Sports column by Andy Kirkaldy: The greatest Red Sox ever – here’s one view
Recently, my eldest and I presented on the Boston Red Sox for the National Bank of Middlebury’s New Horizons club.
Kaitlyn handled two key jobs: the PowerPoint technology (with last-minute help from her mom and her sister when it turned out her laptop was not compatible with the bank’s technology and we called for the cavalry) and reminding me when I forgot to mention stuff during the presentation.
Half the evening we looked at the Sox in the World Series from 1903 to 1918, when they won five straight, including the first ever played, and then the reasons for the 86-year drought until 2004 — lack of pitching, failure to sign superb African-American players like Willie Mays when they had the chance, poor managerial decisions, and just plain bad luck.
After all, they suffered injuries before the 1946 (Ted Williams), 1967 (Tony Conigliaro) and 1975 (Jim Rice) Series, and in those three Series and in 1986 played the most dominant National League team of the respective decade each time.
Then I presented my list of the top 25 Red Sox players ever. In compiling it, I looked at length of Red Sox careers, awards won and MVP vote finishes, and stats as a Red Sox.
Without getting too geeky, anyone who takes on this task has to compare players from different eras. In 1910, the American League leader in home runs, Frank “Home Run” Baker, hit 10, and Ed Walsh led the AL with an earned-run average of 1.27.
In 2010, Jose Bautista led the AL with 54 homers, and Felix Hernandez led the league with an ERA of 2.27.
How to compare the eras?
The best way to look at hitters is to add their on-base percentage (times reached base via walk, hit by pitch or base hit divided by at bats) and slugging percentage (total bases per at bat) to get their OPS — on-base plus slugging. And then take the extra step of comparing that OPS to the league average to get an OPS+.
A hitter with a 100 OPS+ is exactly average; one with a 150 OPS+ is 50 percent better than average.
Similarly, ERA+ compares pitchers’ ERAs to league averages — an ERA+ of 100 is average, and an ERA+ of 133, is 33 percent better than average.
Also, the “slash lines” noted below — say .300/.400/.500 — are batting averages/on-base percentages/slugging percentages.
With no further ado, the top 25 Red Sox, starting with No. 1, who everybody knows, and then working from 25 to 2, are (all numbers are for Sox years only):
1. TED WILLIAMS: 19 years, all with Sox. Slash line of .344 batting average, all-time best on-base percentage of .482, and a slugging percentage of .634. That translates to an OPS of 1.116 that is second all-time only to Babe Ruth, and an OPS+ of 190. His career 521 homers are 18th all-time, 1,829 RBIs are 14th, and 1,798 runs are 18th despite missing four-plus seasons as a fighter pilot in two wars.
25. TONY CONIGLIARO: Sentimental choice in part, here, because of what might have been. Right fielder who racked up 102 homers and 246 RBIs and an OPS+ of 133.5 before the age of 22, when he suffered a life-threatening beaning in August 1967. Then the youngest player in history to hit 100 homers. A good comparable: Ken Griffey Jr.’s first four years were also ages 19-22: 87 HRs, 344 RBIs, average OPS+ of 137. Griffey Jr. finished with 630 homers.
24. LUIS TIANT: Came to Sox at age 30 and from age 32 to 35 pitched at least 260 innings every year, totaling 1,630. Went 122-81 for Sox with an ERA of 3.36, and an ERA+ of 118. 3-0 in postseason with 2.86 ERA, including 2-0 in 1975 World Series.
23. DOM DIMAGGIO: 11 years with Sox (missing peak years due to World War II) batting .298/.383/.419 for an OPS+ of 110. Seven-time all-star and excellent defender in centerfield who scored 100 runs six times.
22. BOBBY DOERR: In 14 years, all with Sox, batted .288/.362/.461 and an OPS+ of 115. Eight-time all-star at second base, drove in at least 100 runs six times.
21. DUSTIN PEDROIA: In seven-plus years, all with Sox, has hit .302/.370/.454 for OPS+ of 117 and a fielding percentage of .991. Has won both Rookie of the Year and MVP. Three-time Gold Glove winner, four-time all-star. Greatest Sox second baseman.
20. JOE CRONIN: In 11 years with Sox at shortstop, seven full-time, batted .301/390/468 for an OPS+ of 119. Five-time all-star who drove in at least 94 runs and scored at least 97 runs five times.
19. MO VAUGHN: In eight years with Sox batted .298/.394/.542 for a 140 OPS+. MVP in 1995, finished 4th and 5th in other MVP votes. Three-time all-star with Sox, drove in 100 runs four times, scored 100 runs twice.
