It all comes down to this -- and there are no surprises at the top of the list. (For the whole list, click here.)
10. Smoky Joe Wood, P
9. Babe Ruth, P
8. Tris Speaker, OF
7. Lefty Grove, P
6. Manny Ramirez, OF
5. Roger Clemens, P
4. Jimmie Foxx, 1B
3. Cy Young, P
2. Pedro Martinez
1. Ted Williams
As if it could be anyone else. The Splendid Splinter -- where did this nickname come from, anyway? -- is first in Red Sox history in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and walks; if Carl Yastrzemski hadn't played 23 seasons, Williams would be first in Red Sox history in hits, doubles, total bases and RBI, too.
(Of the top 10 slugging percentage seasons in Red Sox history, Williams has six. Of the top 10 on-base percentage seasons in Red Sox history, Williams has 10.)
He may, in fact, be the greatest hitter who ever lived.
He's also probably the greatest old hitter who ever lived. (We're excluding Barry Bonds from this conversation because all evidence points to him having had, um, help.) Check out the all-time leaders in OPS+ by age:
35: Babe Ruth, 211 (2nd: Ted Williams, 201) (3rd: Nap Lajoie, 199)
36: Babe Ruth, 218 (2nd: Ted Williams, 209) (3rd: Chipper Jones: 174)
37: Babe Ruth, 201 (2nd: Hank Aaron, 194) (3rd: Ted Williams, 172)
38: Ted Williams, 233 (2nd: Babe Ruth, 176) (3rd: Bob Johnson, 174)
(Bob Johnson played for the Red Sox as a 38-year-old in 1944. He hit 25 homers a year while playing for the Philadelphia A's in the 1930s.)
39: Ted Williams, 179 (2nd: Hank Aaron: 177) (3rd: Babe Ruth: 161)
40: Willie Mays, 158 (2nd: Edgar Martinez, 141) (3rd: Moises Alou: 138)
41: Ted Williams, 190 (2nd: Brian Downing, 138) (3rd: Stan Musial, 137)
Look at those numbers. Look at those margins.
Williams' 1957 and 1958 seasons rank among the most remarkable in baseball history. He was 38 years old in 1957 when he hit .388 with 38 home runs; he led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In many ways, he had better numbers than American League MVP Mickey Mantle.
A year later, at the age of 39, he again led the American League in batting average and on-base percentage. He hit 26 home runs. He even hit 26 home runs and legged out two triples.
And two years later, after he hit like a typical 40-year-old at the age of 40, he bounced back with a .316 batting average and 29 home runs at the age of 41.
There should be no debate: Ted Williams was the greatest Red Sox player of all-time. He'd have been the greatest Red Sox player of all-time even if he'd retired at the age of 35 the way he'd threatened to do. (True story: He announced, "That's it," at the end of the 1954 season and sat out the first month of the season before signing a contract to return -- a move many suspect had a lot to do with the divorce settlement that was finalized on May 11, 1955.)
But the way he hit in the twilight of his career eliminated any doubt.