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Red Sox To Retire Johnny Pesky’s Number 6

The Boston Red Sox announced Tuesday that, prior to Friday night’s game at Fenway Park against the New York Yankees, the team will retire number 6 in honor of former shortstop Johnny Pesky, whose name has been synonymous with the club for decades since lacing up his cleats as a rookie in 1942. With his number posted on the façade above the right field grandstand, Pesky will join Bobby Doerr (1), Joe Cronin (4), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Ted Williams (9), Carlton Fisk (27), and Jackie Robinson (42) as the only players to have received this honor from the club. The honor will also be made one day before the legendary Red Sox figure celebrates his 89th birthday.

The move came as a surprise for most familiar with Boston’s long-standing policy for awarding this honor. Until yesterday, numbers have only been retired by the Red Sox if a player spends at least ten seasons in Boston and is then elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. (Media outlets continue to state that a third criterion – a player had to finish his playing career with Boston – needed to be met. However, this was dropped to allow Fisk to have his number retired even though he spent the second half of his career in Chicago with the White Sox. A quick check of the official policy at redsox.com confirms this.) Team president Larry Lucchino, in acknowledging that an exception was being made in this instance, stated:

We inherited a set a rules that applied to this question of retiring numbers and we have looked at that and considered that to be useful but as guidelines rather than firm rules… Johnny Pesky’s career cries out as exceptional and its length of term and the versatility of his contributions – on the field, off the field, in the dugout, etc. – are such that we considered Johnny a worthy exception to the rules that were set down before.[1]

As a rookie in 1942, the 22-year-old shortstop amassed an eye-popping 205 hits, tops in the majors, and batted .331, second only to teammate Ted Williams; his efforts were enough to place him third in voting for the American League MVP. After putting his career on hold and serving in the Navy for three years during World War II, Pesky returned in 1946 along with fellow veterans Williams and Dom DiMaggio to help his team finish first in the American League with a record of 104-50. His time away from the diamond had not diminished his abilities; he led the league with 208 hits and batted .335 that season, the third best average in the American League, to finish fourth in the MVP vote. In eight seasons with Boston, he batted .313 and amassed 1227 hits.

Since the end of his playing career in 1954, he has served in several capacities for the club, including stints as manager, broadcaster, coach, and scout. These days, he continues to serve as a special instructor and as an unofficial club ambassador, well-regarded today by fans young and old. He also has the distinction of having a Fenway Park feature, the right field foul pole, affectionately named “the Pesky Pole” in his honor.

Regarding the announcement, a clearly-humbled Pesky said:

I’m very flattered about the whole thing because I didn’t think I was in the Ted Williams or Bobby Doerr class. I played with some good guys and I’m quite flattered by this announcement and I’m really going to enjoy it.[2]

[1], [2] Sox to retire Pesky’s number Friday. Boston.com, 23 September 2008.

Did You Know? – Red Sox All-Stars

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game was first played in 1933 at old Comiskey Park in Chicago and future Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell became the first (and only) player from the Red Sox named to the American League team. Since then, a total of 97 players have made 257 appearances representing Boston. The player who has made the most appearances for Boston is Ted Williams, who played on 19 All-Star teams between 1940 and 1960; 12 times, he was named the starting left fielder for the Junior Circuit representatives, also a team record. In second place is Carl Yastrzemski, who was named to 18 All-Star squads and started seven games at three different positions; left field, center field, and first base. Bobby Doerr is third with nine appearances and five starting roles, while Wade Boggs and Jim Rice each represented Boston eight times, Boggs starting seven times at third base and Rice starting four times in the outfield.

With regards to the number of All-Stars named from Boston in a given season, the 1946 squad includes eight All-Stars: Williams, Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Boo Ferriss, Mickey Harris, Johnny Pesky, Hal Wagner, and Rudy York. Three times, the Red Sox sent seven players: 1977, 1978, and 2002. Twice, they sent six players: 1949 and 2007. Only ten times has the requisite single representative been named from Boston, most recently as 2001 when perennial All-Star outfielder Manny Ramirez was sent to Safeco Field in Seattle to represent the Red Sox in his first season with the club.

