The Dark Age didn't begin with the sale of Babe Ruth, by the way. It began the year before, in 1919, when Ruth was still on the team, walloping 29 HRs to establish a new major league record. Despite the Bambino's efforts, however, the defending world champs crashed all the way to 6th place. It was their first losing season in twelve years, but the first of fifteen consecutive sub-.500 seasons. It was the mid-1930s before they began to win more than they lost. By then, they had numbers on their backs. Which is where we come in.
1 - His career was a little short - he missed his age 27 season during WW II and played his last year in the majors at age 33. But Bobby Doerr made up for it by getting off to an early start. He made his Red Sox debut two weeks after his 19th birthday and one year later had established himself as the regular second sacker. He was a complete player, a fine hitter and an outstanding defender. He played in 9 All-Star games, and later served as the Blue Jays first hitting coach. While the number has also been worn by Max Bishop, Ed Bressoud, and Joe Foy, Sox fans are more likely to think fondly of Bernie Carbo whose pinch-hit HR set the stage for Carlton Fisk's famous extra inning shot in the 1975 World Series. The number has now been retired in honour of Doerr - the last player to wear it was Chico Walker (who?) in 1984.
2 - While we all remember Crazy Carl Everett wearing this number just a few years ago, historically the Sox have assigned this numeral to middle infielders, especially second basemen. The list includes Milt Bolling, Chuck Schilling, Mike Andrews, and Doug Griffin. The best of these was Jerry Remy who came over in a trade with the Angels in 1977. Remy was a little guy who slapped singles and ran like hell. He was a nice second baseman, but knee injuries almost immediately began to take him out of the lineup and ended his career at age 31.
3 - Jody Reed was a serviceable middle infielder, and Pete Runnels led the American League twice in hitting - but Jimmie Foxx was one of the most frightening hitters who ever lived. Lefty Gomez, whose sad duty it was to try and get him out, once complained that "he has muscles in his hair." Foxx was known as either "Double-X" or "The Beast" and it was Connie Mack's financial problems during the Great Depression that allowed the Sox to obtain him for a couple of warm bodies and $150,000. In 1938, he hit .349 with 50 HRs, 175 RBI, and walked 119 times. It wasn't his best season, but I'm sure the Red Sox were happy to have it. Foxx was 28 when he came to Boston and he didn't age well. He hit his 500th HR when he was 32, but just 34 more afterwards.
4 - The Sox had sold Babe Ruth for money fifteen years earlier - they turned the franchise around in the 1930s by spending money on other team's stars. In 1935, two years before acquiring Foxx, they sent Lyn Lary and $225,000 to Washington for the Sens manager and shortstop, Joe Cronin. Cronin took over the same jobs in Boston and immediately led the team to their first winning season since 1918. Cronin had seven years left as a regular, and enjoyed a post-age 30 power surge playing in Fenway, hitting more than half of 170 career HRs in a five year span. He remained as the Sox manager through 1947. The number was later taken by 1958 MVP Jackie Jensen and late 1970s 3B Butch Hobson. It was last worn by Carney Lansford in 1982, and has since been retired in honour of Cronin.
5 - Jim Tabor was a promising young third baseman whose production suddenly began to drop when the real ball players started leaving the league to go to war. Go figure. Vern Stephens came over from the Browns in 1948 and gave the Sox three tremendous seasons, leading the league in RBIs in 1949 and 1950. And then he went right off a cliff as well. George Scott hit 27 HRs as a 22 year old rookie for the 1966 Sox, but would be in his 30s before he hit as many again. So if Nomar Garciaparra suffers the same fate, if his best days are behind him, there is no lack of precedent. Nomar, I would think, is familiar to all of us. He was truly an amazing hitter before the wrist injury. This number was also worn by Danny Cater, of whom we'll hear more a little later.
