Of all the great players that have worn a Red Sox uniform, only nine men have earned the honor to have their uniform number retired by Boston. Besides Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997, Ted Williams (9), Joe Cronin (4), Bobby Doerr (1), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Carlton Fisk (27), Johnny Pesky (6), Jim Rice (14), Pedro Martinez (45), and Wade Boggs (26) have all witnessed their numbers posted on the façade above the right field grandstand.
Originally, the team placed the numbers in the order they were retired; after Yastzemski was honored in 1989, the sequence went 9-4-1-8. Later, someone pointed out that the sequence might be interpreted as September 4, 1918 – the day before the first game of the 1918 World Series, which witnessed the last world championship won by Boston before they finally tasted victory again in 2004. With the retirement of Fisk’s number 27 in 2000, the team quietly rearranged the numbers in numerical order; however, the numbers went back to the sequence in which they were retired in 2012.
The Red Sox employ one of baseball’s strictest policies related to the retirement of uniform numbers; to be considered, a player must have (1) played a minimum of ten years with the team, (2) been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and (3) finished his career with the team. After Fisk was elected to the Hall, the Sox dropped the final requirement from its policy in order to honor their former backstop, who had finished his career with the White Sox.
A few exceptions have been made in recent years. In 2008, the team abandoned its policy altogether with the retirement of Pesky’s number; although he played only eight of his 10 seasons in the majors with Boston and was not elected to the Hall of Fame, management felt that his long years of service with the club, including time spent as a coach and manager, were enough to bestow the honor upon him. In 2015, the Red Sox retired Martinez’s number, in spite of the fact that he played only seven seasons with the club, based on his contributions as a player and the fact that he was elected on his first Hall of Fame ballot.
Ahead of his final regular season on 02 October 2016, the club announced plans to retire David Ortiz‘s number 34 in 2017. This will be the earliest that the Red Sox have retired a number following the end of a player’s career, with Ortiz not being eligible for election to the Hall of Fame until the 2022 ballot. Management cited his immeasurable contributions both on and off the field over his 14 years with the team as the reason for honoring “Big Papi” so soon after his retirement.
One noteable player whose number was not retired by the club per policy for several years was Boggs, a former All-Star third baseman who played 11 seasons with Boston and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Several players wore his number after he left Boston for the New York Yankees as a free agent following the 1992 season, the most recent being Brock Holt. However, in December 2015, the team announced that it would retire his number in a pregame ceremony on 26 May 2016.
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