Monday, March 30, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 19-21

Isn't there some insurance broker that calls itself "The Company You Keep"? Anyway, here's the company our next three all-time greatest Red Sox are keeping:

31. Johnny Pesky, SS
30. Bill Lee, P
29. Dom DiMaggio, CF
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

You have spoken -- and for the first time, your votes are determining the order. (All, you know, eight or nine of you who voted on the first "Who's higher on the list?" poll.) Here's what you decided:

21. Nomar Garciaparra
It's incredible, now, to look back on the Nomar we knew in 2000, before that fateful Al Reyes pitch, and the track he was on. His career numbers at age 26 -- an age when he should have been just entering the prime of his career:
* .333 batting, .382 on-base, .573 slugging
* 117 home runs
* 436 RBI
* 140 OPS+

Check out his career comparables list from
* Mike Piazza (151 OPS+), who had played one fewer season and thus had fewer home runs (92) and RBI but a slugging percentage of .557;
* Ernie Banks (131 OPS+), who had more home runs (136) but fewer RBI and a batting average almost 50 points lower;
* Chipper Jones (129 OPS+), who had almost as many home runs (108) and RBI and the exact same on-base percentage but a lower slugging percentage;
* Yogi Berra (125 OPS+), who had fewer home runs (102) and more RBI but, again, lower percentage numbers across the board;
* And, of course, Derek Jeter (122 OPS+), who had a better on-base percentage but a far lower slugging percentage thanks to his 39 fewer home runs in 700 more at-bats.

All five are or soon will be in the Hall of Fame.

That's what Nomar was. He wasn't quite A-Rod (144 OPS+ at age 26), but he was awfully close. He was one of the best hitters in the game. He was a Rookie of the Year, an MVP runner-up, a two-time batting champ. He was a future Hall of Famer, certainly. He was Nomah!

And check out his career comparables list now, as a 34-year-old trying to resurrect his career with the Oakland Athletics:
* Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett and Mickey Cochrane, three Hall of Fame catchers;
* Jeff Kent, a future Hall of Fame second baseman thanks in part to the fact that he hit at least 20 homers four more times after he turned 34;
* Bret Boone;
* Fred Lynn;
* Javy Lopez.

He hit seven home runs in 431 at-bats at first base two years ago; an assortment of injuries landed him on the disabled list three times last season as he hit .264 and slugged .466 in 163 at-bats with the Dodgers. He's got a shot to get at-bats as a first baseman and third baseman with the A's this season.

That's it. That's Nomar -- once Chipper Jones; now Bret Boone. He's the one guy on this list who should have been so much higher than he is.

20. Dwight Evans
Only Carl Yastrzemski played in more games and had more at-bats in a Red Sox uniform than Evans -- the perennial Gold Glove winner played with Yaz and Luis Tiant, with Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice, with Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens.

He played for four division winners and went to the World Series twice, a feat bested only by fellow right fielder Harry Hooper between 1912 and 1918. When it comes to memorable moments in Red Sox history, in fact, Evans is a little bit like Forrest Gump -- always there, and not necessarily just in the background:

1975: Made some kind of catch, or something.
(As an aside: I was eight or nine years old when I met Joe Morgan at an autograph show; the event was fairly sparsely attended, which gave my family and I a chance to chat with him a little bit. I'd shown up wearing all my Red Sox gear, which meant the conversation naturally turned to Game 6. "You know, if it wasn't for Dwight Evans," he said with a gracious smile, "it would be me everyone remembers from that game and not Carlton Fisk." I wish I could like Joe Morgan more as a broadcaster. I really do.)

1978: The Red Sox were cruising toward a division title when Evans was hit in the head with a pitch on Aug. 28 against Seattle. The dizziness cost him a shot at 30 home runs and probably cost the Red Sox the division; it was just two days later that the Red Sox kicked off a stretch in which they'd lose 14 of 17 to go from 7 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees to 3 1/2 games behind. He hit .164 in the month of September -- and probably shouldn't have even been playing in his condition -- and couldn't do anything more than pinch-hit in the ninth inning of the one-game playoff on Oct. 2.

1986: Hit a three-run home run to provide Roger Clemens with all the run support he'd get -- and need -- in the 20-strikeout game on April 29.

Oh, and he hit .308 with two doubles and two home runs in the World Series -- including an RBI double in the first inning of Game 6 and a solo home run in the second inning of Game 7 -- and was out in right field when that ground ball rolled through the legs of Bill Buckner.

1988: Drove in 111 runs and finished ninth in MVP voting -- his fourth top-10 finish of his career -- as the Red Sox won their second division title in three years.

1990: On his way out as a full-time player, still hit 13 home runs and 18 doubles as the Red Sox won their third division title in five years.

19. Bobby Doerr
Eighteen players have hit for the cycle in Red Sox history. Luminaries such as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Tris Speaker all have done it; also-rans like Scott Cooper and Leon Culberson have done it, too. But no one has done it twice -- except for Bobby Doerr.

But that shouldn't be surprising: Doerr ranks among the Red Sox career leaders in singles (6th), doubles (5th), triples (4th) and home runs (8th). He's one of only four players to rank among the top 10 in franchise history in all four categories; Ted Williams, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans are the others. (Rice never hit for the cycle. Go figure.)

But Doerr wasn't just a hitting-for-the-cycle machine. The second baseman made nine All-Star teams in his 14 seasons in Boston; he hit 20 home runs three times and drove in 100 runs six times. And in the 1946 World Series, while an injured Ted Williams was hitting .200, Doerr hit a team-best .409 with a double and a home run.

(Here's one more interesting stat for you: Between 1979 and 1996, the Red Sox hit for the cycle seven times. Since 1996, the Red Sox have hit for the cycle zero times.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 22-24

We're in elite company now:

34. Jason Varitek
33. Jackie Jensen
32. Rico Petrocelli
31. Johnny Pesky
30. Bill Lee
29. Dom DiMaggio
28. Harry Hooper
27. Fred Lynn
26. Dick Radatz
25. Tim Wakefield

Onward and upward:

24. Dutch Leonard
Red Sox fans should have had a gripe when the NCAA Tournament selection committee left St. Mary's College of California out of the field; there aren't many schools who have groomed for the Red Sox the type of players St. Mary's did in the early part of the century. Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper came out of St. Mary's in 1904 and 1907, respectively -- and Dutch Leonard came right out of St. Mary's in 1912 (after striking out 23 in one college game) and was in Boston just a year later.

And a year after that, he pitched perhaps the greatest single season in Red Sox history. (OK, considering the time period, it might be the second-greatest. We'll get to the greatest in about a week or so.)

In 1914, Leonard allowed 24 earned runs in 224 2/3 innings -- an ERA of 0.96, still a Red Sox record. His ERA+ was 279, an astounding mark that wouldn't be bested by a Red Sox pitcher for almost nine decades. He lost twice in April by identical 1-0 scores, but he ended up winning 19 games to go along with his sensational ERA.

A year later, his ERA skyrocketed all the way up to 2.36 -- fourth-best on what was probably the greatest pitching staff in Red Sox history. And in Game 3 of the World Series that year, he tossed a complete-game three-hitter, earning a 2-1 win when Lewis singled home Hooper with the winning run -- probably as proud a moment for St. Mary's as any college baseball team could ever have.

23. Bob Stanley
Before there was Derek Lowe, there was Bob Stanley -- wild pitch or no wild pitch, the greatest two-way pitcher the Red Sox have ever had. Stanley started at least 10 games four times and saved at least 10 games seven times; he ranks eighth in franchise history in wins (115, just two behind Joe Wood and Pedro Martinez) and first in saves (132, though Jonathan Papelbon is likely to pass him this season).

And while his legacy is the pitch that got away in Game 6 in 1986, his best season came in the other most heartbreaking season in Red Sox history -- 1978.

Stanley was just 23 years old then, coming off a 1977 season in which he'd tossed three complete games and earned three saves -- a perfect debut for a player who would do plenty of both in his career. Unlike the rest of his team, Stanley got off to a rough start in 1978 -- he blew a save in the 11th inning of an April game against Cleveland by surrendering three runs, all with two outs. (The go-ahead run was scored by none other than Duane Kuiper, the boyhood hero of the best sportswriter in America.)

But from that point on, Stanley was close to untouchable. He went 14-1 with a 2.49 ERA doing just about anything the Red Sox asked of him. In a late May game against Toronto, Bill Lee was knocked out after two-thirds of an inning -- and while Stanley allowed a run-scoring single to the first batter he faced, he then pitched 8 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

And as the Red Sox started to fall apart down the stretch, Stanley only got better. He threw 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief against Cleveland on Aug. 8; he earn a win in five straight appearances over a two-week span. He then threw 6 2/3 innings of relief against Oakland on Sept. 3 as the Red Sox turned an early 5-5 tie into an 11-6 win.

From Sept. 1-16, while the rest of the pitching staff was going 1-13 with a 4.54 ERA, Stanley went 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA. His worst outing might have been his Sept. 10 relief stint against the Yankees in which he surrendered three runs in three innings -- but given the way the Yankees had pounded Red Sox pitching to that point (35 runs in three games), three runs in three innings doesn't look all that bad.

And in a Sept. 29 game the Red Sox needed desperately to keep pace with the Yankees, Stanley drew the start -- and threw seven shutout innings to earn his 15th win of the season. Just two days earlier, he'd thrown two-thirds of an inning to earn his 10th save.

Just one other pitcher since World War II has done what Stanley did in 1978 by earning 15 wins, 10 saves and making at least a couple of starts: Joe Black of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952. Black pitched in the World Series in 1952. Stanley did almost everything he could to get the Red Sox to the World Series in 1978.

22. Mo Vaughn
Of all the acrimonious departures from Boston in the last couple of decades -- Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs -- none seemed as much a shame of that of the "Hit Dog."

Vaughn grew up in Connecticut and spent every Thanksgiving in Roxbury, Mass.; he was a local guy. He also was a black guy, a big thing for a franchise that has had more issues with race than any other. Even while Vaughn was on his way up through the system, the soft-spoken Ellis Burks was on his way out -- which was almost a relief, given how much he'd felt like an outsider in his years in the Red Sox clubhouse.

But Vaughn seemed to be different. He received a huge standing ovation when his name was announced before his first game; he did what he could to get involved with the community and with charities, to teach young black kids the basics of growing up like writing a check and signing a lease on an apartment.

"He had a history," Sports Illustrated's Leigh Montville wrote. "That was the thing. He was all Boston. He was a civic monument set somewhere on the Freedom Trail, among the Old North Church and the swan boats and a good pot of baked beans. You hear stories all the time about black athletes who cross Boston off their list of places to play, citing its reputation for troubled race relations. Vaughn loved the city. He had been going there all his life."

It helped that he could flat-out smoke the ball -- he hit .297 with 29 home runs and 101 RBI in 1993, and his slugging percentage never again would dip below .500 while he wore a Red Sox uniform.