6 - Alas, this was long a number of ill omen in the Olde Towne. This was the number worn by Rico Petrocelli, a fine player for many years, but a chronic worrier who was tormented by his first manager and may have never enjoyed a minute of his career. This was the number worn by Bill Buckner, as Mookie Wilson's groundball slipped under his glove. The most tragic story of all belongs to Harry Agganis, "the Golden Greek". Agganis was a local boy and an outstanding multi-sport star who chose to play baseball. He made his Red Sox debut in 1954, and was hitting .313 in June 1955 when he was struck down by a pulmonary embolism and died at the age of 25. Even the best player to wear 6 could not escape. In 1942, Johnny Pesky had one of the greatest rookie seasons any shortstop has ever had, hitting .331 and scoring 105 runs. The war cost him the next three seasons, but he picked up right where he had left off when he came back in 1946, hitting .335 and scoring 115 runs. After hitting .300 six times in his first seven years, he started to slip at age 32 and his career ended two years later. Pesky's first three seasons are essentially identical and uniformly brilliant, but they're spread over six calendar years. Give him back the three missing seasons, and he's a Hall of Fame candidate. But Pesky takes his place in the Red Sox lore of misfortune for his famous hesitation in relaying the ball in from the outfield on Harry Walker's double, allowing Enos Slaughter to score the winning run from first. "Why did Pesky hesitate?" is one of the ancient laments of Sox fans, along with "Why didn't Stapleton replace Buckner" and "Why did they pinch hit for Willoughby?" But, while the film is choppy, it doesn't look as if Pesky froze - it looks more like he received the ball, turned around to pick up the play, and took a second to find Slaughter tearing down the third base line. Ah well. Surely one of the highlights of the Red Sox home opener was seeing Pesky, now a spry 85, help raise the championship banner at Fenway.
7 - Trot Nixon wears it now, and he's the latest of a series of very fine players, the most recent of whom include Rick Burleson and Reggie Smith. Hall of Famers Rick Ferrell and Heinie Manush both made Boston stops in the course of their long careers. And Dr Strangeglove himself, Dick Stuart, was a legend of an entirely different type. And the best? Well, there was a song that went "He's better than his brother Joe - Dominic DiMaggio." He wasn't. He may have been slightly better in centre field than his brother Joe, who was a brilliant outfielder himself, but obviously he was nowhere near being the same kind of offensive force. But Dom was a fine hitter too, a top of the order type, who hit around .300 and drew about 80 walks a year. He played only 10 seasons, but scored more than 1000 runs and was an All-Star seven times.
8 - We don't have to think about this one. I have sung The Ballad of Yaz for you before, and just to summarize, it is entirely possible that what Carl Yastrzemski did during the last two weeks of the 1967 season was the most remarkable performance, under incredible pressure, in the history of the game. Check it out if you don't believe me. But those two weeks were just a small part of a remarkable 23 year career. The last man to win the Triple Crown, his resume is pretty impressive. An MVP award, 7 Gold Gloves. Led the league in batting three times, slugging three times, on-base percentage five times. Only five men in history had more hits, and only one man played in more games. Your ordinary Hall of Famer gets a plaque. Yaz ought to get a statue.
9 - And Yaz, of course, was only the second-best player in team history at his own position. How many people figure out, when they're still kids, exactly what they want to do with their lives and what they want to become? And then make it happen? When Ted Williams was a skinny little teenager growing up in San Diego, he had already decided that he wanted to become "the greatest hitter who ever lived." Nothing like aiming small, Ted. Yaz was a much more complete player - at those parts of the game that didn't involve swinging a bat, Williams ranged from indifferent to competent. But he just might have been the greatest hitter who ever lived. He hit .344 lifetime, which is impressive enough - and of the fifteen men who hit better than .340 lifetime, Williams is the only one who played a single game (about two thirds of his career, in fact) after major league baseball was integrated. His lifetime on-base percentage is .482 - the best of all-time. His lifetime slugging percentage is second only to Ruth's. He served in two wars, and they cost him almost five full seasons out of his prime - and because he regularly walked 140 times a years, he never had 200 hits in a single season, and only topped 40 HRs once. These factors did much to reduce his overall counting numbers, although he still managed to hit 521 HRs in his career. He was the thinking man's hitter - he had a whole theory about what he was doing. He divided the strike zone into areas, he thought about his stride and his weight shift. He put it all in a book, the title of which summed up neatly what the game was all about for him: My Turn at Bat.
Williams was one of the most fascinating men the game has seen. He was surly, brusque, and widely disliked while he was active. He feuded non-stop with reporters and fans alike. He mellowed considerably after he stopped playing, once the hard work was behind him, and became a genuinely likeable elder statesman of the game. He loved talking baseball, and he loved working with young hitters. Williams also deserves our appreciation for using his own induction at the Hall of Fame in 1966, as an opportunity to call for major league baseball and the Hall of Fame to recognize Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and the other great Negro League players. We shall not see his like again.
10 - This number has lately been a favourite of Boston catchers: it's been worn by Bob Tillman, Jerry Moses, Bob Montgomery, Rich Gedman, and Scott Hatteburg. Andre Dawson wore it during his two years in Boston. Billy Goodman, the 1950 Al batting champ, spent 10 years in Boston as a skind of super-utility guy, playing three infield positions and the outfield. But one man clearly rises above the crowd. Remember how the Red Sox got respectable by buying other teams stars? The first of these transactions came at the end of 1933 when they sent $125,000 to Connie Mack to sweeten a trade that brought Lefty Grove to Boston. There are only a handful of men who have a case for being called the greatest pitcher of all time, and Grove is one of those men. He was 34 years old when he pitched his first game for Boston - he had already led the league in ERA five times. He had led the league in strikeouts seven years in a row. He had enough left to go 105-62 for Boston and lead the league in ERA four more times. That gave him nine ERA championships in his career. This record may stand for a very long time. The knot of pitchers with five ERA championships is pretty impressive - Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens - and they're all a pretty distant second.