Been Caught Stealing – Ellsbury SB Streak Ends

Caught stealing on a pitch-out in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 11-7 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s streak of stolen bases to begin his career was stopped at 25, two shy of the major league of 27 set by Tim Raines in 1979. Through Sunday, the rookie flycatcher has 16 steals in 40 games this season; counting the nine he stole in 33 games played last season, his 25 is still the most by a first-year Boston player since “Leaping” Mike Menosky in 1920. Ellsbury still has a ways to go beat the franchise single-season record of 54 stolen bases set by outfielder Tommy Harper in 1973, who was also caught in 14 further attempts; at present, factoring in the number of games played versus the number of games played by the Sox, he is on pace to steal 56, which would be just enough to move him into the number one spot in club history.

If Ellsbury eventually wants to claim the franchise record for career stolen bases, it may take him a few more years. Former outfielder Harry Hooper, the only starter to play on all four World Series championship teams between 1912 and 1918, stole 300 in his 12 seasons in a Red Sox uniform, putting him first place all-time with the club. Hooper’s teammate for two of those championships, Tris Speaker, sits in second place with 267 over nine seasons, and another former Boston outfielder, Carl Yastrzemski, stole 168 over 23 seasons. Only 12 former players have managed 100 or more steals with the traditionally slow-footed club and most of the top base-stealers set their marks prior to World War II; since that time, Boston has relied more on the strength of its bats rather than its speed on the base paths.

Did You Know? – Red Sox Gold Glove Winners

Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis strung together 135 errorless games and 1,094 errorless innings at first base during the 2007 regular season for a fielding percentage of 1.000, a feat of perfection that has been duplicated only once before in major league history. He has also played 190 consecutive errorless games in the regular season at first base, three shy of Steve Garvey’s major league record, and has easily surpassed the old Red Sox record (120 games by Stuffy McInnis) and American League record (178 games by Mike Hegan). For his efforts, American League managers and coaches last week honored the four-year veteran his first Rawlings Gold Glove award, one year after making the full-time switch from the third base position where he was raised as a professional player. He is the first Red Sox player to earn the honor since teammate Jason Varitek won the honor at the catcher’s position in 2005 and only the second Red Sox first baseman to be recognized, the other being George Scott, who won it three times between 1967 and 1971.

Since the awards were first handed out in 1957, 16 Red Sox players have captured the honor a total of 36 times. The first year the awards were given, only one award was made for both leagues, and Frank Malzone won the inaugural honor at third base. Five Boston players have won the award multiple times, with former outfielder Dwight Evans holding the team record with eight Gold Gloves won between 1976 and 1985 and Carl Yastrzemski capturing seven in his 23 seasons with the club. Nine times, the Red Sox have had more than one honoree in the same season; twice they have had three. Yastrzemski, Scott, and outfielder Reggie Smith all won at their positions in 1968 and Evans, outfielder Fred Lynn, and shortstop Rick Burleson each capture the honor in 1979. The last time the Sox had more than one winner in a single season came in 1990, when pitcher Mike Boddicker, the only Boston player to ever win a Gold Glove as a pitcher, and outfielder Ellis Burks both won. Gold Gloves have been at a premium for Boston players since averaging better than one per season between 1957 and 1985; catcher Tony Pena in 1991 had been the last Red Sox player to capture the defensive honor before Varitek ended a 14-year drought in 2005, giving the team a total of just five awards in the last 22 seasons.

Today In History – Base-Running Blunders Doom Boston

02 October 1972 – On this day thirty-five years ago, Boston loses the first game of a crucial three-game series in Detroit, 4-1, thanks in part to a costly base-running mishap by the Red Sox. Six months earlier, the start of the 1972 season is delayed by baseball’s first player’s strike; upon its conclusion one week after the regular season is set to begin, Major League Baseball decides not to make up any of the lost games on the schedule. As a result, the Red Sox lose seven games to the strike while the Tigers lose six. Now with the regular season nearing its conclusion, the division title comes down to a final three-game series in Detroit, with the Red Sox ahead of the Tigers by a half-game in first place; whoever takes two-of-three would be American League East division champions.

