I’ve been following Major League Baseball pretty closely since I was just six-years old. Here is my line-up consisting of my favorite Boston players at each position who have played for the Red Sox since 1960:
1b Pete Runnells
2b Dustin Perdroia
3b Frank Malzone
ss Jon Valentin
c Jason Varitek
of Dwight Evans
of Reggie Smith
of Carl Yastrzemski
dh Orlando Cepeda
sp Luis Tiant
cl Sparky Lyle
Frank Malzone happens to be my all-time favorite Boston Red Sox. He was born in the Bronx, played sandlot baseball as a kid in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and then got signed by the Red Sox. It took him seven years to make it to Fenway, slowed by both a dislocated ankle in Minor league ball and two years of military service. But when he did finally put on the Red Sox uniform, it was well worth the wait for Boston’s fans. His first full season in Beantown was 1957 and all he did that year was drive in 103 runs, average .292 and become the first rookie ever to lead the league at his position in assists, putouts, double plays and fielding percentage. That performance earned him a trip to the All Star game, a Gold Glove but not the 1957 Rookie of the Year Award. He was denied that when the baseball writers association that gives that award changed the rules, and all of a sudden the 75 at-bats Malzone had had the previous two years disqualified him. It was the biggest heist in Boston since the Brinks holdup.
He would win a total of three Gold Gloves and make six AL All Star teams during his nine full seasons as a Red Sox. Unfortunately, Boston would release Malzone agter the 1965 season, forcing him to finish his big league career dressed in an Angel uniform. Even though the hundreds of Red Sox teammates who played with Frank during his tenure in Boston will tell you Malzone was one of the nicest guys they ever played with, he was most definitely not an “Angel.” Malzone realized that after just one year out west and retired after the 1966 season. His career numbers with Boston include 1,486 hits, 133 HRs, 728 RBIs and a.274 batting average. When his playing days were over, Malzone rejoined the Red Sox as a scout.
I was watching a well-done sports documentary about Bob Hurley Sr. on ESPN this past weekend when the name and image of Willie Banks appeared on my television screen. Hurley is the legendary high school basketball coach at St Anthony’s High School in Jersey City New Jersey. You can add up all the World Series won by Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre and the total doesn’t exceed the number of New Jersey State Basketball Championships St. Anthony’s has won since Hurley became coach of the program. All of his players graduate, most go to college, a bunch get full rides to do so and quite a few, like Hurley’s own son Bobby Jr. make it to the NBA.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant graduated from St. Anthony’s and played basketball for Hurley Sr. on the same team Bobby Jr played. But basketball was Willie Banks’ second best game. He also played baseball and when he was a student athlete at St Tony’s, Banks’ right arm could already throw a baseball from the pitchers mound to home plate at speeds over ninety miles per hour. In 1987 he became the highest ever draft pick for a New Jersey high school-er when he was selected in the first round (third pick overall) of the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He made the big leagues for the first time in 1991 and pitched OK for the Twins until 1993, when he would begin an odyssey that would land him in six different big league cities during the next eight years. That odyssey would end in 2001 when Willie was called up from Pawtucket to pitch in the Red Sox bullpen in 2001 and ’02. He was actually very effective during his final year in Beantown, appearing in 29 games and finishing the year with a 2-1 record and a save. But after the ‘o2 season ended, Banks would never again pitch in a big league game.
He did, however keep pitching in the minors until 2005 and then stopped when his Mom passed away. She had raised Willie and his brothers by herself in the toughest projects in Jersey City. Banks was extremely close to her and went into a deep depression upon her death. He credits his former Yankee teammate, Tim “Rock” Raines with giving him a reason to live again. Raines was managing the Newark Bears in 2009 and he convinced Banks to come pitch for the team. Willie spent the next two years doing so, finally retiring in 2010 at the age of 41. His big league career record ended up at 33-39 with 2 saves and a 4.58 ERA. By the way, if you get a chance to see that ESPN special about St. Anthony’s, I recommend it highly.
1920 was an historic year for our National Pastime. Major League Baseball was in the throes of scandal over the alleged involvement of several Chicago White Sox players in a concerted effort to lose the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati. Fans all over the country were turning away from the game in disgust. That wasn’t the case in the Big Apple thanks to the Yankees’ acquisition of Babe Ruth from Boston in January of 1920. In his first season with New York, Ruth stunned the nation by hitting the then unbelievable total of 54 home runs. That would be like someone hitting 180 home runs during the 2010 season, without the help of any pharmaceuticals.
Boston Red Sox owner, Harry Frazee was quickly becoming the most hated man in Beantown for having traded Ruth. He tried to deflect that hate by insisting that Ruth could not be satisfied and had been become an incorrigible Red Sox, impossible for then Red Sox skipper, Ed Barrow to control. A big part of Frazee’s defense of the trade seemed to also be that if he had kept Ruth, the young slugger’s immoral behavior would eventually poison the rest of Boston’s roster.