In 1995, he hit. .300 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI and won the American League's MVP award. In 1996, he one-upped himself in every category -- he hit .326 with 44 home runs and 143 RBI, and he even walked a career-best 95 times. (Thanks in large part to his team's third-place finish, he received no first-place votes in MVP voting.)

But while Burks and Jim Rice tended to be quiet and distant as a way of dealing with being one of the only black faces in the locker room, Vaughn went with the Oil Can Boyd approach -- he made sure his voice was heard. He criticized management for not signing Roger Clemens, for firing Kevin Kennedy, for suggesting he go get an evaluation after a couple of off-field incidents related to late-night activities.

After the 1998 season, he was gone -- and along with him the .936 OPs that ranks him fifth in team history, behind only Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.

"There is a miserableness that surrounds the Red Sox and their fans, all of those years without a World Series, all of the pressure," said Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina, a New England native, in 1999. "Mo was caught in the middle of it."

Coming up: Your votes start determining the order.

A quick intermission in the Top 100

Here's a quick break in the action so those of you who haven't been following the Top 100 Red Sox of All-Time can catch up. (Click here for the original post.)

The countdown starts at No. 100 (Keith Foulke) and has continued past No. 90 (Doc Cramer), No. 80 (Boo Ferris), No. 70 (Tom Brewer, three spots ahead of Jimmy Piersall), No. 60 (Frank Sullivan, sandwiched between Jonathan Papelbon and Jim Lonborg), No. 50 (Larry Gardner, who beat out Josh Beckett by one spot), No. 40 (Buck Freeman, who edged Frank Malzone) and No. 30 (Bill Lee).

Clearly, there's nothing scientific about this list. The capsules also aren't meant to be justifications for each player's spot on the list -- we all know Dom DiMaggio and Harry Hooper both were great players, and there's no point in going through each of their numbers to figure out precisely who should be No. 29 and who should be No. 28.

Instead, it's just something to have a little fun with. I have. I hope you do, too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 25-27

We're about to get into the reader-participation segment of the list; make sure your voice is heard!

37. Jimmy Collins, 3B
36. Bill Dinneen, P
35. Derek Lowe, P
34. Jason Varitek, C
33. Jackie Jensen, RF
32. Rico Petrocelli, SS/3B
31. Johnny Pesky, SS
30. Bill Lee, P
29. Dom DiMaggio, CF
28. Harry Hooper, RF

Did somebody say something about a Monster?

27. Dick Radatz
Jim Murray put it best: "Dick Radatz brings one weapon. It's like saying all a country brings to war is an atom bomb."

In just his second career outing in 1962, Radatz struck out the side against Baltimore in the eighth inning, including an in-his-prime Brooks Robinson. A day later, he struck out Robinson again with runners in scoring position en route to his first career save; a day after that he struck out Norm Cash and got Rocky Colavito to ground to second en route to his second career save.

Just like that, a legend was born.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Radatz didn't give up his first earned run until May 15 -- and even in that outing, he struck out four Yankees, including Mickey Mantle twice, in three innings of work. By the end of the season, he had 144 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA in 124 2/3 innings of work and already was the most terrifying relief pitcher in the American League.

He only got better in 1963 -- he had a 1.97 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings, all in relief. And in 1964, he had an ERA of 2.29 and 181 strikeouts in 157 innings, again all in relief. Only six pitchers in baseball history have struck out at least 140 hitters in a season in which they made zero starts. Five of those pitchers did it one time. Radatz did it three times.

In 1963, Radatz even put together a 33-inning scoreless streak in May and Juene, including a remarkable 8 2/3 innings of relief in a 15-inning game against Detroit. He came into the game with one out in the seventh inning and proceeded to induce an Al Kaline groundout to get out of a jam. He had just two strikeouts to his credit at the end of the ninth inning, but he turned up the heat in extras -- he whiffed Kaline in the 10th and had at least one strikeout in every inning the rest of the way.

His line for the game was Ernie Shore-esque: 8 2/3 innings, 3 hits, 11 strikeouts.

And while the Yankees went to the World Series every year from 1962-64, even they couldn't touch Radatz. In 25 appearances against the Bronx Bombers spanning those three seasons, Radatz allowed nine earned runs in 52 2/3 innings (a 1.40 ERA) and struck out 57.

26. Fred Lynn
Plenty of young players when they first get to the major leagues. It's only natural. Some play badly; some play OK. It's all part of learning how to be a professional baseball player.

Here's Dustin Pedroia in his first cup of coffee with the Red Sox in 2006: 17 hits in 89 at-bats (.191)
Nomar Garciaparra in 1996: 21 hits in 87 at-bats (.241)
Dwight Evans in 1972: 15 hits in 57 at-bats (.263)
Jim Rice in 1974: 18 hits in 67 at-bats (.269)
Carlton Fisk in 1971: 15 hits in 58 at-bats (.313)

And here's Fred Lynn in 1974: 18 hits in 43 at-bats (.419).

He went hitless in his first three games; not so much on Sept. 15 against Milwaukee. He hit a solo home run in his first at-bat; he doubled home Carl Yastrzemski in his second at-bat. Three days later, he went 4-for-5 with a double, a triple and three RBI against Detroit. The night after that, he went 2-for-3 with another home run.

Seven months later, he again went hitless in his first two games of the 1975 season. On April 16, though, in front of 8,854 fans at Shea Stadium against the Yankees, he singled to lead off the game, homered to lead off the third and homered to lead off the fifth inning.

Red Sox history would never be the same.

25. Tim Wakefield
As aggravating as it is to watch at times, we all know what the knuckleball has done for the Red Sox franchise:
* A 16-8 record with a 2.95 ERA in 1995;
* 10 seasons with 10 wins or more;
* The flexibility to start, relieve or close;
* 3 1/3 selfless innings in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.

But, really, what we'll always remember about Tim Wakefield is the endless parade of catchers who tried so valiantly to get a glove on that knuckleball. You might be interested to see how they did -- and, more importantly, how Wakefield did with each of them behind the dish:
(OPS: on-base percentage plus slugging percentage)
* Jason Varitek: 1,850 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .779
* Bill Haselman: 633 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .770
* Scott Hatteberg: 772 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .735
* Doug Mirabelli: 3,856 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .717
* Kevin Cash: 673 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .709
* Mike Macfarlane: 659 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .673
* Josh Bard: 130 at-bats; opponents OPS'ed .670

Sure, it's a small sample size -- and there's only so much you can glean from a stat that's got so much background noise. (Macfarlane ought to have seen hitters compile low on-base-plus-slugging numbers; he caught Wakefield during that sensational 1995 season.) But it's still a little interesting to see who's got the best opponents' OPS, isn't it?

Coming up: The franchise's all-time leader in saves.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 28-30

Yep, that's right, we're going three at a time now. We're in that elite of territory. Here's where we've been recently:

40. Buck Freeman, 1B/OF
39. Bruce Hurst, P
38. Ellis Kinder, P
37. Bill Dinneen, P
36. Jimmy Collins, 3B
35. Derek Lowe, P
34. Jason Varitek, C
33. Jackie Jensen, RF
32. Rico Petrocelli, SS/3B
31. Johnny Pesky, SS

We're into the top 30!

(I feel like Ryan Seacreast.)

30. Bill Lee
He called his manager a gerbil. He threw an eephus pitch in a World Series game. He talked candidly to the press about marijuana use. He threw a hissy fit in the locker room over, in theory, school-district busing. (Really, of course, it was to distract writers from the way the Red Sox were playing at the time.) He walked out on his team following the trade of a friend.

"Do you realize that this country gave away the (expletive) Panama Canal yesterday," utilityman Bob Bailey said after Lee cleaned out his locker to protest the release of Bernie Carbo, "but Bill Lee is on the front pages?"

"Spaceman" spent plenty of time on the front pages in his 10 seasons with the Red Sox -- but most of the time it was because he just kept winning games. He won 17 games in 1973, 1974 and 1975; his 94 wins in a Red Sox uniform ranks him 13th in team history, and he'd be even higher on the list if he wasn't a reliever for the first four seasons of his career. (Oh, and if Graig Nettles hadn't dropped him on his shoulder in 1976.)

He made two starts in the 1975 World Series -- but not the one start he wanted. He took a lead into the ninth inning of Game 2, but the Reds rallied for a win behind a double from Johnny Bench, a Davey Concepcion single and a Ken Griffey double. Lee will insist to this day that he should have started a rain-delayed Game 6 -- but he also concedes in his book that had he started, "the Series wouldn't have been as great as it was. That sixth game was something else."

He then drew the start in Game 7. Before the game, Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson declared about ace Don Gullett, "I don't know about that fellow for the Red Sox, but, sometime after this game, my boy's going to the Hall of Fame." Lee shot back, "I don't care where Gullett's going because after this game, I'm going to the Eliot Lounge."

The Red Sox ended up losing that game thanks in large part to a slow curveball that Tony Perez crushed over the Green Monster. When Lee left the game, the Red Sox were ahead by a 3-2 score; the Reds then tied it on a Pete Rose single in the seventh and a Joe Morgan single in the top of the ninth.

Gullett was long gone by then, knocked out after four innings. He did not go to the Hall of Fame. Lee, we can safely assume, did indeed go to the Eliot Lounge.

29. Dom DiMaggio
Overshadowed his entire career by his more famous older brother, there still is no shame in being the second-best DiMaggio in baseball history. Dom, in fact, had a higher batting average and scored more runs than the Yankee Clipper in 1946, the one season that he (and not Joe) played center fielder for the American League's representative in the All-Star Game. He also had more putouts per game in center field (2.81 to 2.62) and more outfield assists per year (14.7 to 11.8) than his starlet-dating older brother.

Nicknamed "The Little Professor" thanks to his size (5-foot-9) and his glasses, Dom DiMaggio was a doubles machine; he hit at least 30 doubles seven times in his 10 seasons with the Red Sox. He also hit .300 four times and scored 100 runs six times, He hit .316 with 24 doubles in the World Series season of 1946, and he scored 127 and 126 runs, respectively, in the near-miss seasons of 1948 and 1949.

More importantly, though, he was a sensational center fielder.

Range factor remains an outlaw stat these days, but the premise is fairly simple -- if you assume that over a large sample size, the ball is hit pretty much all over the place, you can judge a fielder's range by how many times he gets to the ball. The formula is put-outs plus assists divided by games played. Just for context, the speedy Carlos Gomez led all big-league center fielders last season with a range factor of 3.15; two years ago, Coco Crisp was tops among center fielders with a range factor of 3.07.

Heck, Willie Mays had a range factor of 3.02 in 1951 and 3.05 in 1953, but that was as high as he'd ever get. His career range factor in center field was 2.48.

Got all that?

Well, Dom DiMaggio's career range factor was 2.92. In 1947, it was 3.22. In 1948, it was 3.33.

