161st and Jersey Part 2: The Red Sox Are Good Enough
And now, the shocking conclusion to 161st and Jersey. Growing up in Connecticut I would go up to the Boston area with my mom every couple of weeks to see my grandmother. I have memories of seeing the Boston newspapers around her condo and later retirement home and the bright colors of Red Sox news must have made an impression on my little brain. I'm not really sure what exactly made me a Red Sox fan, it might have been the old usher that would joke that I could keep my hat on in church when I got a Red Sox cap. By high school I was taking one or two trips to Fenway every year and I would try as hard as I could to make it to games with great pitching match ups, or best available.
Late in the year 2000, the year 2000, my friend Evan, his dad and I finally avoided a Daren Oliver or Tim Wakefield start and landed tickets to a Pedro Martinez game. As we walked up to Fenway we saw signs about Carlton Fisk, who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier that summer, and was having his number retired. As we settled into our seats, we learned that Fisk would be catching the first pitch, not throwing it, and Evan looked excitedly to his dad to say "it's going to be Tiant!" Sure enough El Tiante came out before the game with his mustache in full effect and the crowd exploding in cheers. Evan was losing his mind.
I've been to a lot of games in my day, but that was the single best game of baseball I've ever been to. Pedro pitched what was considered to be one of his best games of the 2000 season, perhaps his best season in a Hall of Fame career. He struck out 11 Mariners over 8 innings, giving up just one run off a Mike Cameron home run. He struck out 11 and walked just one. Derek Lowe came in to close out the 5-1 win. Nomar Garciaparra had two hits and an RBI, Jason Varitek added another hit, and probable future Hall of Good Enough inductees Dante Bichette and John Olerud (although on Seattle) had hits as well. I believe it was after that game that we were just outside of the park and a short older man in quite a rush bumped right into me. "Oh my god, that was Jerry Remy!" Evan seemed to be the only one who got a good look at the beloved Sox broadcaster rushing home after the game.
The History of the Red Sox is of an incredible run of five Championships from 1903 to 1918 that ended with the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. After that year the Red Sox didn't have another winning season until 1934 when Lefty Grove came to Boston. The Red Sox didn't have much for stars until Joe Cronin came in '35, Jimmie Foxx joined the team in '36 and Ted Williams broke into the league in '39. From that point the Red Sox had a few appearances in the World Series that were all losses in seven games, years that were mile markers of what-could-have-been: 1947, 1967, 1975 and 1986. They finally won it in '04, and '07 and '13 to stop the cycle of yearly heartbreak.
There are already a few Sox in the Hall of Good Enough: Scott Hatteberg, Carlos Pena, Vern Stephens, Johnny Damon, Cliff Floyd, Bret Saberhagen, Lee Smith, Joe Judge at the end of his career and Billy Wagner even had a short but impressive stint in Boston.
Johnny Pesky, SS
Pesky broke into The Show in 1942 leading the league in hits with 205 and finishing third in MVP voting behind Hall of Farmers Joe Gordon (Yankees second baseman and the winner of the award) and teammate Ted Williams. Pesky served the next three years in the Navy during World World II. He came back to the Red Sox to lead the league in hits the next two seasons, ‘46 and ‘47 (208 and 207 hits), the only player ever to lead the league in hits in their first three seasons. Unfortunately, he was remembered during his playing career for a brief moment during the 1946 World Series. Unlike Fred Merkle’s mistake, Pesky was lucky enough to not have his World Series mistake called “the Pesky boner.” Pesky relayed a throw from the outfield while glancing at the runner before throwing home. Cardinals players later acknowledged that he couldn’t have stopped the run even without a hesitation. It was one mistake and it defined his legacy… for a time. Pesky endeared himself as a manager, coach, ambassador of the game, was monumentalized in statue symbolizing the bond of teammates and the namesake for the most famous foul pole in baseball, The Pesky Pole. Oddly, he’s known for a home run boundary line despite hitting only 17 dingers in his ten year career. He was not a home run hitter, he was a shortstop who could get on base and score runs. He had six seasons of onbase percentages of .390 or higher, a career of getting on base at a clip of .394 and a batting average of .307. He collected 1455 hits, scored over 100 runs in each of his first six seasons (867 total)F and received MVP votes four times. He took over Red Sox shortstop duties after Hall of Fame Joe Cronin retired and moved to 3B when Vern Stephens joined the team in 1948. His offensive numbers took a dip while leading third basemen in double plays.