In the opener, Detroit jumps to an early 1-0 lead but Boston appears to have a rally started in the top half of the third inning when, with one out, left fielder Tommy Harper singles and shortstop Luis Aparicio follows with a ground ball single to left, moving Harper to third. With runners on the corners, Carl Yastrzemski, playing first base, steps to the plate and hits a deep shot to center field for what seems like a sure triple. Harper easy strolls home and the fleet-footed Aparicio races from first looking to cross the plate as well. However, as he nears the third-base bag, Aparicio stumbles suddenly, then slips on the bag and falls into foul territory; he immediately gets up to return to the base. Unfortunately, Yastrzemski, who has not seen the miscue, motors around second with his head down, thinking he had an easy triple; to his surprise, Yaz arrives at third only to find his teammate still there. Aparicio makes a final attempt to head home but slips again on the wet grass and scrambles back to third; Yastrzemski has no choice but to try and return to second, but he’s easily tagged out by Tigers third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez.

With Aparicio still standing on third, the next batter, Reggie Smith, strikes out to end the frame; from there, Boston never recovers, reaching third base only once other time as Tigers starter Mickey Lolich pitches a complete game, striking out 15 while allowing just the one run, and Detroit walks away with a 4-1 win in the opener. Any chance to salvage the series ends the following day as the visiting Red Sox lose again, 3-1; a meaningless 4-1 win on the final day of the season is to no satisfaction as it leaves Boston with a final record of 85-70, exactly a half-game behind Detroit at 86-70 and out of post-season contention for the fifth straight season.

Today In History – Switch-Hitting Smith Helps BoSox Sweep

20 August 1967 – On this day forty years ago, Red Sox outfielder Reggie Smith hits three home runs in two games at Fenway Park as Boston not only sweeps a doubleheader against California, 12-2 and 9-8, but completes a four-game series sweep against the Angels. The four wins also avenges a sweep at the hands of the Angels in Anaheim one week earlier and moves the surging Red Sox to within 1-1/2 games of first place in the American League, but comes at a price; Tony Conigliaro is beaned by a Jack Hamilton pitch in the first game of the series and the young outfielder will miss not only the rest of the season but the entire 1968 campaign as well.

In the first game, Smith becomes the first player in franchise history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a single game; his first, a three-run shot, comes in the first inning off left-handed starting pitcher George Brunet and the second, a two-run blast, comes in the sixth off right-hander Pete Cimino. Rico Petrocelli and Carl Yastrzemski also homer as Boston scores five runs in the first and six runs in the sixth to make it a laugher.

In the nightcap, the Angels take a commanding 8-0 lead before Smith hits his third home run of the day, a solo shot off Angels starter Jim McGlothlin, with one out in the fourth inning. The Red Sox then score three in the fifth on Yastrzemski’s second home run of the day and four in the sixth to tie the score at eight runs apiece; third baseman Jerry Adair then completes the scoring with a solo home run into the netting above the Green Monster. In the ninth inning, the Angels attempt to salvage at least one game in the series thanks to a single and a double to open the frame that put runners on second and third. However, reliever Jose Santiago manages to pitch out of the jam by inducing a groundout to second base, a strikeout, and a international walk followed by a groundout into a force at second.

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.

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Rice Waits For Another Shot at Call to Hall

On Tuesday afternoon, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers of America Association (BBWAA) vote for the newest members to baseball’s shrine of immortals. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., both first-time candidates, are expected to receive better than the necessary 75 percent of the vote and there are legimate reasons for another first-timer, Mark McGwire, to earn enshrinement, depending on how the voters perceive whether allegations of illicit drug use are enough to keep him out of the hall, at least initially.

