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Book Review – Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends

So, what in fact happened one October afternoon in 1932 as the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees battled for the World Series title? Did the larger-than-life Babe Ruth really call his shot as legend has laid claim? That is just one story explored by baseball author and ESPN writer Rob Neyer in his latest book, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends: The Truth, The Lies, and Everything Else.

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Did You Know? – Red Sox MVP Honorees

The 2009 season begins with second baseman Dustin Pedroia set to defend his title as American League Most Valuable Player, the first since former first baseman Mo Vaughn began the 1996 season in the same position. In team history, only ten Boston players have received the AL MVP award. The first was outfielder Tris Speaker, who received the Chalmers Award in 1912, created as a promotional gimmick by an automobile company owner, Hugh Chalmers, in recognition of a player from each league who proved himself as “…the most important and useful player to his club and to the league at large in point of deportment and value of services rendered.”[1] Speaker was one of only eight players recognized over a four-year span in which the honor was made, which included the awarding of a Chalmers Model 30 automobile for that player’s efforts. (The award was discontinued after the 1914 season due to diminished interest.)

Efforts by the Baseball Writers Association of America eventually led to the creation of the MVP award as it is recognized today, decided by 28 seasoned sportswriters using a positional voting system where each voter ranks his or her top ten players. Jimmie Foxx was the first Boston player recognized by the baseball writers who gave him the honor in 1938, though for him it was his third award after having been recognized twice before with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932 and 1933. Ted Williams remains the only Red Sox player to have been named twice (1946 and 1949). Other winners have included Jackie Jensen (1958), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Fred Lynn (1975), Jim Rice (1978), and Roger Clemens (1986). Clemens remains the only Boston pitcher to earn the distinction, though since 1967 only seven pitchers have been so honored.

Of course, due to the subjective native of the MVP vote, Red Sox players have found themselves the focus of controversial outcomes, more often as the odd man out. Though Williams was honored twice in his illustrious career, there were also four instances in which he finished second in the voting where he might have been considered the more deserving candidate. In 1941, he batted .406, the last player to hit .400 or better in the regular season, but lost to New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio, who has amassed a 56-game hit streak that same year. The next year, he finished second again, this time to Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon, despite having won the batting Triple Crown with more hits in fewer at-bats, twice the number of home runs, and an OPS almost 250 point higher. In 1947, Williams again won the batting Triple Crown, the only player other than Roger Hornsby to win that recognition twice, yet he again lost to DiMaggio by a single point in the vote, again with far better numbers across the board. Finally, in 1957, he won the batting title with an impressive .388 average and hit 38 home runs while setting a modern-day record of reaching base in 16 consecutive at-bats, all at the age of 39, yet finished second once more to another legendary Yankees outfielder, Mickey Mantle.

Other Boston players who fell just shy in the voting include Pedro Martinez, who had one of the best seasons ever by a pitcher in modern baseball history and won the pitching Triple Crown and the Cy Young award. Yet, despite having more first-place votes, he lost to catcher Ivan Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers by a narrow 13-point margin in the vote. It was later discovered that two sportswriters, which included George King from the New York Post, had omitted Martinez from their ballots with the argument that the contributions made by pitchers were not significant enough to earn MVP consideration, though King had included two pitchers on his ballot the previous season. David Ortiz also fell just short of the honor in 2005 as he finished behind Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez in the vote. Though both players finished the season with impressive numbers, the argument was made that Ortiz, as a designated hitter, did not contribute as much to his team’s success as Rodriguez, so much that two sportswriters left Ortiz off their ballots.

On the flipside, Vaughn finished a mere eight points ahead of Cleveland slugger Albert Belle in the 1995 vote, despite Belle having far more impressive numbers on offense, including a higher number of home runs, runs scored, RBI, slugging percentage, and total bases; he had also become the first player in major league history to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in the same season that same year. Vaughn, however, had a far better relationship with fans and the media, whereas Belle routinely refused to grant interviews to reporters and had engaged in several controversial incidents with fans both at and away from the park. Ted Williams was also well-known for his sour relationship with the media, whom he mockingly referred to as the “kinights of the keyboard,” and, like Belle, may have been the reason in part for losing several close MVP ballots.