It’s easiest to compare Dom and Pesky to two other players from their time that also went to the war but made it into the Hall of Fame. Joe Gordon and Phil Rizzuto were the middle infield tandem for the Yankees in the ‘40’s and both won AL MVP awards. Gordon played 11 years in the league and the Scooter played 13. Gordon was much more of a power hitter than any of these guys hitting 253 homers as a second baseman, .268 AVG, .357 OBP, .914 runs and 1530 hits. He was a nine-time All-Star and won five of the six World Series that he played in. Rizzuto was more of a light hitting shortstop, like Pesky only hitting 38 home runs to go with his 1588 hits, scored 877 runs, had a .273 AVG and .351 OBP. Rizzuto was a five-time All-Star and won seven out of the nine World Series that he played in. The differences in Yankee to Red Sox players is more than just World Series wins vs. Onbase Percentage. Rizzuto’s shortstop fielding and Gordon’s power gave them WARs of 40.8 and 57.2, respectively to Dom and Johnny’s 32.0 and 31.9.
Dom DiMaggio, OF
Joe had the bat, dom had the best glove and Vince could sing. Ironically Vinny married the Monroe sister, Mulva, who had the best bat of the Monroes, but looked like a catcher’s mitt. Dom was called The Little Professor for his glasses and “Jesse James without the horse” for his aversion to brevity… or for his frequent robberies in the outfield. While Joe is known for the longest hit streak in MLB history, Dom still holds the longest hit streak for the Red Sox at 34 games in 1949. Dom played ten seasons (plus three at bats 1953), all with Boston, and missed three seasons for World War II. He had an onbase percentage of .380 or better five times for a career OBP of .383 to go with his .298 AVG. A seven-time All-Star, six-time receiver of MVP votes, 1680 hits and 1048 runs in his ten full seasons. In 1950 at the age of 33, Dom lead the league in runs, triples and stolen bases (131, 11 and 15). He was perfect compliment for Ted Williams. Teddy Ballgame didn’t like to pay attention to fielding in left field so Dom’s proficiency in center would make up for it. Dom would get on base and Williams would drive him in (Dom scored 100 or more runs in seven seasons, Ted is 15th all-time for RBI with 1839).
Note: Joe and Dom really did have an older brother named Vince who played ten years in the majors. He was considered the brother who could sing, although he was confident to think that he could “run circles” around Joe in the outfield. Joe wasn’t the warmest teammate to other Yankees and he and Vince dropped out of each other’s lives as well. Vince did concede that Joe by far had a better eye at the plate than him. This should have been pretty obvious, although he as twice an All-Star and received MVP votes in two other seasons, he led the league in striking out six out of his ten seasons. While Joe and Dom left baseball for military service, Vince served his country in other ways by playing for the Pirates during the season and by being one of the very few athletes to build equipment for the military with the California Shipbuilding Corporation during World War II. Marilyn didn’t have a sister named “Mulva.” No one does.