And if you remember the Johnny Pesky story from a day or two ago: DiMaggio had pulled a muscle and been lifted from the game, leaving reserve Leon Culberson in center field. Enos Slaughter said later that he never would have tried to score from first had DiMaggio been the one in center field; it's altogether possible that the ball never even would have hit the ground had DiMaggio been playing center field.

28. Harry Hooper
The winner of more World Series titles (four) than any player in Red Sox history, Hooper played in 1,647 games with the Red Sox -- a record that would stand until Bobby Doerr broke it late in the 1949 season. He also orchestrated the first strike in baseball history -- one that lasted just an hour or so but one that also cost him a chance to get his hands on his fourth World Series medallion.

In the years leading up to 1918, players had shared 60 percent of gate receipts from the first four games of the series; the total usually amounted to $3,000 or $4,000. In 1918, though, owners decided that players would share 55.25 percent of those gate receipts -- but that only 60 percent of that (or just over 33 percent overall) would go to the World Series teams. The other 40 percent (or just over 22 percent overall) would go to the second-, third-, and fourth-place teams in each league. The owners gave up nothing; the players, on the other hand, were taking a pay cut of almost 50 percent. On top of that, American League president Ban Johnson ordered each player in the World Series to donate 10 percent of his share to World War I charities.

The players balked. Hooper, a 31-year-old veteran of three previous World Series, joined with a representative from the Cubs to protest to Johnson and the "National Commission," the committee in charged of distribution of World Series proceeds. Meetings early in the series achieved nothing, as the commission tried to convince the players its hands were tied by the owners.

But before Game 5, the two teams decided to strike. Hooper and three other players met with Johnson and two commissioners under the grandstand to come to a settlement; the players quickly discovered, though, that Johnson in particular was too drunk to discuss anything. When Johnson started waxing poetic about playing for the soldiers in the stands, Hooper and his fellow players had no choice but to relent.

All they could do was ask that their actions not be held against them -- but even that part of compromise went ignored. Johnson refused to award the Red Sox with the medallions that had been awarded to every previous World Series champion. Hooper petitioned every baseball commissioner until his deathi n 1974; his son kept up the crusade until 1993, when the Red Sox awarded the medallions in a ceremony at Fenway Park.

Coming up: The Monster.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 31-35

Let's keep cruising, shall we? Here's where we've just been:

45. Tex Hughson, P
44. Mike Greenwell, LF
43. Duffy Lewis, LF
42. George Scott, 1B/3B
41. Frank Malzone, 3B
40. Buck Freeman, 1B/OF
39. Bruce Hurst, P
38. Ellis Kinder, P
37. Bill Dinneen, P
36. Jimmy Collins, 3B

And here's where we're going:

35. Derek Lowe
34. Jason Varitek
In hindsight, the trade looks as ridiculous as ridiculous gets. Lowe won 21 games for the Red Sox in 2002 and pitched the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2004; Varitek, Captain Intangibles, has been the backbone of the Red Sox for the last decade.

The Mariners, on the other hand, got a relief pitcher who had a 4.13 ERA down the stretch in 1997 and a 5.32 ERA in 1998 before departing as a free agent.

But here's what the Mariners (and Red Sox) were looking at in July of 1997:
Pitcher A: 24 years old. Had a 4.95 ERA in Double-A in 1994 and a 6.11 ERA in Double-A in 1995 but had put it together in 1996, earning a promotion to Triple-A and compiling a 3.97 ERA in a season split between two levels. Earned a cup of coffee in 1997 and was hit hard (to the tune of a 6.13 ERA).
Pitcher B: 22 years old. Had a 2.77 ERA in Double-A in 1994 and, after a down year, had a 4.74 ERA in Double-A in 1996. Promoted to Triple-A, where he pitched mostly out of the bullpen, and then briefly to the big leagues for a brief taste.
Pitcher C: 23 years old. Rocketed through the system, winning 14 games with a 2.83 ERA at Single-A in 1994, 13 games with a 3.11 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A in 1995. Pitched in the playoffs in the big leagues. Spent almost the entire 1996 season in the big leagues, but hit a roadblock, compiling a 5.73 ERA.
Pitcher D: 24 years old. Finished two Single-A stints with a sub-3.15 ERA in 1994. Had a 4.32 ERA in Double-A in 1995 and a 4.01 ERA in Double-A in 1996. Started 1997 in Double-A before a 3.05 ERA and a 40-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio forced a promotion to Triple-A.

Needing bullpen help the way the first-place Mariners did, who would you have traded? Who would you have insisted on keeping?

Pitcher D was Ryan Franklin. Pitcher C was Bob Wolcott. Pitcher B was Mac Suzuki.

Pitcher A was the Mariners traded to the Red Sox: Derek Lowe.

To sweeten the pot, they also offered a catcher who was to them what Kelly Shoppach was to the Red Sox just a couple of years ago -- a talent, to be sure, but a talent blocked by a franchise catcher who wasn't going anywhere. Heck, while Varitek was about to turn 34 years old when Shoppach was dealt to Cleveland, Dan Wilson was just 28 in July of 1997.

It remains the best trade ever pulled off by the Red Sox. But to suggest it was thanks to some sort of incredible incompetence on the part of the Mariners is to miss the context just a little bit.

33. Jackie Jensen
Speaking of great trades: Anyone heard from Mickey McDermott or Tom Umphlett lately?

That was the price the Red Sox paid to acquire Jackie Jensen, whose 170 home runs in a Red Sox uniform ranks him 12th in franchise history, just ahead of Tony Conigliaro and Carlton Fisk and just behind Nomar Garciaparra.

Jensen was as spectacular an athlete as the Red Sox ever had -- he rushed for 1,010 yards and six touchdowns as a fullback at Cal in 1948, leading the Golden Bears to a 10-0 record and a spot in the Rose Bowl. "The Golden Boy" even earned himself a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Two years later, he was in the major leagues. Six years later, he was hitting 25 home runs and stealing 22 bases for the Red Sox. His was the type of complementary power bat that Ted Williams hadn't had in the lineup with him since Jimmie Foxx -- and he even beat out Williams for Most Valuable Player honors in 1958 thanks to his 35 home runs and 122 RBI, both career bests.

32. Rico Petrocelli
By 1965, the Red Sox were in utter disarray; they'd failed to finish even close to .500 since 1958 and had all but lost their identity since the retirement of Ted Williams. Slugging first baseman Dick Stuart, who cared more about his home runs than his team's wins, epitomized the country-club atmosphere that was landing the Red Sox in sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth place every year.

In 1965 and 1966, the Red Sox again finished ninth. But a new generation of players gradually was being worked in. Carl Yastrzemski was 25 and a bona fide superstar. Tony Conigliaro was 20 and 21 but hitting 30 home runs a year. George Scott was showing off his slick glove at first base, and Jim Lonborg and Jose Santiago were working their way toward the top of the pitching rotation. The heart and soul of that generation, though, might have been their shortstop.

Rico Petrocelli hit just .232 in 1965 and .238 in 1966. But he showed an impressive power stroke, particularly for a shotstop; he hit 18 home runs in 1966, more even than Yastrzemski. And while he made 28 errors in the field in 1966, that number was about to come tumbling down as well.

Petrocelli came out of the gate on fire in 1967, hitting .333 in April and .320 in May. On Opening Day against Chicago, he singled home a run in the second inning and hit a three-run home run in the third to lift the Red Sox to a 5-4 win; in the first half of a May 14 doubleheader against Detroit, he hit a two-run home run in the second and a solo home run in the eighth to spark a Red Sox sweep. By July, he was starting for the American League in the All-Star Game. And on Oct. 1, he was the one to squeeze the popup that clinched a trip to the World Series.

While several Red Sox had career years in 1967, the then-24-year-old Petrocelli was just getting started. He hit a career-best 40 home runs in 1969 and drove in a career-best 103 runners in 1970. By 1975, he'd moved to third base and his role had started to diminish thanks to age and injuries, but he still went 8-for-26 with a double in four RBIs while playing every inning of the World Series.

31. Johnny Pesky
So Johnny Pesky, one of the greatest shortstops in Red Sox history, once was at a football game in Oregon with his wife; the two teams were playing in the pouring rain and neither could avoid fumbling the ball.

One fan piped up, "Give the ball to Pesky! He knows how to hold onto it!"

And that, for better or for worse, is the reputation of Johnny Pesky. He's not the guy who has the seventh-best batting average in franchise history; he's not the guy who became the second player ever to collect 200 hits in a season for the Red Sox, let alone three years in a row. He's the guy that held the ball as Enos Slaughter scored the winning run of the 1946 World Series. He even said so himself: "If I was alert, I'd have had him," he told reporters after the game. "When I finally woke up and saw him running for home, I couldn't have gotten him with a .22."

The writers took him at his word -- and that was that.

But researchers going back over the video have discovered something those writers never knew: Pesky didn't hold the ball. Pesky caught the ball and threw it home, and Slaughter scored.

From Red Sox Century by Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson, a resource that has been invaluable in compiling many of these capsules:
"As the grainy film shows, Pesky took the throw with his back to the plate, spun toward third, spotted Slaughter, took a quick half-windup, and threw home. Catch to throw takes less than a second. He does not pause or freeze with the ball, although his body language exhibits surprise. ...
"The run scored because Slaughter made a great play and a series of small miscalculations and slight misplays by several Red Sox players built exponentially, costing the Red Sox the World Series and one man his reputation. Pesky, who got all the blame, simply made an average play in a situation that was already lost. Had he eyes in the back of his head and an arm like Bob Feller's, by the time he got the ball, Slaughter already would have scored."

In recent years, and as generations have passed, the play has become part of distant history. Pesky's seven decades with the Red Sox -- and the pole that bears his name -- has became far more a part of his legacy than the split-second he had the ball in his glove on the decisive play of the 1946 World Series.

Still, though, it's nice to know it wasn't really his fault.

Coming up: Hey, Mr. Spaceman.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 36-40

The last 10 on the list:

50. Larry Gardner, 3B
49. Reggie Smith, CF
48. Curt Schilling, P
47. Ellis Burks, CF
46. Bill Monbouquette, P
45. Tex Hughson, P
44. Mike Greenwell, LF
43. Duffy Lewis, LF
42. George Scott, 1B/3B
41. Frank Malzone, 3B

As a side note: The more you look at these old Red Sox teams, particularly those from the 1950s and 1960s, the more you have to realize how blessed the Red Sox have been this decade. Normally, when the Red Sox have holes they need to fill, you're talking about a starting second baseman or a third starter or an eighth-inning reliever. Not this year.

40. Buck Freeman
Exactly one player drove in 100 runs in every year from 1901-03, the first three years after the American League split off from the National League. It wasn't Honus Wagner. It wasn't Nap Lajoie. It was John Frank Freeman, who drove in 114, 121 and 104 runs in the first three years of the existence of the Red Sox franchise.

