As the Boston Red Sox head to Japan to play the first two games of its 2008 regular season schedule in Tokyo against the Oakland Athletics, it is interesting to note that, as well as having had Japanese players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima play for Boston, there have been several non-Japanese players with past Red Sox teams that have also logged time with a Far East baseball club.. Perhaps the most well-known of these players is former outfielder and recent Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Mike Greenwell, who signed on to play with the Hanshin Tigers in 1997 after twelve seasons with Boston. However, “the Gator” unexpectedly left the team during spring training while claiming an undiagnosed back injury, abruptly flew back to the United States, then returned to Japan and rejoined the team in late April. He finally played his first Japanese professional game in early May but, after fracturing his foot with a foul tip, announced his official retirement from baseball after batting .231 in just seven games with the club.
Outfielder Reggie Smith was another former Red Sox great who later played in Japan, though his move to Japan came ten years after he departed Boston. After playing his final season in the majors with the San Francisco Giants in 1982, Smith was lured to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants; however, his personality and demeanor immediately clashed with the expectations of the Japanese fans and the media with regards to the norm for a baseball player. After injuring his knee early in the 1983 season, he was dubbed “Million-Dollar Bench-Warmer” by the Japanese media as he sat for two months nursing the injury; he also earned another less-honorable nickname, the “Giant Human Fan,” for striking out too often. Despite this, in just 263 at-bats, he managed a batting average of .285 with 28 home runs, a .409 on-base percentage, and a .609 slugging percentage.
One other more-recent Boston player who donned spikes in the Land of the Rising Sun was Gabe Kapler who, lured by a lucrative contract offer, departed the Red Sox a month after the team won the World Series in 2004 and joined the Yomiuri club. However, after batting just .153 (17-for-111) with three home runs and six RBI in 38 games with the Giants, the team put the veteran outfielder on waivers and Kapler returned to the Red Sox in June of 2005. In addition, other non-Japanese players who have worn both a Boston uniform as well as one for a Japanese club include: John Wasdin, who played for the Red Sox between 1997 and 2000, then signed for one season with Yomiuri in 2002; Larry Parrish, who played a half-season with the Sox in 1988, then played a season each with the Yakult Swallows (1989) and Hanshin (1990); Kip Gross, who played five seasons in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters (1994-1998), then returned to the United States to play for Boston for one season (1999); and Benny Agbayani, who also played 13 games for Boston in 2002 and has played the last four seasons for the Chiba Lotte Marines (2004-2007).
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.
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.
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.