11 - Now worn by 2003 batting champ, Bill Mueller. It always seems to have been an infielder's number, and Dave Stapleton and Tim Naehring wore it during their somewhat disappointing careers. But Frank Malzone was pretty good, a RH line drive hitter who could pick it. He played in six All-Star games and won three Gold Gloves whiole manning the hot corner.
12 - Now worn by Mark Bellhorn, who often seems to have reduced the game to two true outcomes. Felix Mantilla, the failed Braves prospect, had a couple big years with the bat. And this was the jersey worn by Pumpsie Green when the Red finally became the last integrated team. Ellis Burks also is reported not to have enjoyed his time as a black athlete in Boston. Burks had so many knee injuries that it's easy to forget that he stayed healthy long enough to collect 352 HRs and 2107 hits in his 18 seasons. A fine player, who seemed to fly under the radar for much of his career.
13 - The immortal Bob "Fatty" Fothergill wore this during the final season of his career, and died just three years later at age 40. Which leaves us John Valentin, whom most of us remember. Injuries shortened his career, but he provided a lot more offense than most of the other shortstops in baseball. Nomar moved him off the position, of course, and he wasn't nearly as valuable elsewhere.
14 - Only one man worth talking about: Jim Rice spent his entire career regarded as an automatic Hall of Famer. He's still on the outside 16 years after playing his final game. This surprises every one who remembers watching him, but Rice had his last good season at age 33, retired at 35, and didn't put up the big career totals players of his quality usually do. He hit into an enormous number of double plays - he's 6th on the all-time list, where he's surrounded by guys who played well into their 40s. But he was a stupendous, intimidating hitter - at his peak from 1977-79 he was simply monstrous. No player since Rice has worn the number, although it's not officially retired.
15 - Kevin Millar has it now, and the bloom may be off that rose. Rube Walberg finished his long career in Boston, and George Scott wore it when he returned for his second tour. And Joe Dobson is probably completely forgotten. He was a RH pitcher on the fine Boston teams of the late 1940s. He spent eight years in the rotation, winning 106 games and was especially good for Joe McCarthy's contending teams at the end of the decade.
16 - I assumed that my choice here would be Jim Lonborg, who went 22-9 for the Impossible Dream squad of 1967. But Lonborg went 46-56 over his other 6 years in Boston, and actually gave the Phillies more useful seasons than he did the Red Sox. Like Lonborg, Ellis Kinder had one outstanding year in Boston - 1949, when he went 23-6 for the Red Sox team that fell one game short of the Yankees. But Kinder's other years in Boston - in which he went 63-46 - tip the scale in his favour. Kinder was 31 years old before he threw his first pitch in the majors, and he ended up becoming a reliever and led the AL in saves twice before he was done. His 27 saves in 1953 matched Joe Page's major league record, and stood as the AL record until 1961.
17 - Another difficult choice, even after we eliminate such fine players as Cecil Cooper and Marty Barrett. The late Dick Radatz, the Monster, was a fearsome reliever in the early 1960s. In 1964, he whiffed 181 batters in relief, and he was even better in 1963. But he had just a three year run as a great pitcher, whereas Mel Parnell had a six year run as an outstanding starting pitcher, going 109-56 from 1948-53. Parnell still holds the club career mark for Sox LH pitchers for games started, innings and wins.
18 - Johnny Damon's now in his 4th Boston season, and if he returns next year he'll be the guy. For now, we're going to go with Frank Sullivan, a RH starter who turned in five pretty effective seasons in the 1950s. Other notables include Jack Wilson, a swingman from the 1930s, Glenn Hoffmann, and Carlos Quintana.
19 - Mickey Harris and Mickey McDermott were LH who each gave the Sox one very fine season, and were actually teammates in 1948-49. But Fragile Fred Lynn is still the only man to ever be Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. He had a knack for hurting himself, and was able to play 150 games exactly once in his 18 seasons. But he was a hell of a player when he came into the league. Bill James passes along the following story in the first edition of the Historical Abstract:
Paul Izzo told me that he once happened to be sitting next to an octogenarian at Fenway Park, and in the course of a few innings learned that the gentleman had been sitting there watching the Red Sox since the time of Joe Wood. He asked the man who the greatest player he ever saw was, and the man said without hesitation, "Fred Lynn." Fred Lynn? Not Ruth? Not Speaker? Not Teddy? "Fred Lynn. Don't think much of him now, but for a few years there he was the best."