[1] Deane, Bill, Thron, John, and Palmer, Pete. Total Baseball. HarpersCollins Publishers, New York, 1993.

Jim Rice Finally Gets Call from Hall of Fame

Years of waiting finally paid off for former Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice; on Monday, in his 15th and final year of eligibility, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with 76.4 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Rice, a 16-year veteran who retired after the 1989 season, follows in the footsteps of two other Hall of Fame outfielders who spent their entire careers in Boston: Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Rice fell 16 votes shy of election in 2008 but earned seven more than the minimum this year and will join first-ballot inductee Rickey Henderson and Veterans Committee inductee Joe Gordon this summer for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Had he failed again to reach the minimum 75 percent for eligibility, his only chance for induction after this would have been through the Veterans Committee, which has proven to be a challenge for other former players not elected by the writers to find themselves added to the Hall.

Proponents had lobbied for Rice based on the fact that, between 1975 and 1986, Rice was one of the most feared hitters in the American League as he averaged .304 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI each season. He also finished in the top five of the MVP vote six times during that stretch, winning his only award in 1978 when he stroked 46 home runs, led the league with 139 RBI, and batted .315, just twenty points behind league-leader Rod Carew. He also collected an amazing 406 total bases that season, the first to have 400 or more total bases in a single season since Hank Aaron in 1959 and a feat that’s been matched since only six times.

Drafted and signed by Boston in 1971, he earned Triple Crown, Rookie of the Year, and MVP honors as a member of the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox in 1974. The following season, Rice broke into the majors and, along with fellow rookie sensation and “Gold Dust Twin” Fred Lynn, helped Boston return the World Series for the first time in eight years (unfortunately, a wrist injury due to an errant pitch in September forced Rice to miss the remainder of the season as well as the 1975 Fall Classic between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds). Eleven years later, appearing for the only time in the playoffs, Rice hit a 3-run home run in the seventh game of the ALCS to help Boston win the AL pennant, then batted .333 and scored the lone run in a 1-0 Game 1 victory for Boston against New York in the World Series. He was also an eight-time All-Star and a Silver Slugger award winner in 1983 and 1984.

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.

Ramirez Earns “B” For Baseball Hall Of Fame

When career home run number 500 left the bat of Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez on 31 May versus the Orioles in Baltimore, two things were made clear. The first is that he is all but assured a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when he makes his first appearance on the ballot; given the likelihood that he will play another four years, in Boston or elsewhere, that places him in line for 2018, so be sure to reserve your tickets now. The only question might be how they are going to design in those long-flowing dreadlocks he wears today, but I digress. The second is that when the time comes for the powers that be at the Hall to chose what cap Ramirez will be fashioned atop those dreads, it’s all but assured that he will be sporting the spoked “B” that he wears on his cap today as a member of the Red Sox.

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Vaughn, Greenwell Headline 2008 Red Sox Hall of Fame Class

Monday afternoon, the Boston Red Sox announced that eight people, including Mo Vaughn and Mike Greenwell, were elected to the club’s Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2008. Joining Vaughn and Greenwell will be former pitchers Wes Ferrell, Bill Lee, and Frank Sullivan, shortstop Everett Scott, scout George Digby, and former player development executive Ed Kenney, Sr.. Ferrell joins his brother and former Sox catcher Rick, who was automatically granted induction based on his previous election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984 by the Veteran’s Committee. The committee also selected the home run hit by Ted Williams in his final Major League at-bat as its Most Memorable Moment for Hall of Fame recognition. The induction dinner is scheduled for Friday, 7 November 2008, at the Marriott Copley Hotel in Boston.[1]

This is the seventh class to be honored since the Hall opened in 1995 and elections have been held every two years since 2000. Selections are made by a committee consisting of Red Sox executives and broadcasters, media members and representatives of the New England Sports Museum and BoSox club. To be eligible, a player must have played a minimum of three years with the club and been officially retired from baseball for at least three years, while non-uniformed honorees, like former inducees Curt Gowdy (broadcaster) and Dick O’Connell (general manager), are added only by a unanimous vote of the selection committee.