Freeman played two seasons with the Washington Senators and one with the Boston Beaneaters before jumping to the American League with Jimmy Collins and Chick Stahl. In 1899, thanks in part to a short right-field fence, he hit a then-astonishing 25 home runs. In 1901, playing first base for the brand new Boston Americans and hit .339 with 12 home runs and 114 RBI. A year later, he hit .309 with 11 home runs and a league-high 121 RBI.

And in 1903, he hit .287 and drove in a league-high 104 runs; with his 39 doubles, 20 triples and 13 home runs, he led the American League in total bases.

In the 1903 World Series, Freeman had hits in six of the eight games -- including triples in each of the last two games, both Boston wins. His final hit of the series was a leadoff triple in the fourth inning; he scored on a single to center field with the eventual game-winning run.

In his career, Freeman ranks 10th in Red Sox history in adjusted OPS+ (130, just behind Nomar Garciaparra's 133). He, Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx are the only pre-World War II players among the top 10 in franchise history in OPS+.

39. Bruce Hurst
Here's the club's membership: Mike Lowell. Manny Ramirez.

Here's the club: Red Sox World Series MVPs.

Hurst, though, should have been its charter member.

The lefty won 13 games to go along with a 2.99 ERA despite a pulled groin that sidelined him for six weeks. In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against California, he allowed 11 hits but just one earned run in a complete-game win. In Game 5, he allowed three runs in six innings and watched from the dugout as Dave Henderson hit his home run in the top of the ninth and his sacrifice fly in the 11th to win it for the Red Sox.

And then, in the World Series, Hurst really got going.

He tossed eight shutout innings to beat the Mets by a 1-0 score in Game 1; he allowed four hits and walked four, but he wiggled out of a couple of jams. In the sixth inning, with Keith Hernandez on second and Gary Carter on first, he got Ray Knight to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. In the seventh inning, with Wally Backman on second base with one out, Hurst struck out Kevin Mitchell and induced a Mookie Wilson groundout to escape unscathed.

Five days later, he went the distance to beat the Mets in Game 5. He again worked in and out of trouble; he struck out Lenny Dykstra with runners on second and third and one out in the fifth, and he struck out Dykstra again after Rafael Santana had singled home a run with two outs in the top of the ninth, this time to end the game.

Two nights later, with the Red Sox one strike away from a championship, Hurst was voted World Series MVP by the writers. But we all know what happened after that.

38. Ellis Kinder
One of just two pitchers with 80 wins and 80 saves in a Red Sox uniform, "Old Folks" missed out on the prime of his career thanks to World War II. He made his big-league debut with the St. Louis Browns at the age of 31, going 11-18 in two seasons thanks in large part to lousy run support from a team that finished seventh and eighth in those two seasons.

After that, though, he was traded to the Red Sox with stars Vern Stephens and Jack Kramer in time for 1948 -- and two of the most dramatic seasons in Red Sox history. Little did anyone know that Kinder, even more than Stephens, a perennial All-Star -- would be right at the center of those two fateful pennant races.

Kinder won 10 games to go along with a 3.74 ERA in his first full season; with Kramer, Joe Dobson and Mel Parnell, he'd taken his place as a stalwart in the rotation of what looked to be a playoff-bound team. Kramer and Dobson both beat the Yankees on the last weekend of the season to draw the Red Sox even with Cleveland -- all they had to do was beat the Indians in a one-game playoff, and they'd be back in the World Series for the second time in three years.

All that was left was for manager Joe McCarthy to choose a starting pitcher. Parnell had a 3.14 ERA in his 35 appearances (27 starts), but he'd been roughed up a little on three days' rest on Sept. 30 and would have had to come back on three days' rest again to pitch in the playoffs. Furthermore, he was left-handed; the heart of the Indians' lineup hit right-handed. The final strike against him was his youth; at 26, he was by far the youngest pitcher in the Red Sox rotation.

That left Kinder and well-traveled veteran Denny Galehouse. McCarthy chose Galehouse -- and his decision has been second-guessed for six decades.

Not everyone was surprised, though.

"The story of why he picked Denny Galehouse is so locial and clear that I just don't understand wh yit hasn't been explained by some of these so-called expert journalists who are some completely dependent upon statistics," catcher Birdie Tebbetts wrote in his posthumously published memoirs. "I will say this: I have written the reasoning of Joe McCarthy in my diaries, and they are there to be read and pondered after I'm gone, if anyone cares. But his decision was so completely rational I don't understand why nobody has figured it out."

And when Galehouse was interviewed by author Glenn Stout in 1988, he said, "Mr. McCarthy sent another player around to ask several players how they felt about pitching. ... I'm not at liberty to say anything and never will about who was asked, but they all had some little reason maybe why they thought they weren't able to do it. They shall remain nameless. I was the only one who said, 'If he wants me to pitch, I'll pitch.' I was the only one who answered that way.'"

(That player, Stout writes in his book Red Sox Century, was Tebbetts.)

Tebbetts and Galehouse certainly seem to hint toward a reluctance on the part of Kinder. Another factor, though, might have been the 1.50 ERA Galehouse compiled in tossing two complete games in the 1944 World Series. Galehouse had pitched in big games; Kinder still was in just his third year in the league and was in the midst of his first pennant race.

Galehouse, of course, was shelled; by the time McCarthy summoned Kinder from the bullpen, it was 4-0 in the fourth inning and the game was all but over.

A year later, Kinder went 23-6 in 43 appearances (30 starts) with a 3.36 ERA and found himself right in the middle of another controversial finish to the season. But that's a story for another day.

37. Bill Dinneen
36. Jimmy Collins
The best position player and second-best pitcher of the 1903 World Series champion team, Collins and Dinneen were two of the most prominent players to make the leap to the Boston Americans in 1901 and 1902.

Collins was the trailblazer -- the first player to make the jump, and quite possibly the first player ever to tell reporters, "I like to play baseball, but this is a business." (He also was the first third baseman ever to figure out how to field bunts barehanded and, in many ways, the best third baseman in the first two decades of the game's history.) He'd hit 15 home runs for the Nationals in 1898; he'd driven in at least 90 runs in every season between 1897 and 1900. He was the star the new league needed to be seen as legitimate.

But he wasn't just brought on board to play. He was named the first manager of the Boston Americans as well; he would serve in that capacity until he and the team both came unglued a little bit in 1906.

And after Collins made the jump, he set about recruiting his buddies -- and that included Dinneen, a 25-year-old up-and-comer who had just won 20 games for the first time in his career. Dinneen, though, opted against making the jump because he thought his old team still had "some moral right to my services." A year later, though, after his contract expired, he skipped across town to join Collins with the Americans.

Dinneen compiled a 2.93 ERA in his first season with the Americans; a frequent lack of run support, though, handed him 21 losses to go along with 21 wins. Part of the reason for that was the fact that Collins and a couple of other stalwarts in the lineup missed significant time with injuries; Collins drove in just 61 runs in 1902, his lowest total in six years.

A year later, though, Collins was back on the field; the 33-year-old third baseman hit .296 with 33 doubles and 17 triples. Dinneen, the clear No. 2 starter behind Cy Young, won 21 games again to go along with a 2.26 ERA and 148 strikeouts; he threw a three-hit shutout in a key August game against Philadelphia that all but knocked the A's out of the pennant race.

And come the World Series, it again was Dinneen who came up back. After Pittsburgh won Game 1 -- under questionable circumstances; many believe Boston threw the game to make some money -- Dinneen threw a three-hitter and struck out 11 to win Game 2. He got knocked around in Game 4 and Game 6, but he came back in Game 8 of the best-of-nine series to throw another complete-game shutout despite taking a line drive off his pitching hand in the third inning. With his finger still bleeding, he struck out Honus Wagner in the top of the ninth inning to win the first World Series for Boston.

Coming up: The Heathcliff Slocumb trade.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 41-45

Here's the company through which we're moving; it's getting more and more elite by the day:

55. Pete Runnels, 2B
54. Joe Dobson, P
53. Vern Stephens, SS
52. Carl Mays, P
51. Josh Beckett, P
50. Larry Gardner, 3B
49. Reggie Smith, CF
48. Curt Schilling, P
47. Ellis Burks, CF
46. Bill Monbouquette, P

And onward we press:

45. Tex Hughson
Pitching a baseball was a tenuous venture back in the days before pitch counts and ligament replacement surgery; just ask Cecil Hughson.

The Austin, Texas, native won 22 games with a 2.59 ERA as the ace of the Red Sox staff in 1942; the Red Sox won 91 games and finished second in the American League before losing Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky to the armed forces. Two years later, with Bobby Doerr perhaps the only other recognizeable name left, Hughson went 18-5 with a 2.26 ERA and threw a pair of complete-game shutouts before being called into the military.

Hughson remained in uniform through the end of the war in 1945. (Like many of his fellow players, he wasn't exactly on the front lines. "I fought World War II with a bat and glove," he later said.) But in 1946, with everyone back, he won 20 games with a 2.75 ERA for a team that finally put it all together.

Hughson already was fighting issues with a sore arm; in 1946, though, everything felt good. He struck out a team-best 172 to go along with just 51 walks; he tossed six shutouts among his 21 complete games. His most memorable game might have been the three-hit shutout he threw against Cleveland in mid-September to clinch the pennant and the Red Sox's first trip to the World Series in almost 30 years.

He got the start in Game 1 of the World Series against St. Louis, tossing eight solid innings in a 3-2 win. He then was shelled on three days' rest in Game 4, lasting just two innings and allowing six runs (though a pair of Red Sox errors didn't help the cause). Still, though, he was in position to start either Game 6 or Game 7 after Joe Dobson's four-hitter in Game 5 put the Red Sox in position to clinch a title.

Instead, though, Cronin started lefty Mickey Harris, saying he would save both Hughson and Boo Ferriss for a possible Game 7. (The Cardinals didn't argue the decision: "I don't want to have to face Hughson again," manager Eddie Dyer said.) Harris, though, gave up five hits in the fourth inning of Game 6 and had to be yanked. In came Hughson, who tossed 4 1/3 shutout innings to keep the Red Sox in the game. It was the last meaningful performance of his career -- and, as it turned out, it came in a lost cause. The Red Sox lost Game 6 and then lost Game 7 when relievers Bob Klingler and Earl Johnson couldn't hold a one-run lead in the eighth inning.

A year later, the wear and tear of the 1946 season caught up to Hughson. He made 26 starts and threw 13 complete games, but he had to fight arm trouble all year. And in 1948, after a trade for slugger Vern Stephens launched the Red Sox into the thick of another pennant race, Hughson had almost nothing left. When he got into a critical game against the Yankees on the final day of the 1949 season, he'd gone a month without pitching. The three-run double he surrendered was a rough way to go out for the pitcher with the 11th-most wins (96) and 11th-best ERA+ (125, tied with Babe Ruth and Mel Parnell) in franchise history.