20 - It's not a distinguished group. Mike Fornieles was a Cuban RH who led the AL in saves in 1960. Juan Beniquez started out here. And Tony Armas was a pretty good centre fielder who gave the Sox a couple of big home run years, leading the league in 1984.
21 - Tex Hughson was a RH who went 84-48 for the Sox in the 40s; Ray Culp was an All-Star who won 64 games in four seasons. Mike Torrez, alas, is best remembered around Boston for the pitch Bucky Dent hit in the 1978 playoff. All these guys are just a warm-up anyway. Like Lefty Grove, Roger Clemens is one of the men that can legitimately be put forward as the greatest pitcher who ever lived. In retrospect, you have to wonder what Dan Duquette was smoking when he decided they didn't need to resign the big fellow after 1996. Leaving aside the four Cy Youngs and 136 victories the Rocket has added to his resume since leaving the Red Sox: in his final year in Boston, he struck out 257 batters which seems a pretty good indicator that he still had some giddyap left. The Rocket started more games, pitched more innings, and struck out more hitters than anyone who has ever worn a Boston uniform - he's tied with Cy Young himself for most wins and most shutouts. No one has worn his number since.
22 - Chuck Stobbs made the Sox to stay as a 19 year old in 1949 and went 33-23 over the next three years before being traded away. Bill Campbell saved 31 games in 1978 after signing as a free agent, before the stress of working 307 IP in 147 games over two years broke him down. So we're going to go with Sammy White, the Sox catcher for eight seasons in the 1950s, a solid player who made one All-Star team.
23 - Tom Brewer had an eight year run with the 1950s teams, going 91-82, and Oil Can Boyd had a couple of fine seasons in the mid 1980s. But there was no one quite like Luis Tiant. He came to Cleveland from the Mexican League, and his brilliant 1968 season can actually stand the comparison to what Bob Gibson was doing in the National League the same year. Then came arm miseries, a 21 loss season, and a trade to Minnesota. The Twins released him in 1971; the Braves took a flyer, but they released him two months later. The Red Sox signed him off the scrap heap, and he promptly went 1-7 for them. But in 1972, he regained his health, and went on to win 122 games for the Red Sox. Not too much of his fastball was left when he came to Boston, but he threw everything but the kitchen sink at the hitters, including a wicked screwball. You often had the sense that he used to invent new pitches, right there on the mound in the middle of a game, and then deliver them with a bewildering variety of motions, full of strange twists, bends, and hesitations. It was wonderful to watch.
24 - Manny Ramirez has played four seasons in Boston. He's never hit below .306, never hit fewer than 33 HRs, never driven in less than 104 runs. Plus he's got a World Series MVP trophy. How can I pass him up? I'm not sure, but I'm going to. Carl Yastrzemski is the only man who played more games in a Boston uniform than Dwight Evans, and Evans' Boston OPS is actually a shade better than Carl's. Plus he was a great outfielder, with a superior arm from RF. He made one of the greatest defensive plays in World Series history, a leaping, lunging, game-saving grab over the RF wall to steal an 11th inning HR from Joe Morgan and start a double play in the classic Game 6 of the 1975 series. It made Fisk's famous walkoff HR possible.
25 - One of the saddest stories in Red Sox lore, in baseball history, is the tale of Tony Conigliaro. He was a Massachusetts boy who won the Red Sox RF job as a teenager, and in the era of the pitcher hit .290 with 24 HR despite missing almost a month with a broken wrist after being hit by a pitch. The next season, at the age of 20, he led the AL in home runs, the youngest ever to do it. He hit his 100th career HR on July 23, 1967 - in the history of the game, only Mel Ott was younger when he made it to 100 career HRs. On August 18, 1967 he was still just 22 years old. He was hitting .287 with 20 HRs and 67 RBI in 95 games. And a fastball thrown by Jack Hamilton caught him in the left cheekbone just below his eye. It was 1969 before he played another game, and he managed two more productive seasons. But the vision in his left eye was continuing to deteriorate and forced him into retirement at age 26. The story doesn't get any better - in 1981, he suffered a massive heart attack that permanently incapacitated him and led eventually to his death at the obscenely early age of 45.
