The 2012 Boston Red Sox season is likely one that the organization and fans alike will want to soon forget. In celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, the team finished 69-93, which broke a stretch of 14 straight winning seasons. Before that, the last Red Sox team to suffer through a losing season was in 1997, when first-year manager Jimy Williams and rookie Nomar Garciaparra ended the season with a disappointing 78-84 record. The team also finished in last place for the first time since 1992, when another first-year manager, Butch Hobson, and pitcher Roger Clemens finished in seventh place in the American League East.
Former Boston Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky, who was a loyal part of the Boston organization for more than 60 seasons, passed away today at the age of 92. Pesky played eight seasons between 1942 and 1951, missing time between 1943 and 1945 serving in World War II, and also managed the club twice, first for two years between 1963 and 1964, and then briefly at the end of the 1980 season.
Is Nomar Garciaparra retiring? Say it isn’t so. At age 36, with several surgeries having limited his playing time in recent years, the last rock at the shortstop position in Boston is hanging up his uniform for good – maybe, maybe not – with a press conference this morning in Fort Myers.
The legendary Ted Williams touted “NO-mah” as the game’s next great player and he seemed destined for a Hall of Fame career. First, he easily won Rookie of the Year honors in 1997, then followed that with a second-place finish in the MVP ballot in 1998 and two batting titles in two years (1999 and 2000). Five times, he was named to the All-Star while with Boston, and he was often compared to other great shortstops of his time, including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada.
When Garciaparra returned as an Oakland Athletic last July to Fenway Park for the first time since being traded away in 2004, he received a lengthy standing ovation from an appreciative crowd, to which he tipped his cap and graciously clapped along with them. It reminded us of the moment following a series-ending loss to Cleveland in the 1998 American League Division Series; as the Indians celebrated on the field by the visitor’s dugout, Garciaparra stepped back out from the Boston dugout, turned to the stands, and began clapping in genuine appreciation of the Red Sox fans that had followed the team all season and every season before then.
Boston is still searching for the answer at short while fans search for answers on why such a promising career ended too soon; some might say that Garciaparra is to this generation what Fred Lynn was to the last one and Tony Conigliaro was to the one before then. Red Sox fans will always have a place in its collective heart reserved for Garciaparra, who gave all he had with the club for eight seasons, but we will always wonder what might have been for him.
In a move reminiscent of the trade that sent former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs just before the 2004 trading deadline, Boston made a three-way trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers that sent future Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Manny Ramirez out west to join Garciaparra and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre in L.A., while the Sox received Jason Bay from Pittsburgh in exchange for outfielder Brandon Moss and reliever Craig Hansen. The Pirates also received two players from the Dodgers to complete the deal, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris.
Ramirez, who earlier this season hit career home run number 500 to become just the third player to reach that mark in a Boston uniform, had recently and publicly voiced his unhappiness with team management for failing to pick up his option for the 2009 season; he had even offered to waive his option to void the trade as a 10/5 player (ten years in the league, five years with the same club). In the end, the Red Sox decided that it was better to part ways with the disgruntled slugger, who was batting .299 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI through action on Wednesday; in return, they get the 29-year-old Bay, who was batting .282 with 22 home runs and 64 RBI to this point in the season with the Pirates. Bay is expected to join the club in time for the opener of a three-game weekend series with the Oakland Athletics beginning Friday night at Fenway Park and will play left field in front of the Green Monster where Ramirez stood for many years.
Despite the ugly departure of the eight-time Boston All-Star, Ramirez will be remembered as one of the greatest right-handed batters in club history. Over seven-plus seasons, the eccentric flycatcher hit 274 home runs, which currently places him fifth all-time amongst Boston sluggers past and present, at an amazing rate of 14.4 at-bats per home run. His other numbers with the club speak for themselves; amongst franchise career leaders, he ranks ninth all-time in batting average (.312), sixth in runs batted in (868), fifth in on-base percentage (.411), and fourth in slugging percentage (.588). The respect opposing pitchers had for Ramirez also had a hand in building the career of David Ortiz; after a sub-par start to his career in Minnesota, Ortiz joined the Red Sox in 2003 and, with the perennial All-Star hitting behind him, developed into one of the most feared left-handed power hitters in the game. Eventually, the two sluggers became one of the greatest one-two punches in recorded baseball history, hitting a combined total of 422 home runs in five-plus seasons together; the two also combined over 40 times for home runs in the same game, the most by two teammates over that span.
Notably, Ramirez was at his best when it counted most for the Sox: the post-season. In 165 at-bats over nine playoff series, he batted .321, averaging .375 or better four times, hit 11 home runs, drove home 36 runs, and even won World Series MVP honors in the 2004 Fall Classic batting .412 with a home run and four RBI. In part due to his efforts, the Red Sox won two world championships in four years after the team went 86 years between titles.