44. Mike Greenwell
Left field is to Boston what center field always seemed to be to New York -- a spot reserved for the elite of the elite, the best of the best, every generation's once-in-a-generation hitter. Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice all are in the Hall of Fame; "The Gator" appeared to be on his way there after his spectacular debut in 1987 and his MVP-caliber season in 1988.

In those two seasons, Greenwell put up some spectacular numbers for a team that still was making the playoffs every other year:
1987: .328, 19 home runs, 89 RBI (in 412 at-bats)
1988: .325, 22 home runs, 119 RBI

It was an arc that had fans once again envisioning Yaz, envisioning a guy who could play left field for World Series contenders for years. But Greenwell -- who still wasn't 26 years old -- seemed to plateau after that. He hit 14 home runs in 1989 and 14 more in 1990; he then hit just nine home runs despite a full season's worth of at-bats in 1991. He even fought with rising star Mo Vaughn around the batting cage in August. And in 1992, he landed on the disabled list in mid-June and never emerged.

He never grew into Yaz. He wasn't even Jason Bay. But on a team with underachievers up and down the lineup (Jack Clark, anyone?), he was a perennial threat to hit .300 with 15 home runs and 30 doubles; among players with at least 4,000 plate appearances in a Red Sox uniform, his .303 career batting average ranks him ninth. He ranks among the top 10 in franchise history in hits (10th) and doubles (ninth), and only 12 players have driven in more runs or delivered more extra-base hits.

He'll always be remembered for what he wasn't. What he was, though, was pretty good.

43. Duffy Lewis
The greatest outfield in Red Sox history? You can have Lynn-Rice-Evans. You can have Williams-DiMaggio-Whoever happened to be playing right field. You can have Ramirez-Damon-Nixon. You can have them all.

Not before or since have the Red Sox seen an outfield like they had from 1910-15: Harry Hooper in right field, Tris Speaker in center field and Duffy Lewis in left field.

Lewis was the youngest of the three. He's also the only one not enshrined in Cooperstown. But in his eight seasons in Boston, he carved out a more than respectable career for himself. He won three World Series titles; he even became the second Red Sox player in history to drive in more than 100 runs in a season when he drove in 109 in 1912.

And never more was his run-producing ability more critical than during the 1915 World Series. Lewis had driven home a team-best 76 runs that year to go along with his 31 doubles, seven triples and two home runs; his .291 batting average ranked him second to Tris Speaker among regulars. But he really got going during the World Series:

* In Game 1, he drove in the only Red Sox run in a 3-1 defeat.
* In Game 3, he singled to right field to plate the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-1 Red Sox win. ("The crowd came out of the stands, over the fences, and they carried me off," he said later. "They were so excited that they almost broke my back.")
* In Game 4, his double to left in the sixth inning provided the margin of victory in a 2-1 Red Sox win.
* And in Game 5, he hit a two-run home run to center field in the eighth inning to tie the game at 4 and set up Harry Hooper's go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth.

All told, Lewis went 8-for-18 (.444) with five RBI in the series; Hooper was the only other Red Sox player to drive in more than one run in the five games.

42. George Scott
Before there was Kevin Youkilis, there was George Scott.

"Everyone knows what a great first baseman he was," Bill Lee once wrote, "but he was also the best third baseman I'd ever seen. He played a lot of third the year I came up (in 1969), and he was awesome. The only reason he wasn't used there regularly was because he was an even better first baseman. George deserved every Gold Glove he ever won.

"Once Bert Campaneris, while he was still a shortstop with Oakland, bunted the ball on me down the first-base line. He pushed it, but he didn't quite get it past me. I came in and made the play in one motion, but I got off a bad throw, skipping the ball through Campy's legs. George went inside the bag on the foul side of the line and picked the ball cleanly from between Campy's legs for an out. That was remarkable."

Oh, and he could really hit, too. He hit 27 home runs as a rookie first baseman in 1966, including two home runs apiece in back-to-back games on a road trip in early May. In 1967, he was benched for a week in August to send a message about his growing waistline -- only to hit three home runs in a two-game span immediately upon his return. On the second-to-last day of the season, with the Red Sox and Twins tied at 2 in the sixth inning, Scott hit his 17th home run of the season to put his team ahead for good.

"Boomer" saw his numbers tumble in 1968, but he bounced back to hit 16, 16 and 24 home runs over the next three seasons before he was traded to Milwaukee. He was reacquired by the Red Sox in 1977 and hit 33 home runs that year; his 154 career dingers in a Red Sox uniform ranks him 16th all-time.

41. Frank Malzone
Autographs just weren't treasured in the 1950s the way they're treasured today -- or, at least, not by my dad. After a family friend brought him over to the Red Sox third baseman's Needham, Mass., house to get a baseball signed, Dad took the ball out into the backyard of his family's home to play with it. Sure enough, the ball rolled into the woods behind the house. He never found it.

Too bad. Not only could he sell the baseball online to make a quick $50 or $60, if he wanted, but he'd also have possession of a baseball autographed by perhaps the second-best Red Sox third baseman of all-time.

Malzone hit .276 in his 11 seasons with the Red Sox; he broke through in 1957 with a .292 batting average to go along with 15 home runs and 103 RBI, earning him an All-Star nod and the only Rookie of the Year vote that didn't go to New York's Tony Kubek. (For what it's worth, Malzone finished seventh in MVP voting with 58 points; Kubek finished 26th with one point.)

The Red Sox finished in third place that year and again the year after that. They wouldn't finish over .500 again, though, until 1967.

Malzone's best year came in 1962, when he hit .283 with 21 home runs and 95 RBI -- one more RBI than 22-year-old left fielder Carl Yastrzemski. He finished his career with 1,454 hits in a Red Sox uniform -- ninth-best in franchise history.

Coming up: The quintessential player-manager.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 46-50

After a day off to recoup -- someone caught a head cold or something here at OneIf headquarters -- we're back on track and moving into the top 50 Red Sox players of all-time. The last 10, just for some context:

60. Frank Sullivan, P
59. Jim Lonborg, P
58. Tony Conigliaro, OF
57. John Valentin, SS/3B
56. Rick Burleson, SS
55. Pete Runnels, 2B
54. Joe Dobson, P
53. Vern Stephens, SS
52. Carl Mays, P
51. Josh Beckett, P

50. Larry Gardner
Looking at the numbers, Larry Gardner didn't do much in his four trips to the World Series. He hit .179, .235 and .176 in three Fall Classics with the Red Sox and .208 in a return trip with the Cleveland Indians in 1920. It was a far cry from a career in which the Vermont native hit .289 (including .282 with the Red Sox) with 301 doubles and 129 triples. His 87 triples with the Red Sox are good enough for fifth in franchise history, behind only Harry Hooper, Tris Speaker, Buck Freeman and Bobby Doerr.

But you don't have to get a hit to make an impact -- and in the biggest at-bat of Gardner's career, a sacrifice fly was more than enough.

It was Game 8 of the 1912 World Series; the Red Sox and New York Giants had won three games apiece with darkness having ended Game 2 in a tie. (Gardner's ground ball to shortstop scored Duffy Lewis with the run that sent that game into extra innings.) Hugh Bedient and Christy Mathewson had dueled for seven innings; when Bedient was pulled, Mathewson and Joe Wood had dueled for three more. It was the bottom of the 10th inning -- and the Giants had taken a 2-1 lead in the top half.

Wood, who had taken a line drive off the hand in the top of the 10th, as lifted for pinch-hitter Clyde Engle. Engle's routine fly ball, though, eluded the grasp of Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass; the first hitter of the inning ended up on second base. Hooper then hit a fly ball to center field to advance Engle to third. Steve Yerkes then walked. Tris Speaker hit a weak pop fly along the first-base line, but it fell between first baseman Fred Merkle and catcher Chief Meyers; given a reprieve, Speaker singled to right to score Engle and move Yerkes around to third. Mathewson then walked Duffy Lewis intentionally to load the bases with one out.

Gardner was next. He'd hit .160 through the first seven games of the series but already had a double to his credit in Game 8. (He'd been thrown out trying to take third.) The last time hed stepped to the plate with men on base, though, he'd never had a chance to swing the bat. Yerkes had been picked off third. This time, though, Yerkes stayed where he was -- and Gardner hit a long fly ball to right field. It was more than enough to score Yerkes with the game-winning run.

49. Reggie Smith
In history, nothing ever happens just once. Here's one for you: A power-hitting prospect who didn't reach his potential with the Minnesota Twins, his first organization, broke through with the Red Sox and had a huge season in a season in which the Red Sox got closer to a championship than they had in more than a decade. Also, in that season, that particular power hitter also stole 16 bases.

OK, so it's not a perfect analogy.

But Smith, like David Ortiz in 2003, was a guy who helped rocket the Red Sox to new heights with his first real breakthrough season. He hit .210 in April, .214 in May and .187 in June of his first full season -- while Tony Conigliaro was capturing the imagination of a city, Smith was still trying to find his way. So too were the Red Sox, in many ways, despite their imagination-gripping success.

At the end of the day on July 8, the Red Sox were seven games out of first place. The next day, they lost the first game of a doubleheader against Detroit when Gary Bell and Jose Santiago both were shelled in the early innings.

In the second inning of the second game of the doubleheader, though, Smith hit a two-run home run to lift the Red Sox to a 3-0 win. Over the next two weeks, Smith hit .340 and scored eight runs as the Red Sox won 12 of 13; he went 5-for-8 with three runs scored in a doubleheader sweep of Cleveland that pulled the Red Sox within half a game of first place. He then hit three home runs and drove in six runs in a doubleheader sweep of California on Aug. 20 to keep the Red Sox in the race.

Smith then hit a pair of home runs in the World Series; he even went back-to-back with Rico Petrocelli in the fourth inning of Game 6.

But Smith just kept blossoming after that 1967 season. He hit 25 home runs in 1969 and 30 home runs in 1971; he even stole 10 or more bases in five of six seasons from 1967-72. By the time he was traded to St. Louis in October of 1973, he'd hit 149 home runs, which ties him for 17th in franchise history.

48. Curt Schilling
Sitting at the bar at a restaurant in Randolph, Mass., today, two guys were watching a SportsCenter feature on Schilling. One spoke up during a discussion of the injuries that had forced the righthander's retirement: "Who cares about his shoulder? Tell us if he's going to get into the Hall of Fame!"

Well, then. Let's take a look.

Schilling finished his career with 216 wins, 146 losses and a 3.46 ERA. His career ERA+ (adjusted for era and ballpark) is 127.

One good place to start is Schilling's comparables on Among them:
* Kevin Brown (211-144, 3.28, 126)
* Bob Welch (211-146, 3.47, 106)
* Orel Hershiser (204-150, 3.48, 111)
* John Smoltz (210-147, 3.26, 126)
* Don Drysdale (209-166, 2.95, 120)
* Catfish Hunter (224-166, 3.26, 104)

Brown, Welch and Hershiser aren't in the Hall of Fame and never will be. Drysdale and Hunter are in the Hall of Fame; Smoltz will be as soon as he calls it quits and his five-year window is up.