It proved to be a futile excuse for Frazee, who’s name when mentioned still to this day evokes four-letter word responses in most Beantown “bahs.” But Ruth’s first Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins found out that Frazee’s excuse contained more than a hint of truth. From the moment the Babe came to New York, Huggins found it impossible to control the slugging wild man off the field. The manager knew he couldn’t trade Ruth so he did the next best thing. He started getting rid of the Yankee teammates that Ruth enjoyed partying with. Today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday celebrant was one of them. In December of 1921, Rip Collins, who had become one of the Bambino’s favorite Yankee drinking and gambling buddies was made part of a seven player swap with the Red Sox.
Collins was a young, whiskey drinking rookie from Texas. He was a former Texas Aggie football player who was as tough as they come. Like Ruth, 1920 was Collins’ first year in New York and he had put together a fourteen-victory rookie season. The following year, Ruth hit 59 bombs and the Yankees won the first AL Pennant in their illustrious history. Collins went 11-5 in his sophomore season and although he had a tendency to walk too many hitters, it looked as if he was in the infant stages of what promised to be a long and successful career with New York. But as mentioned earlier, Yankee manager Miller Huggins had different ideas. After his trade to the Red Sox, Collins went 14-7 during his one season in Beantown but the same control issues that he had experienced as a Yankee followed him to Boston as he led the AL in bases-on-balls. Collins then spent the next five years in Detroit pitching for the Tigers. He then pitched in Canada in 1928 and then signed with the Browns, where he finished his big league career in 1931. Lifetime, Collins was 108-82. After he left baseball he began a career in law enforcement which included a job as a Texas Ranger. He died in Texas in May of 1968 at the age of 72.
For long time Red Sox fans, the 1972 trade that brought Danny Cater to Fenway remains a nightmare memory. The Cater for Sparky Lyle transaction was one of those historically bad deals that not only significantly weakened Boston but dramatically strengthened their arch-rival, the New York Yankees. At the time, Boston was seeking to add some offensive punch to their lineup but I believe the real reason they pulled the trigger was that Eddie Kasko, the Red Sox manager at the time, did not like or get along with the outspoken Lyle. Former Boston pitcher, Bill Lee claims Lyle was shipped out because he had sat naked on Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s birthday cake, just one month before the deal went down. Whatever the reason, I will never understand why Boston could not come up with a better deal for Lyle than the one they made with New York.
I mean no disrespect to Cater, who was a solid big league hitter with an eight-season lifetime average in the .280s at the time the deal was made. He had come up with the Phillies in 1964, got dealt to the White Sox the following year before landing with the A’s in 1966, while that team was still based in Kansas City. He spent the next five years as their starting first baseman. He became a Yankee in 1970 in a trade that sent Al Downing to Oakland and had hit a surprising .301 during his first year in pinstripes. But he’d slumped to .276 in his second year in New York, and had never hit with power.
Lyle’s presence instantly solidified what had been a weak Yankee bullpen, and his absence decimated Boston’s late-inning pitching efficiency. During the next seven years, Sparky would save 141 games for New York, win 57 more, capture a Cy Young Award and help New York win two World Series. Meanwhile, Cater would eventually lose his job as Boston’s starting first baseman’s job to Yaz and become a part-time player for the Red Sox until he was traded to the Cardinals for somebody named Danny Godby after the 1974 season.
I remember when the Yankees dealt their young third base prospect, Mike Lowell to the Marlins after New York had traded for Oakland’s Scott Brosius, in 1998. I was surprised by the deal because though Brosius was certainly a fine third baseman, the Yankees’ had been touting Lowell as a future star back then. Brosius of course went on to have a super 1998 season and postseason and worked his butt off during his four years in pinstripes.
But Mike Lowell turned out to be an even better ballplayer and a class act in the clubhouse. And he would come back and haunt his former franchise for dealing him. He spent seven solid seasons with the Marlins and in 2003, he led them to the World Series where the Fish pulled off an upset 4-games-to-2 victory against the Yankees. That regular season, Lowell set career highs with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.
By 2005, Florida was looking to unload its highest price players. Red Sox GM, Brian Epstein wanted the Marlin’s top starter, Josh Beckett. In order to get him though, the Boston GM had to give up four Red Sox prospects, including Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez plus also agree to take Lowell and his $18 million worth of remaining salary. Any regrets Boston might have had about having their new third baseman forced upon them were immediately lessened when Lowell had a solid 2006 regular season, hitting .284 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs and providing real good defense at the hot corner. Those regrets completely disappeared in 2007, when Lowell set new career highs in RBIs (120) and batting average (.324) and led Boston to an AL East Division title. He then averaged .352, smashed 18 hits and drove in 15 runs in the Red Sox’ 14-game ’07 postseason, which culminated with a second ring and a World Series MVP award for Lowell.