Tony Conigliaro, OF
Tony C is one of the shortest careers that will show up in the Hall of Good Enough, but he was able to do so much in his short and tragic career. He was a 19 year old rookie in ‘64 and hit 24 home runs in 111 games, the most ever by a teenager. The next year, as a 20 year old, he led the league in homers with 32 (the youngest to do so), followed by a year with 28. In 1967 he was an All-Star for the only time in his career, a year where he became the third 22 year old in MLB history to reach the 100 home run mark and youngest American Leaguer to hit a century. Unfortunately, he only played 95 games in ‘67 when a fastball hit him in the eye. He spent the rest of the season in the hospital stewing over his teammates who did not come to visit. He was unaware that the Red Sox owner forbade the players to visit him because of some sense that that would not be good for his health. Boston went to the World Series that year without Tony C, losing in seven games to the Big Red Machine. He missed the entire 1968 season and came back the next year to hit 20 home runs and 21 doubles in 141 games while secretly blind in one eye. He won the comeback player of the year that year while playing without depth perception. His next year was his best. At 25 years old in 1970 he hit career highs with 36 home runs and 116 RBI. He was traded in the offseason to the Angels (as so many Red Sox stars have been). His eyes only got worse and his year in California only lasted 74 games before retiring. He tried many things in his life, he briefly came back to the Red Sox for a short time four years later, he became a singer scoring a few hits and an appearence on the Merv Griffin show. Conigliaro even auditioned to be a broadcaster for the Red Sox in 1982 when he was still just 37 years old, but days later suffered a heart attack that left him hospital bound until his death eight years later. He only played eight seasons, only five of those with 110 games or more. He hit 166 home runs and collected 849 hits in only 876 games.
George Scott, 1B
Despite being known for five stellar seasons with the Brewers from ‘72 to ‘76, Scott spent most of his career in Boston where he established his power and fielding combination of unlikely skills for a big man who played on the corners of the infield. He always had trouble with his weight, was listed at 200 pounds, was speculated to be 250, and could have been more. That weight seemed to have more of an impact on his batting averages than his fielding as he was a nimble fielder, winning Gold Gloves at first base and also platooning at third base. He was an eight time Gold Glover and could have won two more in seasons where he platooned at first and third based on the pitcher and his teammates strengths. The career .268 hitter (1992 hits) developed a case of “Fenwayitis” where he tried to pull everything thrown at him toward the Green Monster. His swing got so bad that Manager Dick Williams offered to pay him $20 for every hit he got from the shortstop area of the field to the right field line and Scott would pay his manager $10 for every hit to the left of the shortstop. He was in Milwaukee for his peak years and even lead the league with career highs in home runs (36) and RBI (109) for his age 31 season. The lack of the alluring siren call Green Monster helped focus his swing and he kept winning Gold Gloves until he came back to Boston. He was a key member of the ‘67 team’s World Series run, finished with 271 home runs and received MVP votes in seven of his 14 seasons.
Fred Lynn, OF
When Lynn was a rookie in 1975 he led the league in runs (103), doubles (47), slugging (.566) and OPS (.957) to earn him a spot on the All-Star team, a Gold Glove, the Rookie of the Year Award and the AL MVP Award. He was nearly voted Rookie of the Year unanimously with one of the votes being split with his teammate Jim Rice, who also finished third in MVP voting. Lynn was the first rookie to win the AL MVP award, a fete not matched until Ichiro in 2001. Although he started his career with nine straight All-Star appearances (including a grand slam in the game as an Angel) and four Gold Gloves, he is considered as a player of “what could have been.” Some of that is that he was plagued by injuries, only once played in 150 games or more and he left Boston after 7 years into his 17 year career. A bit of it could have been that his career would always be compared to his Red Sox rookie classmate and future Hall of Famer Jim Rice.
Rookies in the same season, Lynn and Rice helmed the best outfield in baseball with Dwight Evans for the six full seasons they shared in Boston. For all of the comparisons between these players, Rice is definitely deserving of his place in the Hall of Fame. Although he was prickly with the media, he was pretty justified to be weary of criticism he faced in Boston as one of the first prominent black players on the Red Sox. Despite the criticism Rice excelled, .298 average, 2452 hits, 382 career home runs, leading the league three times (39, 46 and 39 home runs in ‘77, ‘78 and ‘83), receiving MVP votes in eight seasons and winning the award in ‘78, an eight-time All-Star, two time Silver Slugger. He’s going to be the yardstick that Lynn and Evans will be measured against.
