finally began to break through. With Jimmie Foxx and Bobby Doerr anchoring the right side of the infield, the Red Sox won 88 games and finished second behind the Yankees. A year later, with a young left fielder named Ted Williams breaking through, the Red Sox won 89 games and again finished second behind the Yankees. Cronin, even, hit .308 with 110 RBI.

But while he ranks among the top 20 in Red Sox history in numerous hitting categories. For one thing, he lasted 13 years; no other manager in history has lasted more than eight years with the Red Sox. For another thing, his career winning percentage of .539 is better than any other Red Sox manager (minimum three years) except Jimmy Collins, Terry Francona, Darrell Johnson, Joe McCarthy and Don Zimmer.

And he took the Red Sox to the World Series -- a feat that had to seem, by 1946, borderline impossible.

Coming up: The Red Sox's first great first-round draft pick.

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