26 - Earl Wilson was one of the better hitting pitchers, in the Rob Deer tradition - he batted just .195 lifetime, but he had 35 HR and 111 RBI in 740 career at bats. His best seasons as a pitcher, however, came after he was traded to Detroit. Which clears the table for Wade Boggs. You remember him, I trust. In his 11 Boston seasons, he hit .338 with a .428 on-base percentage. That puts him second on both all-time Red Sox lists, behind some guy named Williams. At his peak, you absolutely hated to see him come to the plate. He didn't put the fear of God into you - you just knew that it seemed damn near impossible to get the bugger to make an out. The number is going to be retired later this summer, by the way.
27 - Bill Monboquette won 20 in 1963 and anchored the Sox rotation for six years. He has since had a long career as a pitching coach. And Greg Harris was a pretty useful pitcher, even if he's best remembered for pitching both left-handed and right-handed in the same game. But the original Pudge, Carlton Fisk, besides being the man who hit one of the most memorable homers in World Series history, is also one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. The Red Sox have retired his number.
28 - Doug Mirabelli has it now, but he is not the best player to wear this number. In mid-1967, a young LH reliever named Sparky Lyle made his ML debut. He pitched very well over the next four and a half seasons, saving 69 games. Then they traded him for an aging singles-hitting first baseman named Danny Cater. To the Yankees, yet. Lyle would give the Yankees seven very good seasons, winning a Cy Young and two World Series rings, and giving an especially remarkable performance in the 1977 ALCS. While the Sox watched at home.
29 - Keith Foulke pitched very well for the Red Sox last year, and scooped up perhaps the most memorable comebacker in team history last October. But I hate to award the honours on the basis of just 83 IP unless there's no other viable option. And there is, and it's not Shea Hillenbrand. Rogelio Moret was an extremely skinny LH swing-man who went 36-15 over a three year span in the 1970s.
30 - Jose Santiago pitched very well as a swingman for the 1967 and was having an All-Star season in 1968 when an injury ended his season in July and derailed his career. And while it's tempting to give a shout-out to big Sam Horn, the sad truth is that after his smashing 1987 debut, big Sam hit .148 in each of the next two years and was given his release. The Sox came up with three fine LH pitchers in the early 1980s, and while Fenway is a tough place for southpaws to win, it does seem to teach them a lot about pitching. John Tudor had his best years in the NL, but he managed to win more than he lost in his Boston days too.
31 - Calvin Schiraldi was a 6-4 RH out of the University of Texas. The Sox already had one of those guys, a fella named Clemens, and for a while it looked like they'd caught lightning in a bottle twice. Schiraldi pitched brilliantly in relief down the stretch in 1986. And then came the 10th inning of Game 6 of the World Series. Ferguson Jenkins was a great pitcher before he came to Boston, and a great pitcher after he left. His problem, and he was not alone, was that he regarded manager Don Zimmer as a fool. He actually pitched very well in Boston, but he spent his entire time in the manager's doghouse.
32 - At the trading deadline in 1997, Seattle thought themselves a contender if they could just upgrade their bullpen. Norm Charlton wasn't exactly working out. So they made a couple of deals. They sent rookie OF Jose Cruz to the Blue Jays for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric, and they sent two players to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb. One of the two was a rookie sinkerballer named Derek Lowe, who emerged as a fine reliever in 1999 and saved 42 games in 2000. After struggling a bit in 2001, they moved him into the rotation. In three years as a starter, he went 52-27, and closed his Boston career by winning the decisive game in all three post-season series.
33 - The other warm body the Mariners sent east for Slocumb was a catching prospect named Jason Varitek. Oops. Varitek made the Sox to stay in 1998, pushed Scott Hatteburg out of the catching job within a year, and has since become the team captain. Prior to Varitek, the most noteworthy 33 was Dave Ferris, who went 21-10 as a 23 year old rookie in 1945. Just to prove it was no fluke, he followed that with a 25-6 year. The 538 IP in those two seasons may have done him in, as he won just 19 more games in a ML career that ended when he was 28 years old.
34 - Cito Gaston picked Scott Cooper for the All-Star Game in 1993 and 1994. Obviously, there was a shortage of good AL third baseman because either Mo Vaughn or Roger Clemens would have made much more sense. The immortal "El Guapo," Rich Garces, had some fine years waddling out of the Red Sox bullpen. But without the work of David Ortiz last fall, the Red Sox would be looking at 87 years and counting. Ortiz turned in a post-season for the ages (22-55, .400, with 5 HR and 19 RBI in 14 games.) Yankee fans will be having nightmares about the Cookie Monster for a long, long time. Not bad for someone who was the "player to be named later" when Seattle traded for Dave Hollins.
35 - Not a lot to choose from: Billy Klaus (55-58) had three pretty good years in Sox infield in the late 1950s. He stopped hitting, and they got rid of him. He's the best of a bad lot that includes Russ Gibson and Hippolito Pichardo.