18. FRED LYNN: In six-plus years with Sox batted .308/.383/.520 with an OPS+ of 141. Rookie of the Year and MVP in 1975, four-time Gold Glove winner in center field, six-time All-Star with Sox.
17. LEFTY GROVE: Compiled a 105-62 record for Sox between the ages of 34 and 41. Had an ERA of 3.36 and an ERA+ of 143 and was a five-time all-star for Sox. Overall 4th all-time in ERA+.
16. SMOKY JOE WOOD: Went 117-57 for Sox with an ERA of 2.02, ERA+ of 147. Member of two World Series winners with a 3-1 postseason record. Went 34-5 in 1912 in 344 innings. Tied for 5th in career ERA+.
15. CARLTON FISK: In 11 years with Sox batted .284/.356/.481 and an OPS+ of 126. Seven-time all-star and one-time Gold Glove winner with Sox. Greatest Sox catcher.
14. JIMMY FOXX: Six years with Sox mostly in late 1930s. Belted 50 homers and drove in 175 runs in 1938 MVP year, 2nd in 1939 MVP vote. With Sox batted .320/.429/.605 with an OPS+ of 156. Greatest Sox first baseman.
13. NOMAR GARCIAPARRA: In seven-plus seasons with Sox batted .323/.370/.553 for an OPS+ of 133. Rookie of the Year, MVP runner-up, two-time batting champ, drove in 100 runs four times, scored 100 runs six times. Greatest Sox shortstop.
12. DWIGHT EVANS: In 19-year Sox career batted .272/.369/.473 for an OPS+ of 127. Scored at least 100 runs and drove in 100 four times each. Seven-time all-star and eight-time Gold Glove winner.
11. MANNY RAMIREZ: In seven-plus years with Sox batted .312/.411/.588 for and OPS+ of 155. 2004 World Series MVP. Seven-time all-star with Sox, six-time top-10 MVP vote-getter.
10. JIM RICE: 16 years with Sox with slash line of .298/.352/.502 and an OPS+ of 128. Remarkable 406 total bases in 1978 MVP year, finished in top five of MVP vote five other times.
9. WADE BOGGS: In 11 years with Sox batted .338/.428/.462 for an OPS+ of 142. Four-time top-10 MVP vote finisher, eight-time all-star with Sox. Seven times scored at least 100 runs and smacked at least 200 hits. Greatest Sox third baseman.
8. DAVID ORTIZ: 11 years with Sox with a slash line of .292/.390/.572 and an OPS+ of 148. Nine-time all-star. In MVP votes has come in 2nd, 3rd, 4th twice and 5th. 2004 ALCS MVP, 2013 World Series MVP. Career postseason batting line of .295/.409/.553.
7. ROGER CLEMENS: 10 years with Sox with 192-111 record, 3.06 ERA and a 144 ERA+ in 2,776 innings. Postseason record of 1-2 in nine starts with an ERA of 3.95 drops him behind No. 6.
6. CY YOUNG: Eight years with Sox with 192-112 record, 2.02 ERA, allowed less than a baserunner per inning and compiled a 147 ERA+ in 2,728.1 innings. Went 2-1 as Sox won 1903 World Series.
5. TRIS SPEAKER: In seven years batted .337/.414/.482 for an OPS+ of 165 and stole 267 bases. Won two World Series with Sox and won AL MVP in 1912. Greatest Sox center fielder.
4. BABE RUTH: Six years with Boston. Slash line of .308/.413/.568 equaled an OPS+ of 190 in mostly part-time hitting. Became fulltime hitter in 1919 and belted 29 homers and drove in 114. Pitching: 89-46 with 17 shutouts, 2.19 ERA, 125 ERA+; 3-0 in two World Series with an 0.87 ERA.
3. CARL YASTRZEMSKI: In 23 years with Sox batted .285/.379/.462 with OPS+ of 130. In his 20s and at age 30 led the league in OBP five times, slugging three times, OPS four times, total bases twice, runs twice, hits twice and batting average three times. Seven-time Gold Glove winner, 18-time All-Star, Won MVP and Triple Crown in 1967.
2. PEDRO MARTINEZ: 117-37 in seven years with Sox while allowing less than a baserunner per inning. Had an ERA of 2.52 and an ERA+ of 190, striking out 10.9 batters per 9 innings and walking only 2.0. Career ERA+ of 154 best all-time among starting pitchers. Back-to-back seasons of 1999 and 2000 unmatched. At his peak, unquestionably the best starting pitcher in the history of baseball.
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