Five Future Red Sox Hall of Fame Inductees

The selection committee for the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame isn’t due to make a decision on the next list of nominees until more than a year from now, and the next induction ceremony isn’t scheduled to take place until November of 2008, but just whose career as a Red Sox player or manager might be worthy enough to earn enshrinement at that time? (We won’t consider non-uniformed honorees here nor will we consider a “memorable moment” from team history.) To be eligible, players must have played a minimum of three years with the team and have been out of uniform as an active player for another three years; former managers are generally chosen well after leaving Boston, as was the case for “Walpole” Joe Morgan and Dick Williams, two 2006 inductees. We are also going to shy away from more recent candidates who will be eligible when the next vote is expected, like John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, and Ellis Burks, simply because selections usually happen longer than three or so years after leaving the game.

So, in no particular order, are five candidates for consideration:

1. Don Zimmer

Younger Red Sox fans might remember him more as the old guy who Pedro Martinez tossed to the side in the midst of an on-field melee at Fenway Park during the 2003 ALCS, but “Zim” led Boston over four years at the helm, taking over for Darrell Johnson after the latter was fired midway through a disasterous 1976 campaign. In 715 games as manager, he won 411 contests and finished with better than 90 wins in every season between 1977 and 1979 before being dumped unceremoniously seven games before the end of the 1980 campaign. He also served 2-1/2 seasons under Johnson as Boston’s third base coach and returned for one season in 1992 as Butch Hobson’s bench coach. Older fans often remember him as the manager who watched the Red Sox blow a 14-1/2 game lead in July of 1978, and then witnessed Bucky Freakin’ Dent hit a home run in a one-game playoff at Fenway to lose the AL East crown that same season, but that team also managed to win 99 games, the fourth-most wins ever in a season in franchise history. He was, in the words of Johnny Pesky: “…an innovator, a student of the game, and an excellent day-to-day manager.”[1]

2. Earl Wilson

Wilson owns the distinction of being the first African-American pitcher in Red Sox team history, breaking the color barrier by hurling a scoreless one-inning relief appearance in late July of 1959; three days later, he made his first ever start. He also threw a no-hitter at Fenway Park in June of 1962, helping his own cause with a home run, and becoming the first black major league pitcher to throw an American League no-hitter. In seven seasons with Boston, Wilson won 56 games for clubs that finished at or near the bottom of the league standings. After a trade to Detroit midway through the 1966 campaign, Wilson’s career took off as he further blossomed and won another 64 games with the Tigers. Wilson was also regarded as one of baseball’s greatest power-hitting pitchers, hitting 35 home runs during his career and all but two of them while in the game as a pitcher. He even hit two in one game with the Red Sox in 1965.

3. Dutch Leonard

Leonard pitched for six seasons in Boston between 1913 and 1918, posting 90 wins and a 2.14 ERA with 769 strikeouts in that span. He also won both of his World Series starts, once in 1915 and another in 1916, as the Red Sox won back-to-back world championships. He may be best remembered, however, for posting an amazing 0.96 ERA in 1914, the modern baseball record, while going 19-5 in 36 starts. He also threw two no-hitters in his Red Sox career, once in August of 1916 and again two years later in June of 1918. Unfortunately, due to shipbuilding and millitary obligations, he missed most of the 1918 season, losing out on the opportunity to be part of a third world championship.

4. Bill Lee

“Spaceman” made a name for himself more due to his unique personality but few people remember that he was actually a great pitcher during the mid-1970s, winning 17 games in three straight seasons between 1973 and 1975. After beginning his career in the bullpen, Lee was made a permanent fixture of the rotation in 1973 and responded with 16 wins in 33 starts and an overall 17-11 record with a 2.75 ERA, enough to earn him his only All-Star appearance. After posting a 17-15 record the following season, he went 17-9 in 1975 during Boston’s pennant-winning season. 16 of those wins came between May and August to help the Red Sox distance themselves from their division rivals; he also enjoyed a stretch of eight straight appearances between early July and mid-August that included seven starts without a loss, including four straight complete game victories, and compiled a 6-0 record with a 3.14 ERA during that span. He would finish his Boston career with 94 wins and a 3.64 ERA to his credit, along with enough off-the-wall comments made during his career to create a Fenway Park legend.

5. Mike Greenwell

“Gator” became a Fenway Park fixture in 1987 and spent ten seasons with the club, averaging .303 at the plate while hitting 133 home runs with the only team he ever knew. An All-Star twice, he provided a solid and reliable presence in the team’s lineup during his tenure, perhaps best demonstrated with the fact that he averaged a strikeout only once every 3-1/2 games and posted a .368 career on-base percentage, twice recording an OBP of .400 or better. Greenwell finished fourth in his rookie season for American League Rookie of the Year honors and finished second a year later in the MVP race to Jose Canseco. In most years, he was the team’s everyday left fielder, following in the hallowed footsteps of legends like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice, and managed a respectable .982 fielding percentage playing in front of the wall at Fenway Park. He is also one of just 18 Red Sox players to hit for the cycle and hit an inside-the-park grand slam against the Yankees at home in September of 1990.

[1] Pesky, J. and Pepe, P. Few and Chosen: Defining Red Sox Greatness Across the Eras. 2004, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL. 170 pp.