Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 4

With the Yankees set to visit Fenway Park this weekend, let's take a look at a slugger who could have hit his home runs for the Bronx Bombers and not the Red Sox:

(For the entire countdown, 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
"Home Run" Baker, managing in the Eastern Shore League in Maryland in 1924, robbed us of perhaps the greatest switch-hitting slugger in baseball history when he told a teenage Jimmie Foxx that "no good hitter has to turn around." Foxx, already perhaps the best young athlete in Maryland by the age of 16, had tinkered with hitting from the left side of the plate but abandoned the effort upon the urging of his manager (and hero).

Baker, though, didn't do any more tinkering than that. Good thing. Foxx eventually grew into the second-greatest slugger of baseball's pre-World War II era; when "The Beast" retired, only Babe Ruth had more career home runs than his 534.

What Baker almost did, though, was steer Foxx to the New York Yankees. With the Yankees visiting Philadelphia midway through the season, Baker paid a visit to the team from which he'd retired just two years earlier. Manager Miller Huggins, however, told Baker that had no interest in a 16-year-old -- this losing the chance to plug Foxx into a lineup that still featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. (Imagine Foxx with the 1927 Yankees. Frightening.)

When Huggins passed, Baker went to see Philadelphia manager Connie Mack -- the manager for whom he'd played during the first half of his career. Mack sent a scout to follow Baker's team (and Foxx) for two weeks; when the reports came back positive, the Athletics purchased the rights to Foxx for $2,000.

Five years later, Foxx hit 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs as a 21-year-old first baseman. Three years after that, he won his first MVP award -- and a year later, he won another one.

Mack eventually had to cash in on his investment; he dismantled his A's in the aftermath of the Great Depression, selling Foxx to the Red Sox for $150,000.

Foxx hit 41 home runs and drove in 143 runs in 1936, his first season with the Red Sox. Two years later, he hit .349with 50 home runs and an American League record 175 RBIas the Red Sox won 88 games, their highest total since 1917. (If not for Hank Greenberg's 58 home runs, Foxx would have won the Triple Crown.)

A year after that, playing with rookie Ted Williams, Foxx hit .360 with 35 home runs and drove in 105 runs as the Red Sox won 89 games and again finished second. Even though he played just 6 1/2 seasons with the Red Sox, he still ranks ninth in franchise history in home runs (222) and ranks second to Ted Williams in on-base percentage (.429) and slugging percentage (.605).

And just think: He could have been a Yankee.

Coming up next: Pedro or Cy?

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