36 - Bily Muffett and Jack Lamabe are the most notable of the generally undistinguished pitchers who wore this number until Tom Gordon arrived in 1996. After a sensational season as a 21 year old rookie, Gordon had put in six pretty average years in the KC rotation, and he gave the Red Sox another. But in 1997, they moved him permanently to the bullpen and he hasn't started a game since. He saved 46 games for them in 1998. He broke down soon afterwards, missed all of 2000 and has wandered around a bit since then.
37 - This was worn by two of the great eccentrics in Red Sox history. Jimmy Piersall's arrival in the majors was delayed by a nervous breakdown (his story, "Fear Strikes Out" was made into a movie starring the original Psycho, Anthony Perkins.) Piersall was a fine player, a decent line drive hitter and a Gold Glove CF - but he's best remembered for a variety of strange stunts: hiding behind the monuments in Yankee Stadium; while with Cleveland, going into a war dance in the outfield in an attempt to distract Ted Williams at the plate; circling the bases backwards for his 100th career homer. By contrast, Bill Lee, the old Spaceman seems like a fairly regular fellow. After all, doesn't everybody sprinkle marijuana on their pancakes? Lee started out as a LH in the bullpen. The Sox already had Sparky Lyle doing that job. So they traded Lyle and moved Lee into the rotation. He gave them three straight 17 win seasons before hurting his shoulder during a brawl with... well, which team would the Red Sox be brawling with?
38 - Jim Willoughby is almost completely forgotten today - everywhere except Boston, that is. In Game 7 of the 1975 WS, Willoughby came in with the score tied and the bases loaded He retired Johnny Bench to get out of the jam. After working a scoreless 8th, he was removed for a pinch-hitter. There were two outs, the bases were empty. Cecil Cooper made the third out, and the Reds immediately scored the winning run off Willoughby's replacement. For almost 30 years, Red Sox fans have second-guessed the move to bat for for Willoughby, but one of the main reasons that pain has eased is the work turned in by Curt Schilling last fall. His performace in Game 6 of the LCS, with staples holding his ankle together, and the blood staining his sock... well, it was something out of Myth and Legend, and the Yankees' reknowned Mystique and Aura never had a chance.
39 - Last fall, as the LCS hung in the balance, the Yankees web-site took steps to comfort and reassure Yankee fans. Yogi Berra once told Bernie Williams, "Relax. We've been beating these guys for 80 years," and the website offered evidence in the form of three videos: 1) Aaron Boone's pennant winning HR off Tim Wakefield; 2) Bucky Dent's pennant winning HR off Mike Torrez; 3) Roger Maris' 61st HR, struck off a Boston pitcher named Tracy Stallard. Stallard spent just the one full season in Boston; he moved on to the Mets and then was part of the Cardinals 1964 champs, beating the... Yankees. Anyway, the best #39 in Red Sox history was certainly not Stallard: it was Mike Greenwell, the last of the three lefty hitting, righty throwing Red Sox lifers who worked in front of the Green Monster from 1939 through 1996. Of course, Greenwell wasn't as good as the man he had to replace, Carl Yastrzemski, who in turn wasn't as good as the man he had to replace: Ted Williams. Still, if not a Hall of Famer, Greenwell was a fine line-drive hitter, and the runner-up to Jose Canseco for the 1988 MVP award. (Greenwell is now saying that the award should be his.) After five productive seasons, Greenwell started breaking down. While generally remaining productive, injuries limited him to less than 500 games over the next five seasons. He then had a very public falling out with Dan Duquette. The same winter that Roger Clemens signed with Toronto, Greewell signed to play in Japan. He never played in the majors again.
40 - John Dopson went 12-8 for the 1989 Sox, missed almost all of the next two years with injuries, and returned to go 7-11 twice. Luckily, we can do better. Rick Wise is probably best remembered as the guy St Louis acquired in exchange for Steve Carlton. Oops. But Wise was a solid rotation starter in both Philadelphia and St. Louis, and again for three years in Boston - he went 19-12 for the 1975 pennant winners, and was the winner, in relief, of the fabled Game 6.
41 - Tom Seaver picked up his final 5 wins in a Boston uniform, although an injury kept him out of the 1986 post-season. Dick Drago had been a solid starter for Kansas City; the Red Sox moved him to the bullpen, and he led the 1975 team in saves. Drago went 30-29 with 41 saves in his two Boston tours. And Jeff Reardon was past his prime when he came to Fenway, but he managed to save 88 games in a little less than three seasons, before being sent to Atlanta. The Braves needed someone to close games as they headed toward the post-season. Blue Jays fans remember how that worked out.