Lynn’s most prominent season may have come as a rookie, but unlike the 1950 AL Rookie of the Year, Boston’s Walt Dropo, Lynn was able to maintain greatness through injuries for a lengthy career. 1975 wasn’t Lynn’s only great year, he may have had an even better season in 1979 when he finished 4th in MVP voting despite leading the league in AVG, OBP and slugging while finishing second in HR (39), fourth in RBI (122) and third in doubles (42). Lynn was thought of as a laid back Californian on the field and a fierce competitor off the field, that public image saved him from the criticism Jim Rice unjustifiably faced. Lynn ended up getting traded to the California Angels and Rice and Evans (pretty much) finished their careers in Boston.
Lynn’s career 1960 hits, .283 AVG and 306 home runs are impressive but less than Rice’s 2452 hits, .298 AVG and 382 home runs. BUT, Lynn went to one more All-Star game, hit 388 doubles to Rice’s 373, got onbase at a .360 clip to Rice’s .352 and had a career WAR of 50.2 compared to Rice’s 47.7 mostly thanks to Lynn’s superior fielding that led to four Gold Gloves.
Dwight Evans, OF
While Lynn’s four Gold Gloves and 50.2 WAR is impressive, Dwight Evans ups that as an eight-time Gold Glover, two-time Silver Slugger and 67.1 WAR. Evans is the same age as Lynn and a year older than Rice. He didn’t quite have the spectacular season that Lynn and Rice had in 1975. Smith lead the league in home runs in 1981 (ahem, with 22… strike shortened year where he played 108 games), runs in ‘84 (121), walks in ‘81, ‘85 and ‘87 (85, 114 and 106) and OBP in ‘82 (.402). He hit 385 home runs to Rice’s 382 and had a .370 OBP to Lynn’s .360, 483 doubles to Lynn’s 388 and had only six fewer hits than Rice. He never won an MVP but he received votes in five seasons. He played the second most games as a Red Sox behind only Carl Yastrzemski and acted in the 2011 movie Hall Pass. He played “Maggie’s Father” because with a mustache like that, he could only be a “Maggie’s Father.”
Luis Tiant, SP
El Tiante had a whirling pitching motion that had him described as “the Fred Astaire of baseball,” by the slugger Reggie Jackson or coming “from everywhere except between his legs,” by the eyebrow raising Curt Gowdy. He started using his pitching motion as a rookie with the Indians in 1964 and was a great pitcher from the start. His 1968 season he won 21 games and led the league with a 1.60 ERA and 9 shutouts. The next season was his first where his team did not allow him to play winter ball in the Caribbean and he lost 20 games although his ERA was under 4.00. His herky-jerky whirly-bird pitching motion not only brought out clumsy descriptions, it also caused Tiant to break his shoulder blade in 1970 during his only season with the Twins. His doctor told him and he had only seen that injury in javelin throwers and never baseball players. The next spring, he was cut by the Twins, cut by the Braves and signed with the Red Sox. The next year he won 15 games, had a 1.91 ERA and was the Comeback Player of the Year. He followed up that effort three 20-win seasons in four years helping him to 229 career wins. He had a career 3.30 ERA and 1.199 WHIP, three-time All-Star and was the Red Sox ace to lead them to the 1975 AL Pennant.
The Red Sox had decades of Hall of Fame left fielders from Williams to Yaz to Rice before Greenwell. While he took his place in front of the Green Monster with expectations to be the next masher onto Lansdown street, Greenwell was much more of a patient and consistent hitter than a power hitter. His first two seasons were two of his best, finishing fourth in AL Rookie of the year voting (behind McGuire’s rookie record of home runs by a rookie in ‘87) and second in AL MVP voting the next year (behind Canseco’s 40/40 season). A Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star, Greenwell only hit more than 20 home runs in a season once. He was much more of a consistent onbase and batting average machine. His first two seasons were pinch hitting roles on the Red Sox, providing a bat off the bench for the ‘86 Pennant winning team. He played 12 seasons, five of which where he hit 30 or more doubles, over .300 AVG and over .360 OBP. After the season that he was 32 years old, he had a .303 AVG, .368 OBP, 130 home runs, 80 stolen bases and 1400 hits over 1269 games. He had issues with Dan Duquette, which was a running theme of the GM’s tenure in Boston, and left the MLB for a lucrative deal with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Hanshin was considered the Red Sox of Japan for their Championship drought compared to the more dominant Yomiuri Giants. 1997 was his only year playing in Japan and he only played seven games before injuring his foot. He never caught on with another team and his career ended before even getting into his mid-thirties and the string of prominent Boston left fielders ended for a few years before the acquisition of Manny Ramirez.