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Respect For Rice Overdue

Rafael Palmeiro will be elected to the Hall of Fame, regardless of the fact that he was caught by Major League Baseball’s new drug testing policy, which showed that he took steroids to boost his numbers on the field. He is certainly not the first player in baseball to have used a performance enhancer to try and better himself at the plate, with Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti both admitting in recent years of widespread use of steroids by themselves and former teammates that saw home run totals climb into the stratosphere. The latter paid the ultimate price last fall when a cocaine overdose, likely fueled by his reliance on illicit drugs to keep that high that he felt playing baseball all those years alive, took him from this earth at the tender age of 41.

Palmeiro’s career numbers are indeed impressive, having recently passed the magical 3,000-hit mark and the 500 home run mark in 2003. Given that he is signed to play through the end of next season, it is quite possible that he could manage to hit enough home runs to qualify as only the third player in major league history to have a minimum of 600 home runs and 3,000 hits, joining only Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in that respect. The numbers are impressive, especially when you consider that Palmeiro has never held a batting or home run title in his 20 seasons playing in the majors. Unfortunately, the recent ten-day suspension will hang over his head for years to come, tarnishing an otherwise unblemished record.

Of course, there are others in recent years whose names will someday show up on the ballots of the baseball writers whose reputation are modestly stained; Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa come to mind, although there is no concrete evidence that they have used illegal performance enhancers. Although it’s true that McGwire admitted to using androstenedione during the 1998 season as he and Sosa chased Roger Maris’s 37-year-old home run record, at that time it was not a banned substance as it is now, so he essentially gets a get-out-of-jail free card. So don’t be surprised to see them get elected, either.

Being a Boston fan, I can’t help but think about former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, a player that I admittedly only caught in the latter part of his career. It’s not hard to look at his numbers and be impressed. Had he not debuted in the same season as rookie teammate Fred Lynn, he would have easily walked away with American League Rookie of the Year honors and perhaps even the MVP as well after batting .309 with 22 home runs and 102 RBI. From 1977 through 1979, his numbers were almost equal in every season, averaging .320 with 41 home runs and 128 RBI. In 1978, he collected 406 total bases, the only American League player since the legendary Joe DiMaggio in 1937 to have more than 400 in a season; three times, he led the AL in home runs and twice finished number one in slugging percentage.

Rice was the classic power hitter in the lineup; though only 6-foot-2 and weighing in at just over 200 pounds, he used his short stroke and his strong wrists to drive balls all over the yard. From 1975 through 1986, he was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball as he averaged .304 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI. When he finally called it a career after the 1989 season, he had amassed 382 home runs, 2,452 hits, and 1,451 RBI; all three place him in the top 100 of all-time in MLB history. One would think that would be enough to get his plaque hung alongside the likes of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, two other Red Sox greats and among the only players he trails in several offensive categories in team history.

Yet Rice still waits outside the gates, perhaps silently wondering if the last few, injury-plagued seasons hurt his chances. Had he not tried to play through injuries to his knees in those seasons, he might have built on those numbers even more, finished on a high note, and found his way to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility in 1995. However, when you consider that he put nothing more in his body other than perhaps a few vitamins, those numbers today are that much more impressive when compared to the baseball stars today that are pumped up on more than adrenaline. Rice is probably not the only star from his era that has been overlooked; Andre Dawson is one other player that comes to mind who put up great numbers but was nagged by injuries late in his career that probably hurt his chances.

Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame should not come easy; being a player of that caliber in any sport means that you were one of the best ever to play. For years, the baseball writers who voted for these ballplayers have generally turned a blind eye towards passing judgment on that player’s ethical conduct because, for the most part, the numbers have been all that mattered. Thus, Palmeiro and his contemporaries will be given a pass and honored among other past greats of the game, even with concrete evidence that they tampered with their bodies to give themselves an edge on the field. Yet, knowing that, perhaps players like Rice who were the power hitters of their era should be given a pass for, well, just being human.