Just looking at the ERA+ numbers, Schilling is at the head of that group. He's got a better ERA+ than any of them. His ERA+, in fact, ranks him in the top half of the 58 pitchers in the Hall of Fame; Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver each have an ERA+ of 127; Jim Palmer has an ERA+ of 126.

The downside for Schilling is that he was never considered one of the dominant pitchers of his era. He never won a Cy Young Award (though he finished second three times between 2001 and 2001 and 2004); he didn't win 20 games until he was 34 years old, and by then, he was teamed with Randy Johnson and later Pedro Martinez and Josh Beckett.

The upside for Schilling is his postseason track record. In 19 playoff starts, Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, striking out 120 and walking 25. He pitched a complete-game shutout in the 1993 World Series for Philadelphia, he teamed with Johnson to win the 2001 World Series in Arizona (1.69 ERA in 21 1/3 ERA in), and he pitched the "Bloody Sock" game to get the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004. No one with as many as 15 postseason starts has a better ERA.

That ought to be enough. It might not be on the first ballot, but he'll get in.

47. Ellis Burks
A year after the Red Sox came within one strike of a World Series title, Ellis Burks won the starting job vacated by the departed Tony Armas. In what otherwise was a lost year for the fifth-place Red Sox, Burks hit 20 home runs and stole 27 bases; he was just the third Red Sox player ever to go 20-20 in a single season.

A year later, Burks played in every game of the "Morgan Magic" run in July and August; he hit .310 and drove in 13 runs as the Red Sox won 19 of 20 games to leap from fourth place, 8 1/2 games behind Detroit, to a tie with Detroit, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Two and a half months later, the Red Sox were in the playoffs.

At that point, with Burks still just 24 years old, Red Sox had visions of Fred Lynn Redux in center field. As with Lynn, though, injuries took a bite out of Burks' potential. He had to undergo shoulder surgery in 1989, costing him a month and a half in the middle of the season; he played in just 97 games. Three years later, he played in just 66 games thanks to an assortment of knee and back injuries; he left as a free agent after that season.

By then, though, he'd put together a resume that ranks him in the top 50 in Red Sox history in almost every offensive category, including 15th in stolen bases (with 95, tied with Jackie Jenson and ahead of Nomar Garciaparra).

46. Bill Monbouquette
A cult hero thanks to his local roots and his unwieldy last name, Monbo broke through in 1960 and pitched at least 200 innings for six straight seasons after that. He went to three All-Star Games. He won at least 13 games five times he threw at least 10 complete games five times.

He just had the misfortune of pitching for some brutally mediocre Red Sox teams.

In 1960, Monbouquette finished the season with a 3.64 ERA and three complete-game shutouts, including a one-hitter against the Detroit in May and a five-hitter against the Tigers in July in which the Red Sox gave him one measly run. A year later, he dropped his ERA to 3.39 and threw struck out 17 in a mid-May start against Washington, breaking the Red Sox single-game record. (In that game, he even drew a bases-loaded walk to drive home the game-winning run.)

In 1962, Monboquette threw a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox, outdueling Hall of Famer Early Wynn -- but even that only improved his record to 9-10. That game, though, started a stretch in which he went 7-3 with a 1.68 ERA in August and September. The stretch run didn't mean much, though, for a Red Sox team that finished eighth in the American League.

(Here's a fun story from that no-hitter, in his own words: "I had (Luis) Aparicio, 0 and 2, and threw him a slider off the plate. He tried to hold up, and I thought he went all the way. The umpire, Bill McKinley, called it a ball, and as I was getting the ball back from the catcher, someone shouted from the stands, 'They shot the wrong McKinley.' I had to back off the mound because I had a little chuckle to myself. The next pitch, I threw him another slider and he swung and missed. They say white men can't jump, but I did. It's about the biggest thrill I ever had.")

A year later, Monbouquette won 20 games for the first time; he threw two complete games in April and a three-hit shutout in July, and he struck out at least 10 hitters three times.

The Red Sox, though, still finished seventh. Story of his career.

Coming up: My dad's autographed baseball.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 51-55

Here's where we've been over the last couple of days:

65. Rube Foster, P
64. Trot Nixon, OF
63. Marty Barrett, 2B
62. Johnny Damon, OF
61. Jonathan Papelbon, P
60. Frank Sullivan, P
59. Jim Lonborg, P
58. Tony Conigliaro, OF
57. John Valentin, SS/3B
56. Rick Burleson, SS

And here's an obligatory transitional sentence meant to get us from the above list to the below capsules, which is really what we're all here for:

55. Pete Runnels
Five players since World War II have won more than one batting title in a Red Sox uniform: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Nomar Garciaparra and Pete Runnels. That's not bad company. Runnels hit .320 in his five seasons with the Red Sox, a mark that ranks him fifth in franchise history behind only Williams, Boggs, Garciaparra and Tris Speaker. (Jimmie Foxx also hit .320 in his 6 1/2 seasons in Boston.)

The second baseman was acquired in a 1958 trade with Washington and promptly finished second in the American League in batting average; his mark of .322 trailed only Williams' .328. A year later, he hit .314 while splitting time between first base and second base to make room for Pumpsie Green, the first black player in the history of the franchise. In 1960, he hit .320 and won his first career batting title.

Runnels, though, had the misfortune of playing for a Red Sox team with zero identity and zero hope of going anywhere. Williams was on his way out and Yastrzemski on his way in, but the Red Sox still failed to win 80 games in any of Runnels' five season. The Red Sox, in fact, failed to win 80 games in every season between 1958 and 1967. After Runnels won his second batting title in 1962, the Red Sox shipped him to Houston.

54. Joe Dobson
You hear all the time about people who blow fingers off their hands to avoid military service. Dobson blew two fingers off his left hand when he was a nine-year-old boy playing with explosives, and not only did he serve two years in the military, but his 106 career wins ranks him ninth in franchise history, one ahead of Lefty Grove.

Dobson was traded to the Red Sox as part of a three-team trade featuring Doc Cramer; at that point, he was a 23-year-old coming off a 3-7 season in which he'd compiled a 4.95 ERA. A year later, though, he already was one of the stalwarts of the Red Sox rotation. And after he returned from military service that cost him the 1944 and 1945 seasons, he blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the American League.

Boo Ferriss and Tex Hughson anchored the pitching staff all season long for the 1946 Red Sox, but neither outpitched Dobson in the World Series against St. Louis. Dobson tossed a complete game in Game 5 and came out of the bullpen in Games 2 and 7; all told, in 12 2/3 innings, he surrendered zero earned runs and struck out 10.

And a year later, Dobson led the Red Sox staff in wins (18), ERA (2.95) and complete games (15); a year later, he earned the only All-Star nod of his career in going 16-10 with a 3.56 ERA.

In 1949, though, he had to fight through injury to compile his 14-12 record and 3.85 ERA; he and former ace Tex Hughson both had to battle soreness, and that gave manager Joe McCarthy an excuse to almost exclusively ride the right arm of Ellis Kinder and the left arm of Mel Parnell. Dobson, like the rest of the team's pitchers, rarely appeared in any important situations. That's what made it almost unfair when McCarthy called upon Dobson to pitch in relief on the second-to-last day of the season; the result was a game-winning home run that lifted the Yankees into a tie for first place in the division. A day later, the Red Sox would lose again and fall into second place on the last day of the season.

Dobson pitched one more season in Boston -- he went 15-10 with a 4.18 ERA in 1950 -- before he was traded to Chicago.

53. Vern Stephens
It's tough to be overshadowed much more than Vern Stephens was in Boston. The power-hitting infielder hit 29 home runs in 1948, 39 home runs in 1949 and 30 home runs in 1950 -- and accompanied those with at least 135 RBIs in each of those seasons. In 1949, in fact, he drove in an incredible 159 runs to go along with a .290 batting average (and a .391 on-base percentage thanks to his 101 walks).

But here's what American League MVP voting looked like in those three years:

1. Lou Boudreau; 2. Joe DiMaggio; 3. Ted Williams; 4. Stephens
1. Williams; 2. Phil Rizzuto; 3. Joe Page; 4. Mel Parnell; 5. Ellis Kinder; 6. Tommy Henrich; 7. Stephens
1. Rizzuto; 2. Billy Goodman; 3. Yogi Berra; 4. George Kell; 5. Bob Lemon; 6. Walt Dropo; 7. Vic Raschi; 8. Larry Doby; 9. Joe DiMaggio; 10. Vic Wertz; 11-20. A whole bunch of guys; t-21. Williams; t-24. Stephens

When you play with Ted Williams, after all, it's tough even to be the top vote-getter on your own team. Stephens outproduced Williams by a huge margin in 1950, thanks mostly to an injury Williaums suffered in the All-Star Game that summer, but he still finished behind his Hall of Fame teammate in the voting.

Stephens never did win that elusive MVP award, but he did finish his career ranked ninth in slugging percentage in Red Sox history, right in between Jim Rice and Tony Conigliaro. Not bad company, either.

52. Carl Mays
Here's yet another member of one of the greatest pitching staffs in the history of baseball: The 1918 Red Sox.

Check out this staff:
Joe Bush: 2.11 ERA in 272 2/3 innings; seven shutouts
Carl Mays: 2.21 ERA in 293 1/3 innings; eight shutouts
Babe Ruth: 2.22 ERA in 166 1/3 innings; one shutout
Sam Jones: 2.25 ERA in 184 innings; five shutouts
Dutch Leonard: 2.72 ERA in 125 2/3 innings; three shutouts

You want workhorses? The entire rest of the Red Sox staff pitched all of 78 innings that season. For every nine innings the team played, one of those five guys pitched 8 1/3. That's not particularly exceptional in the context of 1918 -- Mays' 293 1/3 innings pitched only ranked him fourth in the American League. But it's still pretty remarkable.

Come World Series time, that staff kept right on dealing. Mays, who went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in the 1916 World Series against Brooklyn, tosssed two complete games and gave up a grand total of two runs. In Game 3, he allowed seven hits in a 2-1 win over the Cubs at Comiskey Park; in Game 6, he allowed three hits in a 2-1 win that clinched the Red Sox's fifth World Series title.

Mays pitched just as well in 1919; through July, he had a 2.47 ERA and only was 5-11 because the Red Sox couldn't seem to score to save their lives. His hard luck eventually brought out his hot temper. After a loss in Chicago on July 13, he left the field between innings and jumped a train back to Boston before the game even was over. He told one reporter, "I'll never pitch another game for the Red Sox. ... I have pitched better ball than ever before. The entire team is up in the air and things have gone from bad to worse, ... so I am getting out."