Mo Vaughn, 1B
Mo took over superstar status in Boston on the departure of Wade Boggs as a lumbering slugger who was unexpectedly graceful at first base. In the field he would pick throws out of the dirt with backhanded sweeps, and launch looping home runs at the plate. Before a pitch he would rock his body as tough his hulking stature always had a loose tire, but the ugliness of his approach led to a lot of power and an impeccable batting eye (329 home runs and a .383 OBP). He would strike out plenty, leading the league in strikeouts twice, but still managed .300+ AVGs five straight seasons. Despite an MVP award and leading Boston to an improbable playoff berth in ‘95, GM Dan Duquette ran him out of town after the ‘98 season. Mo returned to Fenway to boos that year, but overtime Duquette’s legacy tarnished and Mo has been remembered fondly. Life away from Boston was rough for Vaughn. His first two seasons with the Angels were productive but not eye-popping and he missed the entire 2001 season after falling down dugout steps attempting to catch a foul ball. He signed the next year with the Mets as the face of New York teams that overspent for unproductive players who did not win games. He never really recovered from those dugout steps and retired during the 2003 season. He only played in 12 seasons, but hit 30 or more homers six times (two of those seasons with 40 or more dingers), drove in 100+ RBI six times (led the league in ‘95 with 126 and had a career high 143 in ‘96), .300+ AVGs four times, .400+ OBP four times. He was a Silver Slugger, three-time All-Star, and six time receiving MVP votes for the most beloved Red Sox player of the nineties.
Nomar Garciaparra, SS
He was more than just the love interest on Two Guys, a Girl And a Pizza Place, he was the first-pitch swinging, leg kick throwing one-time future at shortstop in Boston. Nomar came up in a golden age of shortstops playing on All-Star teams with Omar Vizquel, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez while Cal Ripken was closing out his career as a third baseman. He only played two full seasons with Vaughn in ‘97 and ‘98 but those were the two most impressive seasons of Nomar’s career winning the Rookie of the Year award one year and finishing second in AL MVP voting the next (hitting 30 homers, 98 RBI, a .306 AVG and leading the league in hits with 209 and triples with 11 in ‘97 and 35 homers, 125 RBI and a .323 AVG in ‘98). Seemingly every season Nomar was doing something incredible, in ‘99 and 2000 he won the batting title with AVGs of .357 and .373. The next year was a lost season where an old wrist injury flared up and caused him to miss all but 21 games. He came back in 2002 leading the league in doubles with 56 while having a .320 AVG and 2003 he lead the Sox tantalizingly close to the World Series while hitting 28 home runs. 2004 was Nomar’s downfall. He was sitting on bench injured as Derek Jeter flew into the stands at Fenway Park to make an out and he as shockingly traded mid season. That trade probably had more to do with Nomar not taking pitches and not drawing walks as Theo Epstein’s numbers team would like as it was because of him sitting on the bench that day. The result of that trade was that the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918 and Nomar went on to the Dodgers and Cubs as an oft-injured player moving around the field to many different positions. It wasn’t all bad after Boston, he was an All-Star again in ‘06 with the Dodgers as he hit 20 homers and a .303 AVG as a first baseman. He played 14 seasons although he only played full seasons in the first half his career. Ted Williams said that he was the only player who knew where to have his hands for any pitch location thrown at him and it translated into 1747 hits, 229 home runs and a .313 career average. Although he had a higher AVG than Mo Vaughn, his first pitch swinging approach meant that Mo had a higher OBP and Nomar got onbase just a tick higher than a typical .300 hitter. He was one of the biggest stars in the game whose incredible run was only slowed by freak injuries.