That’s The Way Love Goes

It’s not easy being a sports celebrity in the Boston metropolitan region, no matter whose uniform you wear; if there was just one word used to describe the fan base in this area, it would be intense. One day, you’re given a parade downtown along with the key to the city; the next day, you wouldn’t win an election for dog catcher. The banter on the airwaves suggest that fans here tend to expect nothing less than perfection on the field; when a player suddenly slips a few notches below the level that we expect them to player, it doesn’t take long for the media to begin questioning how good a player he is, no matter what he’s done in the past. That is soon followed by every arm-chair quarterback and fantasy league manager offering every possible, off-beat solution to the problem, most of which involve shipping that player in an air-tight container to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

So when the unofficial Red Sox head cheerleader, first baseman Kevin Millar, came to Edgar Renteria‘s defense last weekend and told the club’s fan base to stop giving him so much grief, it wasn’t long before the assault began. As expected, Millar got grief for trying to stick up for his teammate and even more grief for highlighting the fact that his level of play thus far this season had been sub par at best; meanwhile, Renteria continued to hear it from everyone within earshot regarding his lack of offensive output and clutch hitting.

If nothing else, the veteran shortstop has learned quickly in just his first few months in a Red Sox uniform that becoming a member of one of the most storied franchises in baseball means the eventual discovery that Boston fans are among the most passionate sports fans in the world. Every season, we turn on our radios and televisions or make our way to Fenway Park and cheer for our beloved Sox in numbers. We study the box scores, review the upcoming schedules, and follow the team from the very first game right down to the very last out on the last day of the season. Generations of fans from Boston and beyond have stood behind this team and relentlessly cheered every year for that season to be the one that a long-awaited championship was finally rewarded to our team.

The fascination with the Sox is so intense, players who otherwise might have had a rather quiet major league existence find their lives forever changed when they put on a Red Sox uniform. Sam Horn, for instance, played just over a hundred games with Boston over three seasons and accomplished very little in his baseball career, but his name is synonymous with one of the World Wide Web’s most popular chat rooms. Dave Roberts, another player whose career has been relatively quiet, will be remembered until the end of time for his stolen base in the bottom of the ninth in Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series that led a moment later to a game-tying run and the beginning of something very magical for Sox fans.

As odd as it sounds, Red Sox fans boo players because they support the team. Go to Tampa Bay or Milwaukee and I bet the home team hardly hears a discouraging word from the crowd during the games, no matter the situation; at least, that would be the impression I’d get looking at those half-empty stands. Boston, however, loves its team for better or worse and, for every time they jeer a player during a prolonged slump or a bad outing, they cheer even louder when he redeems himself with a diving catch, a timely hit, or a quality start. Manny Ramirez, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth – all of these players went through rough stretches in their careers and the fans were quick to give them an earful. In the end, however, when their fortunes turned, those same fans were the ones who applauded these efforts the loudest.

Radio and television shows with overly-opinionated hosts don’t really do it for me because, often times, the discussions border on the level of immature blather; they seem to exist only to work up listeners over the frustration of watching a player struggle on the field, whether or not it has hurt the team. Often time, these diatribes border on the harsh and insensitive and that doesn’t seem fair to our players. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get angry when a guy suddenly goes cold at the plate but, like most fans, I am quick to forgive and forget the next time he sends a pitch into the Monster Seats to tie the score or makes the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth. From being a Red Sox fan for many years, I can fully appreciate the fact that a season has its ups and downs and a streak of bad fortune can turn quicker than the tide.

It’s been a week now and, since his 0-for-4 performance last Sunday, Renteria has been on an unbelievable tear; over his last six games, he has gone 16-for-24 to raise his average from .239 to .295. In that time, he’s had three or more hits in four of those starts, two home runs which include a grand slam in Saturday’s thumping of the Yankees, and scored seven runs while knocking in six. When the Sox return to action tonight against the Orioles at home, expect the young ballplayer to hear a resounding cheer throughout Fenway Park and beyond when his name is announced during the pre-game ceremonies and when he makes his way to the plate for his first at-bat. Though it’s unlikely that his recently hitting display will continue, he should finally understand tonight just what it means to play for this club and its fans and that should feel very good indeed.