Epstein rewarded Mike with a new 3-year $37 million contract but that ’07 playoff run would turn out to be the high point of Lowell’s career in Beantown. During the next three seasons, a chronic hip ailment began that would eventually force him into retirement after the 2010 season.
There really have not been too many sets of brothers who made significant marks as members of the Boston Red Sox. Most modern day fans have of course heard of the Conigliaro boys, Tony and his younger brother Billy. Then there was the Hall-of-Fame catcher Rick Farrell and his brother, the pitcher Wes, who while pitching to his older sibling became a two-time twenty-game-winner with Boston back in the thirties. And then there were the Johnson boys, Indian Bob and his older brother, today’s featured birthday celebrant, Roy. Both started in the Red Sox outfield but not at the same time. Bob played for Boston for two seasons at the very end of his big league career, in 1944 and ’45. Roy joined the Red Sox in 1932 after spending his first four big league seasons in Detroit. He started in right field for the 1933, 34 and ’35 Boston teams. He batted over .300 in each of those seasons and drove in a career high 119 RBIs in 1934. When that RBI number fell to 66 the following year, Boston GM Eddie Collins took $75,000 of Tom Yawkey’s money and went out and got Doc Cramer from Collins’ old team, the A’s to play right field and traded Johnson to the Yankees. Two years later, he would return to Beantown and play his final season as a member of the National League Bee’s (later called the Braves.) This part Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma retired with a .296 lifetime batting average. His younger brother would later leave the big leagues with the same exact lifetime average.
This great catcher, also born on February 23rd, also played for both the Yankees and Red Sox.
Today’s birthday boy began his big league career as a highly regarded prospect with the Angels in 2004. It took him three years to become the Halo’s starting first baseman and when he did in 2007, he put together a fine season, averaging .296 with a .372 OBP, 11 home runs and 68 RBIs. He was well on his way to a second solid season with Los Angeles when he was suddenly traded to the Braves for Mark Teixeira. The deal certainly sucked the momentum out of Kotchman’s big league development as he struggled to learn the pitchers and find his stroke in a new league.
It actually took him until the following season to become acclimated to his new environment and after 100 games in 2008 he had his average back up in the .280s. Then he was traded again, this time to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche, who had played for the Braves previously.
One has to wonder what the Red Sox were thinking when they made this deal. In Boston, Kotchman found himself competing for playing time at first base behind both Kevin Youklis and Victor Martinez. Casey was a better defensive option than either of these guys but there was no way the Red Sox were going to remove that duos’ bats from their lineup card. As a result, Kotchman played in just 37 games during his only season in a Boston uniform and hit just .218. In January of 2010, the Red Sox traded Casey to the Mariners for infielder Bill Hall. Then in 2011, the native of St. Petersburg, FL resurfaced in Tampa, where he started at first and hit .306. But he’s on the move again. The Rays chose not to re-sign him and he will be playing in Cleveland in 2012. Still only 29 years-old, I’m interested to see what Kotchman can do if he ever finds a more permanent home for his talent.
This millionaire sportsman owned the Boston Red Sox franchise for a total of 44 years, from February 25, 1932 until the day he died of leukemia on July 9, 1976. Yawkey got his fortune the easy way. He was born into it. He spent millions from that fortune first to bring star players to Boston and then to develop a farm system for the team. He also turned Fenway Park into one of America’s most beloved sports venues. What he never did was win a World Series as an owner and what he was very slow to do was integrate his Red Sox team. I’m sure the latter was one of the key reasons for the former. When he died leaving no written succession plan for ownership of the team, the resulting power struggle caused a chaos in the franchise’s management that helped keep the Red Sox out of postseason for another decade.
Right field is one big “if” for the 2012 Boston Red Sox. The good thing about letting JD Drew retire is that he had such a disappointing career in Boston that it really should not be that difficult to replace him. But leave it to this new Boston front office to make it as difficult as possible.
I thought Josh Reddick would get the job right up until he was traded to Oakland for A’s closer Andrew Bailey and today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday celebrant, Ryan Sweeney. When you look at Sweeney, who is 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighs about 225 pounds, you think you’re looking at a home run machine but he’s anything but. He hit just 13 roundtrippers during his four seasons in Oakland. Its true, the A’s ballpark is not a homer haven but either is right field at Fenway, which will become the left-handed Sweeney’s new pull target.
Sweeney is a bona fide .290 hitter with a career .342 OBP and with all the home run potential in Boston’s line up, if he hits that well this year he should score 90-100 times. But I’m also hearing Bobby Valentine is planning to platoon big Ryan with the former SF Giant, Cody Ross. If both players can thrive under such a format, Red Sox fans could be in for a very nice boost in production from the right-field slot of their lineup.
Sweeney was born in Cedar Rapids, IA on February 20, 1985. He was drafted out of high school in 2003 in the second round by the White Sox.