He eventually was sold to -- who else? -- New York. But unlike the sale of Ruth, which was less than a year away, this was less of a desperate grab for money than an attempt to get rid of an unhappy player at the best possible price. Mays would never again finish a season with a sub-3.00 ERA, but he'd win 26 and 27 games in the next two seasons thanks to the run support he'd always craved.

51. Josh Beckett
For a change of pace: Here's something to consider this spring as the hype surrounding San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg continues to build: Josh Beckett has had the best career of any pitcher selected among the top three picks in the draft in the last two decades -- and it isn't even close.

Here's the list:
1989: 1. Ben McDonald; 3. Roger Salkeld.
1990: None.
1991: 1. Brien Taylor.
1992: 2. Paul Shuey; 3. B.J. Wallace.
1993: 2. Darren Dreifort; 3. Brian Anderson.
1994: 1. Paul Wilson; 3. Dustin Hermanson.
1995: None.
1996: 1. Kris Benson; 3. Braden Looper.
1997: 1. Matt Anderson.
1998: 2. Mark Mulder.
1999: 2. Beckett.
2000: 2. Adam Johnson.
2001: 2. Mark Prior.
2002: 1. Bryan Bullington; 3. Christopher Gruler.
2003: 3. Kyle Sleeth.
2004: 2. Justin Verlander; 3. Philip Humber.
2005: None.
2006: 1. Luke Hochevar; 2. Greg Reynolds.
2007: 1. David Price.
2008: None.

That's remarkable. Mulder finished second in Cy Young Award voting after going 21-8 in 2001, and Verlander had back-to-back top-10 finishes in 2006 and 2007 before suffering a setback. But that's pretty much it.

Beckett, on the other hand, pitched the Marlins to a World Series title in 2003, tossing two complete-game shutouts and compiling a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings. He then went 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA for the Marlins in 2005 before being swapped for Hanley Ramirez in the offseason. And then in 2007 with the Red Sox, he went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting; in the playoffs, he went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA en route to another World Series title.

That's a first-round pick. The rest of the list, though? Not so much.

Coming up: The man with the bloody sock.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 56-60

As we near the midpoint, here's a recap of the last 10 players on this list -- and here's a link to the start of the list, just in case you're just joining us:

70. Tom Brewer, P
69. Tony Armas, OF
68. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
67. Jeff Reardon, P
66. Chick Stahl, OF
65. Rube Foster, P
64. Trot Nixon, OF
63. Marty Barrett, 2B
62. Johnny Damon, OF
61. Jonathan Papelbon, P

Hey, look, we're almost halfway there!

60. Frank Sullivan
The Red Sox went into the 1955 season without much in their starting rotation; Ellis Kinder, Joe Dobson and Mel Parnell all were getting old and on their way out, and there wasn't much coming behind them. One promising young arm, though, was attached to the right shoulder of 24-year-old Frank Sullivan, a native of Hollywood who had won 15 games with a 3.14 ERA in 1954.

In 1955, though, Sullivan blossomed into an ace. He won 18 games, and his 2.91 ERA ranked him fifth in the American League. The Red Sox, meanwhile, had won 69 games in 1954 but won 84 in 1955 and were still in contention into early September. A big reason for that was the pitching of Sullivan, who helped keep the Red Sox afloat while Ted Williams was flirting with retirement in April and May.

In 1956, Sullivan went 14-7 with a 3.42 ERA for a Red Sox team that was 10 games out of contention by mid-June; in 1957, he went 14-11 with a 2.73 ERA as the Red sox once again played their way out of the pennant race before the Fourth of July. He won 13 games and had a 3.57 ERA in 1958 before his 63 complete games in five season began to catch up with him. After a mediocre year in 1960, he was traded to Philadelphia; he was out of baseball by 1963.

His career ERA of 3.47 ranks him 30th in Red Sox history; his 90 wins rank him in a tie for 15th, just ahead of Babe Ruth, Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Hurst.

59. Jim Lonborg
If only he'd called it quits just a few minutes earlier.

Skiing at Lake Tahoe on Christmas Eve of 1967, Lonborg caught an edge and went down on his last run of the day. It was barely two months after he'd been named the American League's Cy Young Award winner. He'd gone 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA and 246 strikeouts for the Impossible Dream team; he'd even tossed complete games in Game 2 and Game 5 of the World Series, surrendering all of four hits and one earned run in those 18 innings. (Pitching on two days' rest in Game 7, he couldn't recapture the magic and gave up six earned runs in six innings.)

He was still just 25 years old, and he was the best pitcher in the American League. Then he caught and edge and tore ligaments in his left knee. He was never the same. Over the next two seasons, Lonborg would go 13-21 with an ERA of 4.41 and 173 strikeouts. A year after that, he made just four starts -- and in October of 1971, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for a package that featured speedster Tommy Harper.

His career was hardly over at that point, though. Lonborg eventually was traded to Philadelphia, where he recaptured at least a hint of his past glory. The future dentist won 17 games in 1974 and 18 games in 1976 -- including a 6-0 start in 1976 that earned him this praise from Sports Illustrated:

"He is 34 now, and still very much Gentleman Jim. But his elegance has been tempered, and his pitching has become more subtle. His emphasis now is not on speed, but on location. .... In 1972, Boston traded him to Milwaukee, where the pitching coach was Wes Stock. Lonborg credits Stock with helping him develop his current style, which relies heavily on pinpointing the ball down and away and changing speeds.

"Still, when Lonborg was sent to the Phillies at the end of 1972, he had yet to gain full mastery of his breaking ball. To the rescue came Philadelphia Pitching Coach Ray Rippelmeyer, who recommended a small adjustment—that Lonborg bring his hand a little closer to his head as he made his deliveries. Lonborg's curve showed immediate and dramatic improvement, and his slider, by his own estimate, became twice as effective. In fact, Lonborg links his resurgence directly to that pitch. He feels that he could throw nothing but sliders to right-handed batters for an entire game and probably win."

Red Sox fans always will wonder what might have been for the hero of 1967. Of the first 10 American League Cy Young Award winners -- the award was separated by league starting in 1967 -- Lonborg was the only pitcher not to win 20 games at least one other time in his career. But with the way things crashed down around him, he still did awfully well for himself. He even ranks 20th all-time in Phillies history in career wins (with 75); he ranks 29th in Red Sox history (with 68). He didn't land in the Hall of Fame the way some thought he might, but his place in history will never fade.

58. Tony Conigliaro
Those of us who weren't alive in the mid-1960s, when we think about Tony C., we mostly think about that fateful Jack Hamilton pitch that ruined a promising career. Those of us who weren't alive in the mid-1960s, though, don't really understand just how promising that career was.

The Red Sox signed Conigliaro out of St. Mary's High School in Lynn in 1962; he was just 17 years old. By the time he was 18, he was hitting .363 with 24 home runs and 74 RBI in 83 minor-league games. By the time he was 19, he was in the major leagues -- and he was hitting .290 with 21 doubles and 24 home runs in 404 at-bats. He was both a heartthrob and a sure-fire future Hall of Famer. He even had an endearing personality; he overslept and arrived 45 minutes late for his first workout in 1964 and told writers, "I ought to be fined $1,000. I ought to be suspended. ... What a way to start my career. I can hear my kids asking me someday, 'What did you do your first day in the big leagues, Daddy?' And I'll say, 'I slept.'"

He even signed a recording contract with RCA and released a single entitled, appropriately, "Playing the Field." It went to No. 14 on the Boston area charts.

All that aside, though, Conigliaro was a sensational baseball player. He hit 32 home runs in 1965 and 28 home runs with 93 RBI in 1966; he'd hit 84 career home runs before his 22nd birthday. In the history of baseball, only Mel Ott ever has hit more home runs before his 22nd birthday. Ken Griffey Jr., even, hit just 60 home runs by his 22nd birthday despite 1,600 at-bats to Conigliaro's 1,483.

Conigliaro started slow in 1967 but heated up just as the weather heated up. Between June 11 and July 7, in fact, he hit .359 with 11 home runs and 29 RBI. In the 11th inning of a June 15 game against first-place Chicago, he hit a two-out, two-run home run to lift the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory -- and a day later, the phrase "Impossible Dream" appeared for the first time in a newspaper headline. During the Red Sox's 10-game winning streak from July 14-July 23, he hit .424 with four doubles, three triples, four home runs and 12 RBI.

A month later, a Hamilton fastball got away from him and hit Conigliaro in the head; that story has been told many times and doesn't need to be retold here. But there's a reason that had such an impact. It wasn't just because of how scary the incident was. It was because of who Tony C was.

57. John Valentin
Headed into the 1995 season, Johnny Val had hit a grand total of 25 big-league home runs in three seasons. In the 1995 season, he hit 27 home runs and drove in 102 runs as part of the Red Sox team that won a division title despite having finished 17 games out the year before. From Aug. 1 to Aug. 14, a span in which the Red Sox won 13 of 14 games to open up a 10-game lead in the American League East, Valentin hit .421 and drove in 17 runs.

The legacy of Valentin, though, wouldn't be cemented until 1997 -- a year in which Valentin suddenly no longer was asked to play shortstop for the Red Sox. Instead, the Red Sox brass wanted a top prospect named Nomar Garciaparra to play shortstop. Valentin revolted, walking out of spring training in protest, but he eventually relented; he would hit .306 with 18 home runs in 1997. The Red Sox, though, finished in fourth place.

It wasn't until 1998 and 1999, though, that Valentin really cemented his place in Red Sox lore. The Red Sox earned the first wild-card bid in team history in 1998; Valentin hit .467 with five runs scored in the American League Division Series against Cleveland.

A year later, the Red Sox again won the American League wild card and again drew Cleveland in the American League Division Series. Valentin, like the Red Sox, fell flat in the first two games; the third baseman went 0-for-8 as the Red Sox fell into a hole and faced quick elimination. But when Valentin came to life, so too did his team. He hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead, and he hit a two-run double in the seventh inning as part of an avalanche that put the game away. One night later, Valentin hit a two-run home run in the first inning, a single in the second inning and a two-run home run in the third inning as the Red Sox cruised to a 23-7 rout to tie the series.

A night later, a pair of home runs from Troy O'Leary and the unbelievable pitching of Pedro Martinez lifted the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series. It was on the shoulders of Valentin, though, that they even got to that point.

56. Rick Burleson
The Rooster hit .252 with six home runs and 62 RBI in 1975. That only tells part of the story.

We'll let Bill Lee tell the rest of the story: "I had never met a red-ass like Rick in my life. Some guys don't like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied. ... The moment he reported to camp (in his rookie year), he brought a first to the club that we had been lacking."

That didn't start when he was in Boston. Back when he was in elementary school, in fact, Burleson used to get into fights on purpose -- and with the sanction of authority,

"The principal would come and get me out of class to fight bad kids or kids who might have been picking on someone," he once said. "We'd put on boxing gloves and, after I'd beaten up the other kid a little bit, they'd stop it and break us up."