42 - Sonny Siebert was a veteran RH power pitcher who came over from Cleveland in a 6 player deal in 1969 and went 57-40 over the next four seasons. But Mo Vaughn actually has an MVP award on his shelf, however dubious. He was an awesome hitter in Fenway: from 1993-98, he averaged .315 with 36 HRs, 111 RBIs. The Sox let him leave as a free agent after his age 30 year in 1998, no doubt suspecting that Vaughn's knees would not be up to the task of supporting his ever-growing girth much longer. How right they were. The number is of course out of circulation.
43 - Alan Embree gave the Sox a couple of fine years out of the pen, even if he seems to be imploding this year. Gary Peters was part of the great White Sox staff of the 1960s. Peters led the AL in ERA twice, including 1963 when he was also the rookie of the year. Peters finished his career with three years in Boston, and two of them were pretty good. And Dennis Eckersley finished off his Hall of Fame career in the Boston bullpen in 1998. But Eck had come through town before, as the starting pitcher who was going to lead them to glory. He was the central figure in a six player trade that brought him to Boston at the end of spring training 1978. He was then regarded as one of the great upcoming starters in baseball. Even while trapped on a mediocre Cleveland team, Eck had pitched a no-hitter, struck out 200 in a season, been an All-Star - and he was just 23 years old. He delivered exactly as promised, winning 20 games in his first year in Boston. But that, of course, was the Bucky Dent year. He went 17-10 in 1979, and then started to struggle with arm problems and LH hitters. Finally, in 1984, the Sox sent him to the Cubs. For Bill Buckner.
Eckersley was a wonderfully colourful pitcher - Roger Angell once described him as "the Zorro of our era," and he seemed to do everything with a flourish. It was hard to watch if he was pitching against you - Red Sox fans could not have enjoyed seeing him save all four games against Boston in the 1988 ALCS. He had his own strange lingo that he used when talking about the game, and the currency of the phrase "walk-off" owes much to the Eck. Who of course surrendered one of the most famous walk-off jobs ever, to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series. I always admired him anyway - he was one of the most honest and straight-forward men to play the game, as forthright about his fear of failing as about his struggles with alcohol. During the famous Boston Massacre by the Yankees in 1978, Eck lost his game 7-0 after backup infielder Frank Duffy misplayed a two out popup. Afterwards, Duffy was being subjected to a post-game grilling while the Sox regulars hid in the training room. Eckersley emerged from the showers, saw what was going on, and chased the reporters away from Duffy saying that he, Eck, was the guy they should be talking to. He was the guy who gave up the 7 runs. He would take the blame.
44 - They love Orlando Cabrera in Boston for his contribution to the 2004 championship, but it was just a couple of months. Journeyman Danny Darwin had his best season as a starting pitcher in Boston in 1993. I always thought Darwin was best suited to being a reliever, and I think his performance in the Houston bullpen in 1989-90 backs me up. So there.
45 - Scott Cooper wore this before he mysteriously became an All-Star, but who cares. As everyone knows, Tommy Lasorda thought that the slightly built Pedro Martinez would never be able to stand up to the rigours of being a ML starter. So the Dodgers traded him to Montreal for Delino DeShields. At age 25, after three solid years in Montreal, Martinez exploded on the National League, going 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeouts. He was one year away from free agency, and the Expos knew they wouldn't be able to re-sign him. So they traded him to Boston for a pair of pitching prospects who actually turned out to be decent pitchers, Carl Pavano and Tony Armas. Pedro came to Boston, and over the next 7 seasons created a legend. It is quite possible that in 1999-2000 in particular, Pedro Martinez may have been the greatest pitcher ever. In his least effective year in Boston, he went 16-9 and struck out 227 in 217 IP. No one who saw the game, and certainly no Red Sox fan, will ever forget his incredible performance out of the bullpen, with a sore shoulder, against Cleveland in the 1999 post-season.
46 - The legendary John Wasdin went 19-16 in four years in the Boston bullpen in the late 1990s, but this number belongs to Bigfoot. Bob Stanley was a Red Sox lifer, a big RH who didn't walk hitters, and didn't strike them out either. He threw as effective a sinker as anyone has ever thrown, and it took the Sox a few years to figure out what to do with him. In 1978, he went 15-2 with 10 saves, so they tried him as a starter in 1979 and he went 16-12. By the early 1980s, they were using him in relief but as a kind of Long Man/Closer: one year he pitched 168 IP in 48 relief appearances, and went 12-7 with 14 saves. He wasn't really suited to being used the way modern closers are used - he needed to pitch a lot, to keep his sinker sinking. As he drifted towards more conventional usage patterns, his effectiveness fell off, and Calvin Schiraldi supplanted him in the Sox bullpen in 1986. It was Bigfoot, of course, who had to replace Schiraldi in the 10th inning of Game 6 that fall - it was Stanley who pitched to Mookie Wilson, who threw the wild pitch and then that fateful ground ball.