Today In History – Red Sox Hammer Browns for 29 Runs

08 June 1950 – On this day fifty-seven years ago at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox embarrass the St. Louis Browns, 29-4. The Sox score eight runs in the second inning, five in the third, seven in the fourth, two in the fifth, two in the seventh, and five in the eighth. Second baseman Bobby Doerr hits 3 home runs and drives home eight, rookie sensation Walt Dropo hits another two home runs, drives home seven, and crosses the plate five times, while slugger Ted Williams strokes two long balls and driving home five. In fact, each of these players connect for a home run in the eighth inning alone. Pitcher Chuck Stobbs walks four times to tie a record for pitchers at the plate and right fielder Al Zarilla ties a record with four doubles in one game while also stroking a single in nine at-bats, though he is unable to add to the scoring barrage and fails to drive home a single run. In addition, outfielder Clyde Vollmer, batting leadoff, goes to the plate eight times in 8 innings‚ the only time this has happened in history.

Boston sets several marks in the game, including: most runs scored (29), most RBI in one game (also 29), most players scoring four or more runs (4), most players scoring at least three runs (7), most total bases (60), most hits (28), and most extra-base hits (17). Another mark is set of most extra bases on long hits (32) in a game‚ and the most extra bases on long hits in consecutive games (51). The previous day, the Red Sox had beaten the Browns 20-4 on 23 hits, setting other records for most runs scored in consecutive games at 49 and most hits in consecutive games at 51. The two games were part of a nine-game stretch to begin the month of June in which Boston would score 119 runs. The Browns, who would later relocate to Baltimore after the 1953, prove to be easy prey for the Red Sox that season as Boston would score 216 runs and finish with 19 wins in 22 games against St. Louis. At season’s end, Boston’s potent offense would score 1,027 total runs in 1950 and bat a remarkable .302 as a team.

Today In History – Ted Williams Makes His Boston Debut

13 March 1938Ted Williams dons a Red Sox uniform for the first time in an exhibition game, playing right field and batting third in a 6-2 exhibition loss to Cincinnati in Sarasota, FL; Williams is hitless in four at-bats. Born in San Diego on 30 August 1918, the same day that Carl Mays wins two complete game efforts for the Red Sox on the way to Boston’s fourth World Series championship in seven seasons, Williams played high school baseball at Herbert Hoover High School. After graduation, the youngster turned pro and signed on to play for his hometown Padres of the Pacific Coast League; it soon became apparent that he was the real deal and scouts quickly got the word back to American and National League clubs.

In the fall of 1937, then-Boston general manager Eddie Collins made the trip west to broker a deal with the Padres for the rights to Williams; the trip paid off not only with the Red Sox sending Dom Dallesandro, Al Niemiec, and cash to the Padres in exchange for the 19-year-old future Hall of Fame player, but Collins’s trip also landed another future Hall of Fame player, Bobby Doerr. After his spring training stint with the Sox in 1938, Williams was farmed out to Minneapolis of the American Association; a year later, he arrived in the majors for good, becoming one of the best hitters over the next two decades and perhaps the greatest ever, in his own words.

Books Reviews – Our Red Sox

Growing up in the shadows of Boston, it’s not surprising that writer Robert Sullivan, who has been published in TIME, Sports Illustrated, and LIFE, among others, became a Red Sox fan. His first exposure to its mystical aura came in 1960, when his father took him and his older brother to Fenway Park, with the main purpose of being able to see the legendary Ted Williams play in what would be his last season. Years later, he continues to align his loyalty towards the Boston nine but he must do so behind enemy lines, since he lives in Westchester County, New York, or, as the back cover of the book reads: “…in the backyard and too often in the shadow of the Yankees.”

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