Burleson never hit more than eight home runs or drove in more than 65 runs in his Red Sox career. But he played in three All-Star Games, and his 1,114 hits in his seven seasons in Boston ranks him 21st all-time, ahead of Carlton Fisk. Most importantly, he (with Fisk) was the heart and soul of a World Series team in 1975 and a near-miss team in 1978.

It was an ankle injury suffered by Burleson on July 9, in fact, that kicked off the Red Sox's collapse. When Burleson slid into second base hard enough to sprain his ankle and stretch out his ligaments, the Red Sox were 10 game ahead of Milwaukee and 11 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. He was expected to miss just a week; instead, he missed three weeks and didn't return until July 28. He went 3-for-5 with three RBI in a game three days after his return, but he hit just .233 in August and .248 in September despite having hit .322 in June.

Two years later, the Rooster was traded to California in a salary-dump move; he would play for the Angels for five years and even had 11 at-bats in the fateful 1986 ALCS. But he'll always be remembered as the best player to play shortstop for the Red Sox between the years of Johnny Pesky and Nomar Garciaparra.

Coming up: A perennial All-Star and MVP candidate in the 1940s and 1950s -- but not Ted Williams.

A look back: We've updated the Boo Ferriss profile (No. 80) thanks to some new research; the decline of a star isn't always quite what it seems.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: 61-65

To recap where we've been:

75. Sad Sam Jones, P
74. Ernie Shore, P
73. Jimmy Piersall, OF
72. Dennis Eckersley, P
71. Ray Culp, P
70. Tom Brewer, P
69. Tony Armas, OF
68. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
67. Jeff Reardon, P
66. Chick Stahl, OF

And here's where we're going:

65. Rube Foster
The Oklahoma native -- the first George Foster to make an appearance in Red Sox history --made more than 30 appearances on the mound just three times in his five-year career. But he sure made the most out of the time he had.

The 5-foot-8 Foster first opened eyes by going 24-7 in the Texas League in 1912; he made the Red Sox out of spring training in 1913 and had a 3.16 ERA in his 19 appearances, including eight starts and one complete-game shutout. In 1914, though, he broke through in a big way. His adjusted ERA+ of 158 in 211 2/3 innings ranked him third in the American League; his 1.70 ERA still ranks him seventh in team history for a single season. The Red Sox, though, finished second in the American League, 8 1/2 games behind Philadelphia.

They weren't about to finish second again in 1915.

As a whole, the Red Sox pitching staff had a 2.39 ERA that season. Seven pitchers from that staff, including the previously profiled Ernie Shore, appear on this list. Foster wasn't quite as sharp as he had been in 1914; his ERA skyrocketed all the way to 2.11 in 255 1/3 innings, good enough for third-best on the staff. (Shore had a 1.64 ERA; Smokey Joe Wood's was 1.49.) Foster went 19-8 with 21 complete games, including five shutouts, all tops on the team.

And come playoff time, Foster was the ace. The Red Sox dispatched the Philadelphia Phillies in five games, and Foster started -- and finished -- two of those games. He threw a three-hitter in Game 2 to beat Erskine Mayer, and he beat Mayer again in Game 5 to clinch the series. In his two starts, Foster surrendered all of four earned runs in 18 innings; he struck out 13 and walked just two. He even went 4-for-8 with a double and an RBI at the plate. His ninth-inning single, in fact, plated the game-winning run in Game 2.

Foster and the Red Sox weren't content with just winning the title in 1915, though. Only Smokey Joe Wood was gone from the previous year's pitching staff thanks to a contract dispute; he would be sold to Cleveland before the 1917 season. Foster, though, just kept pitching. His ERA was 3.06 for the season; he went 14-7 with nine complete games and tossed a shutout against the Yankees in mid-June, one of the highlights of the season.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, won 91 games to outdistance the White Sox and Tigers and reach the World Series once again. Foster made just one appearance, throwing three shutout innings in relief in Game 3, a game the Red Sox would lose. But it was enough to earn him his second career World Series title.

Two years later, Foster was out of baseball. But what a ride it had been.

64. Trot Nixon
Bernie Carbo. Carlton Fisk. Dave Henderson. Troy O'Leary. David Ortiz. Mark Bellhorn. David Ortiz. J.D. Drew. David Ortiz, yet again.

All have hit dramatic, historic, franchise-changing home runs. But you could make a case that the most important home run hit in franchise history was hit by, yes, Trot Nixon.

Here's the setting: It's Game 3 of the 2003 American League Division Series against Oakland; the game is tied at 1. The A's lead the series, 2-0. It's the bottom of the 11th inning. The Red Sox hadn't scored since the second inning, and even that was a meager effort, a run handed to them thanks to three Oakland errors and an umpire's call of interference during a rundown between third base and home. Since then, Ted Lilly and the Oakland bullpen had surrendered just three hits in 8 2/3 innings.

Doug Mirabelli hit a one-out single to right field. Nixon, who had missed time late in the season with a strained calf muscle, strode to the plate to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler. He took two pitches and then went after the third. By the time it landed in the center-field stands, the Red Sox had a 3-1 win and were alive once again.

Why was that home run so significant?

* If the Red Sox lose Game 3, they bow out of the ALDS.
* They thus don't come within five outs of defeating the Yankees and going to the World Series.
* Aaron Boone never hits his home run. (Best wishes.)
* With no eighth inning in Game 7, Grady Little isn't fired. Terry Francona isn't hired.
* Coming off such a meek exit to the playoffs, there's no reason to take a huge gamble on Curt Schilling; Theo Epstein never makes his Thanksgiving Day visit to the Schilling home and never makes the trade.
* Keith Foulke isn't signed.
* The Red Sox don't win the World Series in 2004.

That's what Nixon's pinch-hit home run in 2003 did for the franchise.

Oh, and Nixon's career slugging percentage of .478 ranks him in a tie for 16th place in team history -- ahead of, among others, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski. So there's that, too.

63. Marty Barrett
The last time the Red Sox drafted a second baseman out of Arizona State, it worked out OK. The first time, it worked out OK, too. The last time was Dustin Pedroia. The first time was Barrett.

Barrett earned first-time All-Pac-10 honors in 1979, his only season with the Sun Devils. Playing mostly third base, he hit .332 with 63 runs scored in 62 games. Three years later, he made his debut with the Red Sox. Two years after that, hit hit .303 with 23 doubles for a Red Sox team that finished fourth in its division with 86 wins.

And two years after that, Barrett was in the World Series. He played a big role in getting the Red Sox to the World Series, too; he earned MVP honors in the American League Championship Series thanks to his 11 hits in 30 at-bats (.367) with four runs scored and five RBI. He was even better in the World Series against the Mets, going 13-for-30 (.433) with five walks. In the fateful sixth game, in fact, Barrett was 3-for-4 with two walks and two RBI; it was his two-run single that put the Red Sox up by two runs going into the bottom of the 10th inning.

The devastation that went along with Game 6 torpedoed a couple of careers, but Barrett's wasn't one of them. The next year, in fact, his batting average jumped from .286 to .293, and he was successful on 15 of his 17 stolen-base attempts. He hit .283 again the next season with 83 runs scored and career-best 65 RBI for a Red Sox team that once again went to the playoffs.

By 1990, he'd become a bit player; the Red Sox released him in December, and his career was all but over. His legacy, though, will be as one of those players who would be remembered extra fondly if not for the devastating bad breaks of the 1986 World Series.

62. Johnny Damon
Speaking of legacies: It's tough to torch a legacy any more than Johnny Damon did by signing with the Yankees in December of 2005. To make matters worse, the center fielder had publicly promised not to defect to his team's biggest rival just months earlier: "There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard," he said. "It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need."

There's a reason fans had such a strong reaction to Damon's change of heart: He meant an awful lot to the Red Sox fans. He came to Boston after one season in Oakland and six seasons in Kansas City; the outfield in which he played with the Royals also included Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye and was so loaded that Damon played 67 games in left field and 25 more at designated hitter. He was an instant hit with the Red Sox, hitting .286 with 118 runs scored in 2002 and .273 with 103 runs scored in 2003.

A year later, though, Damon showed up at spring training with a beard and long hair and did everything but walk on water. He hit .304 and walked 76 times, a career-high. He hit 20 home runs and drove in 94 runs, both career highs, and he scored 123 runs. With the possible exception of his 2000 season in Kansas City, it was the finest season of his career -- and it was just in the nick of time.

The Red Sox won 98 games but finished three games behind the Yankees in the American League East. In a three-game sweep of Oakland in the American League Division Series, Damon went 7-for-15 with four runs scored.

His production dwindled to almost nothing in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees; he had just one hit in 13 at-bats as the Yankees built a 3-0 lead in the series. Even as the Red Sox chipped away, Damon still did almost nothing. By the time Game 7 rolled around, the center fielder was 3-for-29 (.103) with eight strikeouts.

No one will ever remember that, though. All they'll remember is that Game 7. After David Ortiz hit a two-run home run in the first inning, Damon hit a grand slam in the second inning to put the game out of reach less than an hour after it had started. When he came up again, he hit a two-run home run to turn a rout into a laugher. The Red Sox didn't even need to use Keith Foulke.

Damon than had at least one hit in all four games of the World Series, including a solo home run to lead off Game 4 in St. Louis. That, as it turned out, would be all the run support Derek Lowe would need; eight innings later, the Red Sox were World Series champions.

61. Jonathan Papelbon
Here's another guy who almost certainly will climb this list in short order. Papelbon already is climbing the all-time saves list with the Red Sox. With 113 saves through four seasons, he's already moved past Jeff Reardon (88), Ellis Kinder (91) and Dick Radatz (104); barring injury, he'll pass Bob Stanley (132) this season to become the Red Sox's all-time leader in saves.

Even those who believe the save is a relatively worthless statistic -- and this blogger is among them -- Papelbon has had a remarkable run thus far. He has a 1.84 ERA in his career; opposing hitters have hit just .194 against him, including .181 in save situations.

In the postseason, he's been all but untouchable -- opponents are hitting .120, OBP'ing .178 and slugging .169 against Papelbon. He has thrown 25 career postseason innings without allowing a run, a major-league record.

Many pitchers would keep the baseball forever after throwing just one scoreless inning in the postseason. When Papelbon heard he'd broken a record (in Game 1 of the ALCS against Tampa Bay), though, he had to go back and retrieve it from the trash can.

His run started with a 1 1/3 shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALDS against Chicago in 2005; it continues to this day.

He's even shelved concerns about his shoulder, concerns that prompted the Red Sox to consider making him a starting pitcher to keep him on a more regular schedule. Now, the only concern Red Sox fans have is just how long he's going to stay. He says he's more than happy to go year-to-year with his contract; he's going to command top dollar when he hits the free-agent market after the 2011 season.

Until then, though, he'll remain the most dominant closer in the history of the Red Sox franchise.
Coming up: The pitch that shocked a Nation.