47 - And it was Bruce Hurst whose name was being inscribed on the 1986 Series MVP trophy before it all slipped away. Hurst came back on 3 days rest to start Game 7, but ran out of gas in the sixth inning. He was one of the three LH, along with John Tudor and Bob Ojeda, who came up to Boston together and learned the difficult task of pitching in Fenway Park. Hurst stayed in Boston longer than Tudor and Ojeda, but eventually followed them to the NL.
48 - With Bob Stanley in decline, and Calvin Schiraldi in implosion, the Sox fixed their bullpen problems by dealing for Lee Smith. Smith was a huge fireballing RH, as imposing a reliever as there was in the game at the time. Smith has saved more games than anyone, ever, and he gave the Sox a couple of decent years before they traded him to St. Louis for Tom Brunansky.
49 - Paul Quantrill was a mediocre starter who found his true destiny when Cito Gaston turned him into a setup man. Al Nipper was a mediocre starter who tried and failed to prolong his career by learning the knuckleball. Tim Wakefield was a mediocre infielder - the Pirates drafted him in 1988 as a first baseman - who switched to the mound and was a late season sensation in 1992.He went 8-1, 2.15 down the stretch, and tossed two CG victories in the NLCS. The next year, the magic disappeared, and he was back in the minors. The Red Sox signed him 6 days after the Pirates released him in April 1995. Good move. In his 10 years in Boston, he has gone 114-99 despite Jimy Williams taking him out of the rotation and using him as a swing man. Just this year, he moved past Pedro Martinez and Smokey Joe Wood on the Sox all-time win list; with 6 more wins, he will move into third all-time. Not bad for a pickup off the scrap heap. Away from the game, Wakefield's work with children has made him pretty much the Sox automatic annual nominee for the Roberto Clemente award, and it would be nice to see him win it one of these years.
50 - Tom Bolton was a prospect who never panned out, Ken Ryan was a guy who had a couple useful years in the bullpen. Mike Timlin is a good journeyman reliever, who came up with some tremendous pressure performances in both of the last two post-seasons.
51 - The whole Byung-Hyun Kim experiment didn't quite pan out, did it? Meanwhile, Heathcliff Slocumb was an okay closer, saving 31 games, for the 1996 Red Sox. It was the middle of Slocumb's three year run as a decent major leaguer. The Sox got the one year, and then cashed it in, trading him for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Has Woody Woodward gotten another GM job since, by the way?
52 - Like a number of the older teams, the Sox tend to use the higher numbers only as a last resort. And unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox haven't retired half the numbers between 1-20. Mike Boddicker is the only contender here, but at least Boddicker was a good player, a small RH with a big curve who pitched very well for the first place teams of 1988 and 1990. Seeing as how they traded Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling to get him, it does seem like the least he could do.
53 - Whereas now we start to run out of good players. Uh, Terry Adams? Tomo Ohka? Seriously, Kerry Lacy? I guess so - Lacy was 3-1 in 15 games, Ohka was 6-13 in 25.
54 - Well, Joe Hudson spent three years in the Sox bullpen, and was better than Mike Rochford or Morgan Burkhart. Nothing to see here, move along.
55 - Bob Veale was a great LH power pitcher for the 1960s Pirates, but he didn't have much left when he got to Boston. Whereas Joe Hesketh was a skinny LH who never had all that much to start with, but did go 12-4 for the 1991 team.
The Sox have been even more sparing with the weird numbers. The only real notables are Darren Bragg (56) who was a journeyman outfielder whom the Sox obtained from Seattle for... Jamie Moyer. Oh well. The Bronson Arroyo (61) trade has worked out better. Arroyo is just a fifth starter - but he did make a couple of very memorable appearances out of the bullpen against the Yankees last fall.
Finally, let us salute the great Boston players of earlier times, none of whom could be represented here because they did not wear a number: the incomparable Tris Speaker; Cy Young who won 192 games for Boston, tied with Clemens for first overall; the first great AL third baseman, Jimmy Collins, who was also the winning manager in the very first World Series; Smokey Joe Wood, whose tale I told in The Year in Review: 1912 - that year, Wood was as good a pitcher as the game has seen. We shouldn't overlook the other members of that team's great outfield, Harry Hooper and Duffy Lewis. And last, but certainly not least, the only man to manage two Red Sox world champions. That would be Liam's great uncle (on his mother's side, not mine!), Rough Bill Carrigan.
Next time... the New York Yankees. This isn't getting easier.