Derek Lowe, SP
Heathcliff Slocumb might as well be in the Hall of Good Enough for his contribution of getting guys to Boston so they could shine. In the summer of 1997 the Mariners needed a closer so they sent two prospects to the Red Sox for Slocumb who had collected 17 saves before the trade despite a lousy ERA only converted six more saves over the next three years before retiring. MEANWHILE, the two prospects the Red Sox got back were Lowe and Jason Varitek. Varitek was a fixture on the team for 14 years and Lowe was a steady hand for seven before moving on after the Red Sox first Championship. Lowe started out as a reliever and saved 85 gamese from ‘98 to ‘01 including making the All-Star Game in 2000 as the league leader in saves with 42. In ‘02 Lowe moved to the rotation where he won 21 games and had a 2.58 ERA to finish third in Cy Young voting. That year he was the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a no-hitter at Fenway park since 1965. He won 17 games in ‘03 but his ERA slipped over 4.00, and 14 games in ‘04 slipping more to 5.42. The regular season in “04 was a bit of a mess for him, but he was the unsung hero of that first postseason. He only pitched one inning in the ALDS but he collected the win in that game. He started two games in the NLCS against the Yankees posted a 3.18 ERA and picked up a win. He threw seven shutout innings and picked up a win. He became the first pitcher in MLB history to win three series clinchers in the same playoffs, something that hasn’t been matched until Charlie Morton in 2017. He was impressive in the postseason and integral to the Red Sox winning the World Series he had career 176 wins and 86 saves, 4.03 ERA and pitched in the playoffs eight times in 17 years.
Jason Varitek, C
He was the 4th captain of the Red Sox since 1928, was the first player to participate in the Little League World Series, College World Series, Olympic Baseball, The World Series and World Baseball Classic. He is one of only two MLB players ever to catch four no-hitters in his career. In July of ‘04 Varitek bought with Alex Rodriguez, shoving his glove in ARod’s face in an incident that was considered the turning point of the Red Sox season. After the incident Tek didn’t allow anyone, NESN broadcasters included, to refer to Rodriguez as “ARod” in a way to him down from superhuman status. Varitek won Championships with the Red Sox in ‘04 and ‘07 and hass the most home runs in playoff history by a catcher with eleven. While he only had an AVG of .256 over his career, he had an OBP of .341, had 1307 hits and 193 home runs over 15 seasons. He was a Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, three-time All-Star and had a 24.2 WHIP.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP
In 2007 Papelbon was the winner of the longest award name, the “DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award.” That seasons he posted a 1.85 ERA and 37 saves (almost identical to his 2010 season when he had a 1.85 ERA and 38 saves) and secured the bullpen for the Sox second Championship in four seasons. He saved 30 or more games in eight of his first nine full seasons. During that time he had five of his six All-Star appearances. His rookie season of ‘06 he saved 35 games and had a microscopic 0.92 ERA and 0.776 WHIP, good enough to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Justin Verlander. Papelbon is ninth in career saves with 368, had a career 2.44 ERA and 1.043 WHIP over 12 seasons. His postseason record is just as impressive. He had a 0.00 ERA for the first six of seven series he pitched in and had a career 1.00 ERA. In ‘07 he saved three games in the World series. He was one of the most successful relievers during his career but it was his personality that made teams shy away from extending that career. He finished his career with the Nationals amid bad blood with the team after he choked teammate Bryce Harper. He apologized and said it was a matter of frustration boiling over.
It has been hard to include everyone that comes to mind. Walt Dropo, a former UConn player, had a great start to his career before fizzling out. Tim Wakefield was the long-time knuckleballer who started, closed, was a long reliever, even received Cy Young votes early on in his career. Wake had a bit of an inconsistent career and although he had a ton of wins, his ERA and WHIP were a mess. Rico Petrocelli was the shortstop and third baseman for two Pennant Winning Red Sox teams in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and had some big power seasons for shortstop although his AVG and OBP left a lot to be desired. Bill "Spaceman" Lee was in the middle of plenty of big Red Sox moments.. ahem, fights... is a crazy character, and was featured pretty heavily in Ken Burns' Baseball, but he split his time between starter and reliever and didn't even make it to 120 wins over 14 seasons with a brutal WHIP.